Maximalist interiors brand House of Hackney was born in, and of, its creators’ London home – which is just as crazy-cool as you’d expect...
Home interiors, in 2011, were all about minimalism: dispensing with pattern in favour of 'cleanliness', deliberating on different shades of white. Then, along came this cool East London brand with a fresh, irreverent approach to colour and print. To say House of Hackney turned heads would be an understatement.
Michelle Ogundehin, then editor-in-chief of Elle Decoration, recalls: "They were like the dark side of design. Unapologetically full-on pattern clash, maximalist when everyone else was doing Scandi-cool; it was absolutely wonderful. A real mark of confidence." The brand has since achieved cult status: owning a piece of House of Hackney earns you instant kudos among interior design aficionados.
So it’s no wonder the founders’ home – the original House of Hackney – is the epitome of cool. But that wasn’t always the case; when Frieda Gormley and Javvy M Royle, now married with two children, first met at a warehouse party in 2008, the three-storey Victorian house had been converted into bedsits. "I had just got the keys – talk about timing," Gormley says. "I couldn’t have renovated it on my own."
"We wanted print, colour, texture."Frieda Gormley
Royle had been trying to carve out a career in fashion, gaining experience working for influential designer Hussein Chalayan. He supported himself with a product design job on the side, which taught him about graphics, packaging and technical aspects of design. Meanwhile, Gormley had studied law like her father, only to discover her true passion when she began working as a buyer in a vintage shop. "I didn’t know such a job existed!" she says. She then became a buyer at Topshop. "It showed me how a successful brand operates; how to be creative and get involved in design and marketing. I actually presented them with an interiors concept, but they said their target market was too young."
It was renovating the house that would lead the pair to quit their jobs and create their own brand. After restoring the original cornicing and fireplaces, they struggled when it came to décor. "We wanted print, colour, texture," Gormley says. "But we couldn’t find anything that spoke to us – just high-street identikit furniture or prestige brands whose designs were beautiful, but felt more relevant for our parents." So they decided to make their own, sketching rooms and choosing colour palettes. The first patterns included Hackney Empire, a playful series of illustrated animals on a backdrop of monochrome stripes.
Gormley and Royle’s signature style became evident early on: a Gothic take on English chintz, always with an extra twist, like an ombré effect. "We tried wallpapering horizontally to achieve that," Royle recalls. "The manufacturers thought we were mad." Gormley drew inspiration from her upbringing in Ireland: "My grandmother was a real magpie. Her home was full of velvet, ocelot [an animal print similar to leopard] and china. Much of the darker colour you see in our prints came from her home."
The couple renovated three rooms to use as showrooms, where they invited press to visit. "We were operating on a shoestring," says Gormley. "It was all quite smoke and mirrors.” To mark the launch, they threw everything into a pop-up at a warehouse-turned-event-space in Dalston. "We had 2,000 people visit, but we didn’t sell a thing!" Gormley recalls. "We felt sick," adds Royle. "I wish we had known that it would work out. We were like, oh my god, what have we done? It was a very humbling experience. But to this day, people come up to us and say they remember first seeing our brand there."
Despite that setback, the couple soon struck deals with a London department store and a Chinese luxury retail chain, and opened their flagship store in Shoreditch in 2013. With mountains of stock now moved out of their home, they could continue with their renovations, which they finally completed last year.
"We’re not about trends. We’re about a feeling, a mood, and beauty."Frieda Gormley
Each room has its own palette – their daughter Lila’s room is awash with pale blues and muted pinks, designed around a reimagining of William Morris’ Daisy wallpaper, while their son Javi’s room features blue-and-white stripes peppered with illustrations of a great whale. A lounge/playroom, where the couple experiments with new concepts, is lavished in "energising" rich reds, with a dado rail separating House of Hackney’s Artemis pattern from the Marjorelle print, remastered from French wallpaper house Zuber’s 19th-century original. Hallway walls are covered in a pattern by Lincrusta, a heritage English company that invented embossed wallpaper mimicking artisan plasterwork.
Unsurprisingly, given the strong theme of nature in their work and in their home, the designers are committed to environmentalism. Wallpaper and furniture are made to order so there is no wastage, cushions are filled with British wool instead of feathers, and a portion of their profits goes to Panthera, a wild-cat conservation charity. The message behind their latest collection, Dinosauria – which features snakes and stegosauruses, prehistoric foliage and earthy tones of juniper and ecru – is about "the fragility of our ecosystems", says Gormley. "We hope the conversation will gather momentum."
So eight years on, what do they think has been the key to their success? "Our DNA is all over the brand and vice versa," Gormley says. "There’s an alchemy to it that I can’t put into words. And we’re not about trends. We’re about a feeling, a mood, and beauty – we’ll always stay close to that."
By Amy Broomfield