When Frieda Gormley and Javvy M Royle couldn’t find the fabrics and wallpapers they were looking for, they decided to design their own. Frieda talks to Jessica Jonzen about how their home led to the creation of House of Hackney – a modern interiors icon
JAVVY M ROYLE AND FRIEDA GORMLEY IN THE SITTING ROOM OF THEIR HACKNEY HOME. IMAGE: HOUSE OF HACKNEY
Think of the interiors brand House of Hackney and you are instantly transported to a world of nostalgic painterly prints, bold jewel-like colour and unexpected detail. Their wallpapers and fabrics evoke images of elegant Victorian salons, with a subversive punk twist. Its off-beat opulence is for people confident in their tastes – wallflowers need not apply.
What you’d never expect is that its creators, Frieda Gormley and Javvy M Royle, were minimalists before they launched the brand. “We had been living on Columbia Road by the market and had white walls and Danish furniture – it was very retro but minimalist and sleek at the same time,” says Frieda.
In 2007, the couple found the terraced Victorian townhouse which would become their family home – and inspire their new business. “The house had been carved up into bedsits and was a sea of blue carpets and yellow walls but we could see it had an interesting spirit to it,” says Frieda. “We stripped it back to being a house and whitewashed the walls so we had a completely blank canvas.”
FRIEDA AND JAVVY CHOSE TRADITIONAL FIXTURES AND FITTINGS FOR THEIR HOME, SUCH AS THESE TRADITIONAL BLACK AND WHITE TILES IN THE HALLWAY AND THE LINCRUSTA WALLPAPER. THE LAMP IS A NOD TO THEIR LOVE OF MOROCCO. IMAGE: HOUSE OF HACKNEY
Their son, Javi, was born in 2009 and it was around this time that the couple started to talk about how they were going to decorate. “The political and economic mood felt quite austere,” says Frieda. “We’d been living in a black and white box for a quite a long time and were becoming more and more interested in old textiles, print and colour.”
Frieda’s childhood home in 1980’s Dublin was “all very House & Garden magazine. I grew up with that very English Laura Ashley and Colefax & Fowler look,” she says. “My grandmother had an amazing eye for putting things together – she was on first name terms with all the antiques dealers in Dublin and she was very much about layering textiles and there was lots of leopard print in her house. There was always a bit of rebellion in it. I’d been through this black and white phase and was looking to use wallpaper again and there really was nothing we could find that we wanted to decorate with.”
“We’d been living in a black and white box for a quite a long time and were becoming more and more interested in print and colour.”
Frieda was working as a buyer for Topshop, while Javvy was a product designer and had a background in textiles. “We started talking to friends in trend-led professions and everyone was starting to feel the same about minimalism, but we didn’t want to be decorating with our grannies’ antiques either – we wanted it to be modern.”
So, from their kitchen table, Frieda and Javvy set about laying the foundations for their brand. “We conjured up a vision for an aesthetic and a brand which would mix the past with the future and be imbued with colour and shimmer and beauty,” says Frieda. “Myself and Javvy are really passionate about the natural world and we wanted to bring more of that into our urban home as well.” The seeds of the brand planted, the couple went on to bravely quit their jobs and launched House of Hackney in 2011 with three collections – Dalston Rose, Hackney Empire and Queen Bee – all inspired by Victorian Hackney.
(TOP) THE COUPLE USED THEIR ‘ARTEMIS’ WALLPAPER IN THE SITTING ROOM; (BOTTOM LEFT) THEIR ‘MAMOUNIA’ WALLPAPER COVERS THE PLAYROOM WALLS; (RIGHT) ‘EQUUS’ WALLPAPER IS PAIRED WITH ‘WILD CARD’ LEOPARD PRINT FABRIC IN THE STUDY
With no budget for a studio or showroom, the couple decided to decorate three rooms in their home in the different collections and started to invite the press in. “The rest of the house still had white walls and was strictly off-limits!” Frieda laughs. “Because the interiors world had been so quiet and safe and what we were doing was so completely different to anything that was out there, it was really encouraging that it got such a warm welcome,” she says. “I suppose that we were real people with a real story. It wasn’t about hype – we were just creating what we adored.”
As word got out about the brand and the business grew, so did their family and Frieda and Javvy’s daughter, Lila, was born in 2012. “It was quite chaotic!” Frieda admits. “We worked from our kitchen table for the first couple of years, and then another person joined us. It got to us needing to ship out big orders and we literally couldn’t get them out of the door, so we decided to be brave again and look for an office.”
Once Frieda and Javvy were able to move the business to their beautiful Shoreditch store and office, their home began another chapter. “We pretty much closed the house apart from it being our family home because our own aesthetic was evolving and we knew there was more we wanted to show so we shut the door for a while and came back with new inspiration. The house had also got so wrecked from having all this stock coming in and out!” Frieda laughs.
(TOP) ‘ARTEMIS’ WALLPAPER IS USED ON THE CEILING AND TOP HALF OF THE WALLS IN THE PLAYROOM, WITH ‘MAMOUNIA’ BELOW, WHILE THE COUPLE CHOSE JACQUARD FABRICS FOR THE SOFA FOR THEIR DURABILITY. (BOTTOM) FRIEDA WITH HER CHILDREN LILA, SEVEN, AND JAVI, 10 IN THEIR BEDROOM, WITH ‘BALEANA’ WALLPAPER. IMAGES: HOUSE OF HACKNEY
Inspired by the bones of their home, the exuberance of American interior designers such as Dorothy Draper and Loddiges – Hackney’s famous Victorian hothouse – the couple set about renovating their home, and lived there for the duration of the six-month project (“it’s not something I’d recommend!”).
“We had launched our Palmeral print and that quickly became our bestseller, so we were inspired by the idea of a palm house,” says Frieda. “We decided to call the house ‘Loddiges’ and very much saw that it would be a sanctuary, filled with the prints of nature and a lot of colour and be a space for our family.”
“We worked from our kitchen table for the first couple of years… and it got to us needing to ship out big orders and we literally couldn’t get them out of the door!”
The couple wanted to add an extension to the back of their home in the vein of a Victorian palm house but only part of the designs got past Hackney Council’s planning department, who appeared to favour modern over traditional.
The resulting design, however, is a light-filled and openplan space, defined by a series of arches, which seamlessly links the house with the garden beyond the French doors. Victorian-style light wells, decorated with trailing houseplants, also bring the natural world inside. “Letting light in from above makes such a difference,” says Frieda. “You get these beautiful shafts of light which are quite sublime.”
‘MAMOUNIA’ WALLPAPER, DARK WOOD AND HOUSE PLANTS BRING THE HOUSE OF HACKNEY TOUCH TO THE DEVOL SHAKER KITCHEN. IMAGE: HOUSE OF HACKNEY
The cream shaker-style kitchen units by deVOL are given the House of Hackney treatment with their bold Mamounia wallpaper on the walls. And while the couple have used their wallpapers in incredibly bold ways – clashing prints and patterns and even wallpapering the ceilings in some rooms, they have also showed surprising restraint in some of their choices.
In the hallway, for example, classic black and white floor tiles and traditional embossed Lincrusta wallpaper feel appropriate and pleasingly traditional in a sea of modern conversions where all period detail is stripped out. “For the fixed decisions we went very classic – we wanted to respect the aesthetic of the house that way,” says Frieda. “You can change paint and textiles, but it’s good to have a non-trend driven blank canvas as a foundation for whatever comes and goes.”
With two young children, did the couple make any concessions to the inevitable spills and dents which come with family life? “We love William Morris’s approach of ‘beautiful and useful’ – there is no such thing in our lives as a ‘good’ room – it all needs to be used across the age groups and everyone needs to feel cosy and comfortable in their surroundings,” says Frieda.
(TOP AND BOTTOM RIGHT) ‘SUMATRA’ WALLPAPER IS TEAMED WITH MOROCCAN-STYLE TILES AND A TRADITIONAL ROLL TOP BATH; (BOTTOM LEFT) ‘ORSMAN STRIPE’ PAPER IN THE MASTER BEDROOM
“Our kids were past the baby stage but they’re still prone to jumping on the sofas, so in the playroom we chose jacquards – fabrics with a bit more of a weave. We don’t have that many possessions but for us it’s about good quality so we’ll get lots of use out of something, and it’s also beautiful. It was more thinking about the family needs with that in mind.”
The renovation was completed in 2017 and Frieda and Javvy thought they’d live in the house indefinitely – until an unexpected opportunity arose for them to take on the lease of a castle in Cornwall. Never ones to shy away from a challenge, the family moved to Cornwall in April. “If you’d told me this two years ago I wouldn’t have believed you,” Frieda says. “We’ve been coming to Cornwall for many years to recharge our creative energies over the summer but it was quite serendipitous that we were offered to take on this place. Weighing it up, it felt like the right time with our son being a year away from starting secondary school.”
“There is no such thing in our lives as a ‘good’ room – it all needs to be used across the age groups and everyone needs to feel cosy and comfortable in their surroundings.”
The couple now spend half the week in Cornwall and the other half in London, and have let out Loddiges. With nine acres of gardens to manage and an enormous decorating project ahead of them as well as continuing to grow House of Hackney, it’s a big undertaking.
“I think we probably learned things on the last project about lighting, and when things should be decided on. But I think every house that I’ve lived in – from the ex-council house I bought in Dublin before I moved to London years ago to this one – you have your taste and aesthetic, and that changes,” says Frieda. “But there’s also the sheer fun of it, creating something different. I expect this house will be another evolution of our taste.” And whatever that will be, its roots will always be in Hackney.
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