8 Holland Street is the Kensington based gallery and shop from founder and interior designer Tobias Vernon and curator Rowena Morgan-Cox. With a shared love of Modern British artists, the pair have created a space that blends antique and vintage furniture and art that appeals to a new, younger audience as much as lifelong collectors – and have now opened a second space in Tobias' home county of Somerset.
We wandered inside to ask Rowena about the key to good design and be shown around by the true host of the gallery – Tobias’ artistic dog Pablo.
Curator Rowena Morgan-Cox
Founder Tobias Vernon with his trusted and artistic hound Pablo
How do you source your pieces?
That is the secret. We search far and wide, at markets, fairs and auctions. We take pieces on consignment from private collectors and from contemporary artists and makers. It is hard work, there is no one-stop-shop (or maybe we are it). For us the trick is in the mix, as eclectic, fun or weird as we can get it.
What’s the curation process for deciding which pieces to sell?
We will sell anything as long as we love it. We offer the carpets on the floor to the lights on the ceiling and everything in-between (even the books on the shelf). Unfortunately in London we are limited to a small space so we have to restrict ourselves; we come up with exhibitions which might be based on events happening in London or a particular group of works we have in stock. For instance, this September we are focusing on great pieces of design for London Design Festival and in October and November we are putting together a small retrospective of Clifford Ellis’s work to coincide with an exhibition at the Victoria Gallery, Bath. These themed shows focus our minds and are fun to play around with.
How would you describe the 8 Holland Street aesthetic thread that runs through all the pieces you put in the gallery?
This is a very difficult question but we would say informal, colourful and off-beat.
What’s the design thinking behind the layout of 8 Holland Street itself?
The footprint of the gallery is a bit mad. We haven’t found a right angle yet which is maddening sometimes for displaying furniture and carpets. Our ground floor space ends at a balcony looking down onto a double height space below a beautiful curved skylight. This really makes a difference to the space, connecting the two floors and letting in a lot of light. When we took the lease on the shop we opened up the lower ground floor revealing two coal cellars that go under the street; one has shelves covered in our smaller items and the other usually has a table and collection of ceramics. I call them the caves but Tobias likes to think of them as Matisse’s chapel…
"A famous fashion editor came in recently and said she loved the space so much she wanted to move in."
How do you want someone to feel when they enter 8 Holland Street?
At home. A famous fashion editor came in recently and said she loved the space so much she wanted to move in.
What did you want to do with the Somerset outpost that you couldn’t do with the London one?
Somerset has given us the space we need to allow the pieces to breathe. At the moment we are excited about displaying some beautiful, very large works by our new artist Francesca Mollett and we also keep larger furniture there. Interestingly when we have moved the same pieces from London to Somerset they are entirely transformed against the vernacular backdrop of an old barn. In November, we will travel our Clifford Ellis show to Somerset, which is very appropriate as he was based in Bath and the surrounding area. It’s like a homecoming.
"Any space, no matter how small or large, can become your home with a few key pieces that say something about you."
What do you see as the power of good art and design? Do you think it has benefits for one's wellbeing?
We believe that any space, no matter how small or large, can become your home with a few key pieces that say something about you. We strive for all of our pieces to have a story or at least a kind of poetry that our clients respond to. The rest can be from IKEA.
What are your tips for someone wanting to redesign their home?
Embrace the architecture that already exists – there is no need to rip apart the past. Let key pieces of furniture, objects and textiles do the talking. If in doubt, paint everything white and inject colour with your possessions. It is not about schemes and too much coordination.
Discover more at 8 Holland Street and below take a look at Tobias and Rowena's Papier picks.