August 2018

The time has come to wave goodbye to traditional forms of art curation and welcome in a new kind of art display. 

It seems the days of traditional gallery spaces are numbered and the fashion for curating art and objet in a residential manner is the best way to our hearts. One thought is because it creates a universal accessibility to artwork; through displaying it in a residential manner, one is easily able to imagine owning their own pieces in their homes. We caught up with Rowena and Tobias from 8 Holland Street, a new gallery space in London, to find out more about this new curatorial style.  

Tell us what 8 Holland Street is.

8 Holland Street is our new gallery and design store in Kensington, West London, located between Notting Hill, High Street Kensington and Holland Park. The space showcases two-floors of carefully selected artworks, ceramics, textiles, furniture, tableware, books and contemporary design. Exhibits are sourced by me, Tobias and our colleague Naomi French; we all look for a mix of collectible, unattributed, elegant, kitsch and eccentric works. On view in the store at the moment are four beautiful etchings of owls by Elisabeth Frink from 1977; a wildly oversized table lamp by Stilnovo from 1950s; a mid-century French needle point depicting what appears to be a trumpet playing fawn and a jolly devil; and a pair of rare, early Hans Wegner P66 chairs.

As well as offering pieces for sale we provide interior design and art and furniture sourcing services for those clients who feel an affinity with our full, lively and uncontrived aesthetic. We recently opened a rural outpost, open by appointment, in a converted barn near Mells in Somerset.

How have your backgrounds in History of Art – and studying at Cambridge - shaped your business today?

Studying History of Art has had an immense influence on what we are trying to do at 8 Holland Street. It is our aim to get those people who are passionate about design to be passionate about art and vice versa. We have tried to create a store that reflects a real living space and we are determined that art should be a key component of that. Whilst studying at Cambridge University Tobias spent as much time as possible at Kettle’s Yard (he even borrowed some art for his bedroom). The informal coexistence of paintings, sculpture, ceramics and furniture in the former home of Jim and Helen Ede is always on our mind when arranging the space. My masters degree at the Courtauld focused on the nineteenth-century obsession with objects and interiors and how this was reflect in painting. During that time in Europe it was thought that the interior of a room related to the interior of the owners mind; similarly we want to encourage our clients to create lively and beautiful spaces that reflect their personalities.

8 Holland Street has a very residential feel that is really refreshing – do you think this is the best way to showcase art and craft now?

Absolutely we do. Our customers find the eclectic mix more appealing and less stuffy than a formal gallery space. The contemporary artists and makers we work with are also happy to sit alongside their peers and their predecessors in different fields. One of our new artist Francesca Mollett was particularly excited to have her work displayed in the same context as the highly regarded British artist Richard Smith (1931-2016), whose work can be found in the Tate collection. Each genre, medium or period enhances the others, rather than cancelling each other out.

What are your top tips for someone looking to bring art into their homes?

The most important advice we can give is to buy what you love. Buying purely for investment or as a fashion statement does not always work because you have to live with what you have bought. This means you don’t have to buy the most expensive piece by a big name; some of the loveliest pieces we have sold have been under £1,000 by unidentified artists. We like to have a range of prices for artworks (from £500 to £18,500) so that they are affordable to first-time buyers as well as collectors. However, we recommend to always buy the best you can afford and when the opportunity takes you. A client once said to me you only regret the piece you didn’t buy.

8 Holland Street showcases a real combination of artists and designers that are both living and dead. What are you favourite pieces at the moment? Whose artwork do you think will never go out of style?

We love the British artist Clifford Ellis (1907-1985), despite his relative obscurity compared with his contemporaries in recent years. We are going so far as to mount a show of his work in October in a bid to raise his profile. The exhibition will coincide with a large retrospective of his and his wife’s work at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath and will move to our Somerset space in November. We have a group of six oils, many sketches and gouaches and a selection of his and his wife's poster designs. We will show his work alongside that of Rosemary and their daughter, Penelope, and some of his contemporaries and colleagues. Ellis was a brilliant colourist and employs it with both a graphic strength and a painterly hand.

On a very different note we love the work of weaver and artist Catarina Riccabona. Catarina is a hand weaver working predominantly with linen, hemp, wool and alpaca. Her practise is influenced by her interest in sustainable living, creating responsible and environmentally friendly rules to guide her weaving practice. We currently have three of her charming paper yarn wall hangings on display in the gallery, they are textural, richly patterned and earthy. For the wall hangings Catarina incorporates discarded yarns from a fellow textile artist. We love the way Catarina employs the ancient tradition of weaving in a contemporary and artistic way. It’s so hard to consider what will go out of style and what won’t. Everything will become fashionable at some point and lots of it will remerge from the ashes. We try not to fixate on trends. We are happy to display unfashionable thing at 8 Holland Street so long as they have a kind of poetry.

You also have a place in Somerset; can you tell us more about this?

When we launched earlier this year we kept a barn space in Somerset as storage, as a studio for our design projects, and as a workshop for restoration and upholstery. We would take clients there occasionally to see pieces they might be interested in which weren’t on display in London. In the end we thought it would be much more fun to display stock there as we would in London rather than to keep using it as a messy store. We decided to open the space by appointment to the public this summer and will continue to open for special exhibitions throughout the rest of the year.

The Somerset space is close to the historic village of Mells, and to Bath, Frome and Bruton. Somerset is close to the heart of 8 Holland Street’s aesthetic and is also where Tobias lives. Its rural beauty, historic importance and thriving artistic community provide a stimulating environment for us. Somerset and its surrounding areas have become an art destination with the opening of Hauser & Wirth Somerset and Messum’s Wiltshire. Frome and Bruton remain artistic hubs; Bristol’s Spike Island and Bath’s Georgian architecture are a short distance away. This melting pot of the ancient, vernacular and contemporary is reflected in the poetic interior displays of both the London gallery and Somerset outpost.

Have you noticed any trends via pieces people currently purchase?

Our customers appear to like pieces that are quirky and one-off, that’s why they choose to shop here as opposed to a design store with mass-produced items. Each piece at 8 Holland Street has a unique element, whether it is a hand-dyed cushion by Kirsten Heckterman, hand-painted ceramic by Rachel Cocker or a hand-blown, recycled Mexican glass, they are never exactly the same. The vintage and antique pieces are often rare or out of this world – we challenge anyone to find another side table with a seahorse-shaped ceramic base. We look for pieces that are fun, amusing and bold and have found clients who share our enthusiasm for madness and maximalism.

What does the future hold for 8 Holland Street? Are you involved in events?

Over the next year we will focus on putting together thematic exhibitions, including single-artist shows and particular designers or eras. In every case we’ll maintain the balance of works on the wall and furniture on the floor. We are particularly excited about doing a Kettles Yard-inspired show and a show relating to 8 Holland Street’s history. Our London space was once home to the Three Shields Gallery in the 1930s – they displayed an equally eclectic range of prints, drawings, paintings, ceramics, textiles and silverware.

Alongside exhibitions we will continue to develop the design practice including interiors projects and our own designs for furniture and textiles.

Photography © James McDonald  & Louise Long
8 Holland Street
W8 4LT