October 03 2011
The Dorset seaside town of Bridport appears an unremarkable mix of charity shops, butchers and hairdressers. Its soft and unaffected nature, in fact, is part of its attraction. Yet Malabar Trading stands apart. The store is small, its entrance festooned with coloured baskets, its windows piled with Turkish candle lamps and kilims. It is the sort of place that one thinks one has seen a thousand times before – ethnic handcrafted homewares from Asia and the like. But you soon realise this shop is different. The floor-to-ceiling shelves stacked with bedspreads, tablecloths and shawls have been curated by an impeccable eye, the owner, Robyn Huxter, upsetting Aladdin’s Cave clichés by supplying items you haven’t seen before. If you have, you start to wonder how Huxter’s finds manage to be that bit better.
Huxter opened the shop in 2001, sourcing from a few small-scale producers in Delhi and Rajasthan. “I was always interested in the process of hand-weaving and pattern-making, and the methods I saw in India – hand block-printing and embroidery – fascinated me,” she says. “
Over the past 10 years Huxter has widened her geographical remit while developing strong working relationships. She believes in a fair price for both suppliers and customers. Block-printed textiles feature heavily, with a wide range of tablecloths (£30-£40), cushions (£25), cotton kurtas and nightwear (beautiful printed dressing gown, £45). Bestsellers include cotton-filled quilts, from £40 for children’s sizes to £235 for king-size: “Many hand-printed items are made to order. It is a skilled and precise process.”
Other products from India include intricately stitched white-on-white Chikan embroidery curtains from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh (£30 a panel) and hand-woven woollen shawls (from £45) and throws (from £60) from Kashmir.
Istanbul is a regular Huxter haunt – her Turkish range includes old kilims (£300-£650) – and there are eye-catching Suzanis from Uzbekistan (£325), one of which covers the shop’s end wall. The same intricate Suzani needlework is found on a fine selection of cushions (£48).
The ever-changing mix of smaller homewares and gift items includes one-off picture frames, traditional silver jewellery and simple blue-and-white Turkish towels (about £20). Japanese ceramics start at £8.50 for small bowls, and are now something of a design motif on the tables of both locals and second-homers who can’t seem to leave this shop without picking up just one more to add to that Farrow & Ball-painted dresser.