August 01 2009
Selling art, cool graphic design, homeware and jewellery, Castor and Pollux in Brighton is a one-stop shop for design aficionados. Yet its unassuming façade overlooking the beach at King’s Road Arches (between West and Brighton piers) gives no indication of the shop’s impressively varied stock or of its real size.
Inside, it funnels out, Tardis-like, into an enormous space mainly containing three long arches. In one is an art gallery that mounts monthly exhibitions and offers a framing service, another is filled with books on architecture, art, design, gardening and cookery, and in the third are more pictures, glass, jewellery, ceramics and stationery. A further, smaller niche stocks hip toys for the precociously design-savvy child.
How would its owner, Mike Levy, describe it? “An emporium, though that sounds high-faluting,” he replies. And why the cheek-by-jowl mix of art, jewellery, homeware and books? “Because that’s how people mix things up at home,” he explains. But thanks to the stock’s clean-cut aesthetic, it doesn’t remotely resemble an amateurish craft shop.
Formerly a graphic designer and potter, Levy opened the shop six years ago. Back then, he says, this part of Brighton had recently been converted from a disreputable, drug-dealer-infested area into a salubrious row of shops and bars. Now Castor and Pollux attracts “families and Brighton’s huge population of graphic designers”.
Graphic design has influenced Levy’s taste in art: “I like bold, figurative work.” Graphic and punchy, this includes the paper cutouts of designer du jour Rob Ryan (from £2,500, with framed prints £750) and the 1950s-inspired linocuts by Angie Lewin (£185 for an unframed print). Frames are neutral: “Our customers don’t go for twiddly gold ones.” More accessible, price-wise, are postcards by Ryan, Lewin and artist David Shrigley.
Homeware encompasses the retro cat figurines (£78) of cult New York ceramicist Jonathan Adler, whose work appears on the sets of TV shows Will & Grace and Ugly Betty, and Michael Anchin’s multicoloured handmade glass bowls (around £200). On the jewellery front, Australian brand Riley Burnett’s bracelets with stones in boiled-sweet shades (from £76; charm bracelet £195) are displayed near the shop’s books (around 500 titles, ranging from tomes on the artist Nikki de Saint Phalle to architect Le Corbusier).
One could easily feel overwhelmed here by the sheer quantity of hip, sophisticated stock – this shop is practically a mini design museum – yet a friendly atmosphere makes it feel relaxed. “We’re not about a hard sell. People come in and chat for hours,” says Levy. Castor and Pollux, then, is as much a laid-back hangout as a shop for the serious design buff.