London’s Best Independent Shops

I wrote this originally for TownFish, but I wanted to share a slightly modified version with you featuring some of my favourite independent shops in London. Though it may seem like every other shop in London is a Zara, Tesco or Starbucks, there are still many eccentric, vibrant independent shops thriving among the high street mega-brands. This is not an extensive list, just a taste. Quite frankly, I’m not very inspired by the high street shops at the moment so tell me your own favourites in the comments and lead me out of my London shopping rut!

Aria

Barnsbury Hall, Barnsbury Street, London N1 1PN

An Islington lifestyle and design shop housed in the spacious Barnsbury Hall where you’ll find furniture, headphones, recipe books, jewellery and everything in between. Brands include Paul Smith, Cowshed, Jonathan Adler, Vivienne Westwood and many others. Many of the staff are designers themselves and love to talk about their products.

Photo from Aria’s website

Artwords Bookshop

20-22 Broadway Market, London E8 4QJ

Wouldn’t you agree that despite the wonders of technology, there’s something to be said about flipping the pages of a real book or magazine? East London’s Artwords has a great selection of art books and those hard-to-find independent fashion magazines galore that cater to the creative local community.

Photo from Shop Ikon

Daunt

83 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4QW

Hands down my favourite bookshop in London, this independent gem is housed in an old Edwardian building with oak columns and skylights with two floors of books arranged by country or area in which they are set. They not only have travel guides but plenty of fiction, non fiction and those wonderful, beautiful, photography-filled coffee table style books (which, I keep trying to remind myself) are a bad obsession to have when you know you won’t be living in the same house forever…)

Photo from Urban75

Drink, Shop & Do

9 Caledonian Road,  London N1 9DX

Tucked away in an old Victorian bathhouse in King’s Cross, this is a hidden gem where you can indulge in an afternoon of tea and crumpets while playing board games and shopping from the collections of local designers. They play host to a variety of quirky activity nights where you can create Lego robots, get a pin-up girl makeover or learn the official dance to MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This”.

Photo from MyCityVenue

Fernandez & Wells

43 Lexington Street,  London W1F 9AL

Those who stumble upon Soho’s coffee heaven that is Fernandez & Wells speak of it fondly and nearly always return. Rustic wooden floors, a relaxed vibe, giant picture windows for people watching and, of course, fresh and delicious food makes the original shop a favourite central London lunchtime haunt. There are now five branches in London including a brand new addition recently opened in South Kensington.

Photo from You Should Go Here

Jessie Chorley & Buddog

58 Columbia Road, London E2 7RG

Originally a stall in Broadway Market, Jessie & Buddug was transformed into a beautiful, creative shop on Columbia Road in 2008. The two friends / artists from Snowdonia dig back to their Welsh roots to create beautiful handmade pieces like greeting cards, decoupage picture frames and photo albums, engraved jewellery and embellished vintage clothing. There is enormous attention to details and the girls are wonderfully inviting.

Photo from Bird In The House

Jimmie Martin

77 Kensington Church St, London W8 4BG

Described as “furniture combining the decadent and quirky with the nostalgic and urban”, this Kensington Church Street shop is full of one-off chairs with sausage dogs, graffiti covered wardrobes and other items for the home designed in bold colours and pop-culture imagery. With a celeb following, designers Jimmie Karlsson and Martin Nihlmar have created pieces for Kelly Osbourne, Pete Townshend, Kylie Minogue and Madonna among others.

Photo from Creative Mapping

Le Grenier

146 Bethnal Green Road, London E2 6DG

That’s French for “attic”, a great description of this treasure trove of vintage goodies. For the last four years, husband and wife team Jean-Louis and Yuko have scoured markets and antique fairs in the UK and France for pieces of furniture, kitchenware, jewellery and other knick-knacks they are proud to sell. They even have a lease service if you’re after a prop for a special event.

Photo from Twenty Something London

Liberty

Regent Street, London W1B 5AH

Who doesn’t know of London’s famous Liberty? I’ve included it mainly becuase they stock French clothing brand Sessùn which I love. Also the old tudor building is stunning and, having been around since 1875, a piece of British heritage and an emporium housing some of the world’s most luxurious brands.

Photo from Liberty’s website

Lumiere

88 Chatsworth Road, London E5 0LS

A magical place of oddities with under floor lighting, fake flickering candles and a disco ball, stop by for delicious smoothies, original cocktails (one, for example, made with water from bags of mozzarella cheese) and French film nights. Be sure to venture downstairs and make sure you pop into the memorable loo.

Photo from Scout London

Radio Days

87 Lower Marsh Street, London SE1 7AB

Step into Radio Days and walk through multiple eras of vintage clothing, accessories like glittering broaches, bullet bras, stacks of old magazines and home decor from the 1920s to the 1980s amid a nostalgic soundtrack that takes you back in time. Staff are knowledgeable and welcoming.

Photo by LLO

Scootercaffe

132 Lower Marsh Street, London SE1 7AE

A tiny unassuming gem hidden behind Southbank on Lower Marsh Street, walk inside and you’re hit with the aroma of ground coffee beans. They could also possibly have the best hot chocolate in London. But the real charm is in the mismatched décor with its vintage sign and odds and ends as well as the resident cat who is normally curled up on a chair but is quite happy to receive attention. Head to the basement to settle in with free wi-fi and old school jazz.

Photo from Fluid London

Stumper & Fielding

107 Portobello Road, London W11 2QB

Think country chic tweeds, classic union jacks, riding coats, tea towels embellished with bicycles, brogues and wellies. Quality style for the gentleman is this tiny shop’s main focus but there’s plenty for the ladies as well. Stop by to visit on Portobello Road. They don’t have a website yet.

Photo from Stumper & Fielding Facebook page

The Bridge Coffee Shop

5 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8AA

While the coffee and cakes are great, it’s the sensory overload here that’s the real draw. This Dickensian-style coffee shop is nestled under the bridge on Shoreditch High Street and contains a fascinating array of décor from Tiffany lamps to vintage fluorescent signs to old photographs and gilt mirrors. Upstairs, on creaky wooden floorboard sit quirky fuchsia pink chairs where you can sit and chat with friends for hours.

the bridge cafe shoreditchPhoto by LLO

The Make Lounge

3-4 Waterloo Gardens, Barnsbury Street, London N1 1TY

Not only is this a shop which stocks all sorts of lovely craft supplies, the Make Lounge also holds regular workshops where you can learn to make homemade jam, a bespoke lampshade or even a pair of knickers. With wine and biscuits at hand, socializing while learning a new craft is highly encouraged!

Photo from The Make Lounge

Unpackaged

97 Richmond Road, London E8 3NJ

This one does what it says on the tin in that it sells unpackaged food to avoid so much unnecessary waste being sent to the landfills. It started back in 2006, but in 2012 relocated to a larger space in Hackney. On your first shop, your containers will be weighed and given an official unpackaged sticker. There is also a café, but remember to bring your own cup!

Photo from Singaporean in London

Also worth a quick mention, though there are many more, pop in to The Last Tuesday Society for the underworld of taxidermy, Tatty Devine to pick up a colourful and witty Perspex necklace or The Merchant for second hand high end designer clothes.

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Wimbledon Library

I rarely write about architectural details, but they are fascinating and London is full of them. Do you have any favourites? Any architecture trivia for us? Here’s a little slice of Wimbledon Library I walked past a few days after I moved into the area. Made me smile so I thought I’d share:

Leave your own London architecture shots in the Flickr pool.

Speaking of libraries, are you reading any good books at the moment?
I’ve finally started The Help, one I’ve been meaning to dig into for ages now!

LLO Book Drop

When I left London in 2007 after four years here, I had amassed piles and piles of books – about 350 of them. Moving house three times during those years and ultimately packing up my life here to send everything back to America made those lovely books I adored so much somewhat of a burden. I gave almost all of them away.

Then I bought a Kindle while I was living in Colombia because there were no English language books in the village. But I still prefer real books with tangible pages. I live for rainy afternoons spent holed up in used bookshops then taking my treasures to the nearest cafe for a cup of tea and cracking open that first page.

So I’ve made a decision that I’m still going to buy books from those lovely little bookshops, but I’m not going to let them accumulate. After I read them, I’m going to leave them somewhere random so someone else can pick them up. Doesn’t it make your day when you stumble on a little treasure? In the front cover, I’ll write a little message with the link to the blog so the person who finds the book can come here and leave a comment about it. And I started a page where I will leave a list of books I’ve dropped.

If you want to participate and leave your own books around for LLO Book Drop, write a little comment in the book with the blog address and ask the finder to comment, then leave a comment for me, let me know the name of the book and where you left it so I can add it to the list.

I left the first book today. So I will start the list….

***

1.) Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert – Circle Line train somewhere near Embankment – November 30, 2011

Listen to a Londoner: A Final Word

I was a Londoner for the last four years. It taught me infinitely more about the world and myself than I ever could have expected to learn if I hadn’t gone abroad. These four years, I will never, ever forget. But what it also taught me was that there is so much out there to explore and so I’m moving on to new adventures. Here I will use this last Listen to a Londoner to turn the tables and answer some questions from you guys.

Q1: Where is your next adventure leading you?
LLO: First to New York to see family and friends for about a month then a one-way ticket to Colombia for as long as it takes to decide whether I can make it my next home.

Q2: Will you ever move back to London?
LLO: Never say never, but as much as I do love London, I don’t have any plans to at the moment.

Q3: What is your reasoning for leaving?
LLO: There are a few reasons. One, for love and the invitation to move to Colombia. And two, because I need a change of pace. I need to feel grass on bare feet, look up to the sky at night and see stars and walk out of my front door without the chance of being trampled by commuters or hit by a double decker bus. I need a bit of stillness.

Q4: Was finding a job difficult in London?
LLO: While I did freelance work on the side occasionally, I had two main jobs while in London and both of them found me. I posted my CV on Gumtree and got called up for interviews. Granted that was back in 2007 and then 2008, so the situation is different now, but it’s not impossible if you’re flexible.

Q5: What brought you to London years ago?
LLO: Curiosity and obsession, I suppose. In 2004, I spent a semester abroad living it up in Knightsbridge and travelling on weekends so I had this idea of London as an ideal place. After I graduated I immediately came back to London to relive that fantasy, but of course real life kicked in!

Q6: What is the most influential part of London to you?
LLO: Not sure if you mean area or aspect, but if you mean area, definitely all around Brick Lane and if you mean aspect, then the diversity without a doubt.

Q7: Will you continue a blog where you are going?
LLO: Yes, it will be just like this one but in a different location. I will post the link in an entry here when I get one so check back around March or so. To bridge the gap, I have another blog now called Little Photography Observationist. Feel free to stop by and say hi!

Q8: How easy is it to make friends in London?
LLO: It’s very easy to meet acquaintances and people to hang out with. You meet them through flatmates, other friends, work colleagues and at random. But to make real true long-lasting friends is a lot more difficult because everyone seems to be on a visa that runs out sooner or later and they leave to be replaced by new friends. London is a transient place and though the people you meet are incredible and influential, they don’t always stick around. I was lucky and ended up with an incredible group of girls.

Q9: What is your favourite coffee shop?
LLO: I don’t drink coffee, but have two places I love to go for tea that also have coffee: Sacred Cafe on Ganton Street and 1001 Cafe on Brick Lane – both have amazing atmosphere, though very different from one another, delicious tea and yummy snacks. If I were to go for coffee, Monmouth is good and I’ve heard great things about Flat White in Soho, though I’ve never gotten around to going inside because it’s always too crowded for my taste.

Q10: Where is your favourite place in London to be alone, think, and escape the crowds?
LLO: A walk in Hampstead Heath is brilliant for all of that. The Thames path that runs down the southwest portion of the river is nice as well. Of course, these are summer activities, so in the winter, I will go down to the basement of Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street or have a hot chocolate in Scootercaffe on Lower Marsh Street near Waterloo.

Q11: As a writer in the city, what in London has inspired your writing the most while you’ve been here?
LLO: The diversity of the people and the details that are a result of this mixture of lifestyles – the smell of kebabs mixed with curry mixed with Japanese food and South African BBQ, the many languages that mingle in the air when you walk through a crowd, the tolerance and openness to try new experiences, the music of Jamaica and Ireland and India, celebrating the customs of all different cultures. There is a world in this city.

Q12: Top 5 things you will miss?
LLO: In no particular order and not including people:
1. Savoury muffins and relax tea at Sacred Cafe on Ganton Street
2. Street art around Shoreditch and Brick Lane
3. Diversity, people watching and walking around aimlessly with my camera
4. Walking through the market with a choice of lunch – Tibetan, Ethiopian, Moroccan, Brazillian, Japanese, Peruvian, Chinese, Indian, South African, Colombian, Jamaican, Finnish. You name it.
5. The amazing and always changing shopping options!

Q13: Where is your favourite bookshop in London?
LLO: Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street, Stanfords in Covent Garden and the Book and Comic Exchange in Notting Hill. The first two have excellent selections of travel books and cultural fiction and the third has that old musty bookshop smell and second-hand treasures galore.

Q14: Top thing you will look forward to leaving behind, and why?
LLO: Easy. Crowds and chaos. While they make London what it is, they can also drive you crazy if you don’t get away sometimes. It gets annoying trying to go shopping with umbrellas poking you in the eye, people stepping on your feet and having smelling armpits at nose-level on a hot summer tube ride. I’m looking forward to some personal space.

Q15: What song or album would you consider as your soundtrack for your time here, and why?
LLO: I’ll just give you a few unrelated songs even if it’s cheating: Prodigy – Out of Space which reminds me a of a few crazy house parties and bonfires we’ve had; Is this Desire by PJ Harvey for a similar reason; anything Oasis after anoter house party that involved everyone singing along; U2’s One and Set Fire to the Third Bar by Snow Patrol and Martha Wainwright for some great gigs and of course, anything by The Stayaways – a local band I grew really close to and have seen them live more times than I can remember.

Thanks again everyone for all of your comments and encouragement and stay tuned for another blog coming up in a few months. In the meantime, check out Little Photography Observationist.

Cheers,

Steph

Neal’s Yard

Surrounding myself with vibrant colours usually makes me happy, and what better place in London to do that than a little walk through Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden?

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The walls scream sunshine and summer and while there isn’t too much going in in the little square, it’s a great place to escape the main crowds and though it’s pretty small, there’s always something interesting to look at.

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While you’re in the area, stop by Stanfords books for some great travel-related reading material that will cover any country you’re dreaming of visiting this year.

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They even happen to have a Sacred Cafe in the back of the shop. Savoury muffins galore. Mmmm spinach, feta, warm, melted butter…

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And a relax tea. Relax and forget you’re in one of the most crowded parts of the city, forget that family block of tourists who made you walk .05 km per hour halfway down the road.

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Breathe and think of pretty colours. And, er… fashion weak? ^^

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Okay so the street art sticker stuff doesn’t exactly compete with the East End, but the colours of the buildings certainly aren’t as drab!

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And there’s even a few blades of grass somewhere in there.

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Did I mention funny mirrors and amusing quotes?

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