Cult Shop: Japanese and Nordic design converges under one London roof
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
“It’s about a simplicity of design – Japanese and Nordic – two sides of the world coming together,” says Barry Hirst, the Liverpudlian co-founder of Pantechnicon, the five-storey food, drink, culture and design emporium in Belgravia that opened last September. According to Hirst, Pantechnicon is a celebration of a “shared aesthetic: not over-adorned – minimal, modest and utilitarian”.
Hirst is a man with vision. He first became known for reviving Belgravia’s Elizabeth Street, which he turned into a honeypot destination with the Thomas Cubitt pub (subsequently sold, but still a local mainstay). When the Grosvenor Estate offered him the chance to develop a concept space on nearby Motcomb Street, he took on a magnificent stucco building that was once a Victorian warehouse – its removal vans inspired the name.
Pantechnicon has been stripped back to the original brick and timber with a nod to wabi-sabi, and is home to two restaurants: the modern Nordic-slanted Eldr and the Japanese-market-inspired Sachi, as well as the Kitsuné pastry café, a Japanese bar and bottle shop, a roof garden and two concept stores, The Studio and The Edit.
Both shops have been curated by Japanese-design authority Shu Terase, who finessed his buying talent at Monocle and Japanese lifestyle retailer Beams, before spending two years scouting for treasures for these new stores. The Edit, on the ground floor, has the feel of a gift shop. “We want to offer something you can’t get anywhere else in the UK,” says Terase. “Some things you may be able to get online, but not in a physical shop. Certain styles or colours are exclusive to us” – such as the “red camo” Raincho raincoat from Norwegian Rain (£610).
The store is designed to be “democratic”, with prices starting from £3.50 for Japanese cypress bath salts. And diverse. Japanese wooden children’s toys and chic stationery sit alongside cult outdoor brand Snow Peak’s camping coffeeware and Finnish textile designer Johanna Gullichsen’s tetrahedral bags (£84). Hirst’s favourite item, discovered in Tokyo, is a small acoustic iPhone speaker – “hand-crafted, just a piece of wood, no electronics” – that costs £55.
Upstairs, The Studio is a spacious loft for homeware, beauty brands, fashion and big-ticket items, including a bicycle from Tokyo Bike (£550) and a super-high‑tech digital speaker from Cotodama that doubles as a karaoke machine (£4,320). Make-up and skincare has been collaboratively curated with Japanese beauty specialists Bijo (the rose-quartz stones for facial massage, £25, sell out almost as soon as they are restocked), while homeware highlights include dishwasher-safe pastel porcelainware from 1616 Arita with scalloped edges (plates from £12), and a bath mat (£125) by Soil that is made with Japanese diatomaceous earth so that water disappears like footprints by a swimming pool on a sunny day. Terase’s favourite pieces are retro-classic Matsuda sunglasses – each pair involves 250 stages and takes up to four years to make (£455-£955).
Customers are united in their curiosity, says Hirst. “Not only do they want to be inspired, they are hungry for knowledge about the products.” But they remain eclectic: visitors to London, hipsters, Belgravia stalwarts, and design seekers and makers. The Japanese ambassador loved it, he says. Dogs, meanwhile, are welcome, but their head height has to be “below the underside of the table – so, despite the Nordic connection, sadly no Great Danes…”