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A charming chiaroscuro of bright artisanal objects and monochrome modernism.

August 15 2010
Mark C O’Flaherty

Lulu Roper-Caldbeck and Rhonda Drakeford’s sleek, noir-accented London interiors and accessories store Darkroom developed out of their own line of African-influenced rugs and cushions. “We’d been quite successful, selling to Liberty and getting a lot of press,” says Drakeford. “First we looked at small shops around the East End, but then we found this central-London space that had been empty for two years. And with a space like this, we knew we couldn’t just stock our own products.”

With successful backgrounds in fashion development and design consultancy respectively, they’ve brought a sharp curatorial eye to their stock, from crocheted pouffes in New Zealand wool by Christien Meindertsma (from £495) to leather handbags by British label Fleet Ilya (from £525), made using saddlemaking techniques.

The shop is themed seasonally and this summer it’s “Into Africa”, which chimes perfectly with their own-brand products, including cushions (£45-£55) and bow ties (£35) crafted from Drakeford’s collection of African textiles; zebra- and leopard-print rugs (£350 printed; £1,500 in hand-tufted wool) and modernist-inspired hand mirrors (£75) with wrapped handles.

The crossover of vintage, largely monochrome modernism and vibrant, traditional African style is at the heart of Darkroom’s look. On the rear wall is a selection of limited-edition prints (£300) that Drakeford produced based on the imagery of the South African Ndebele tribe. Bold, graphic and colourful, they could have been plucked straight from the walls of a 1920s Bauhaus apartment. Similarly, handmade ceramic cups and jugs by London-based Greek designer Solomia (£28-£195) have the sculptural essence of modernist pioneer Eileen Gray about them.

Elsewhere, there are wild Masai-inspired necklaces (£120-£350) by Austrian designer Florian and hand-crocheted neoprene baskets (£29-£250) by Italian company Néo. “We were drawn to the oversized scale,” says Roper-Caldbeck. “It’s unexpected, using techniques from the garment industry that you wouldn’t associate with interiors. That’s quite a key part of what we do.”

Darkroom is certainly the most eye-catching shop on Lamb’s Conduit Street, a villagey stretch of central London unique for independent stores protected and promoted by its landlord, Rugby School. The exterior is, predictably, all black, with the store’s name writ large across the windows and upper façade in a distinctive and elegant typography. “It’s traditional but modern at the same,” says Drakeford. “We’ve built longevity into the look. In the same way, I think we’ve gone beyond being a ‘concept store’. I think we’re more of a small department store. We present things in a very new and unique way.”