A Design Lover's Guide to London

Apartment Therapy's Design Destination Guide

As one of the world's top tourist destinations, London does many things well. History, culture, food (believe it), and yes, design. The Brits have long appreciated good design, and continue to celebrate examples both past and present. So if you're planning a trip to London, check out our Design Lover's Guide to make the most of your time.

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See:

  • The Victoria and Albert Museum: This famous museum has been celebrating good design in all its forms since 1852. Lest you think it's all lost crafts and ancient artifacts, the 20th Century design galleries are perfect for lovers of modern design, as are their regular in-depth exhibitions (this summer, British Design and Heatherwick Studio are particularly interesting).
  • Design Museum London: This is where design aficionados will want to start, to take in the temporary exhibits on everything from architecture and product design to fashion and digital. The shop is worth almost as much time as the museum.
  • Geffrye Museum: This fascinating museum chronicles the history of the domestic British interior from 1600 to the present day. Walking through the "rooms" is akin to walking through time, and fun for young and old alike. My top tip is to go in December, when each room is decorated according to the Christmas traditions of the time.
  • National Portrait Gallery: Perhaps not as closely linked to design as the others, but I had to mention my favorite place for a spot of culture in London. The permanent collection here is huge and ever-rotating, and the exhibits are always interesting and digestible in size. If you're around in the summertime, don't forget to check out the annual BP Portrait Prize.

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Tour:

  • Eltham Palace: It would be a shame to come to London and not take in one of the many gorgeous stately homes. This Art Deco house was built by the ruins of King Henry VIII's childhood home, and is only a short train ride from central London.
  • 2 Willow Road: On the other side of town, 2 Willow Road is a Modernist home in Hampstead, known for its collections of modern art and personal possessions.
  • Soane Museum: One of London's best-loved museums, the former home of architect Sir John Soane is packed to the rafters with art, sculpture and curiosities. The regular tours are every Saturday, but the candlelight opening on the first Tuesday evening of every month is worth waiting for.
  • Street Art: Like many large cities, London has a long history of public art. Whether it's independent graffiti artists or sponsored works you're interested in, there's always something to see when wandering the streets of this city. Check out Street Art London for walking tours.

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Shop:

  • Liberty: London has many famous department stores, but Liberty is, in my opinion, the most beautiful and the most interesting. The Tudor revival building houses fashion, accessories, housewares, art and furniture from big names and small British designers alike.
  • The Conran Shop: Sir Terence Conran's lifestyle emporium is always worth a browse, and has everything from expensive furniture and lighting to affordable accessories and kitchen items. Check out Heal's and Habitat for similar modern design, as well.
  • David Mellor: Venerable product designer David Mellor's shop is tucked away next to Sloane Square, and offers up beautiful kitchenware and cutlery. Great for stylish souvenirs.
  • Antique and Street Markets: Whether you're looking for genuine antiques or retro products and handmade items, you'll find it at one of London's famous street markets. Time Out is a great resource for hunting them down.
  • Skandium: Sure, you may not have come to London to look at Scandinavian design, but this Knightsbridge store is worth a mention for their array of stock, which covers both big names and new-to-you finds.

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Eat:

  • Monmouth Coffee: In the land of tea, it can be hard to find a decent cup of coffee with which to start your day. Monmouth is, simply put, the best stuff in town, and it's served in a rustic-chic location to boot.
  • Ottolenghi: You've likely heard it before but I'll say it again: this is the best lunch of your life. Israeli-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi has four branches of his eponymous bistro across London, each serving up beautiful, inventive and healthy food. My top tip is to skip the mains and order a plate of mixed salads (they're the stars of the show here anyway), which will leave you room for one of the mouth-watering desserts on offer. Also try Ottolenghi's new all-day restaurant in Soho, called NOPI.
  • Flatplanet: This is my favorite place for a cheap and tasty lunch to fuel a day of shopping. Tucked next to Liberty, Flatplanet serves up gluten-free hot flatbreads and desserts. The interior is relaxed and decorated with a mishmash of mid-century pieces; you'll feel right at home.
  • Canteen: There are now four branches of this restaurant across London, where traditional British food with a modern twist is the order of the day. Have fish and chips or the pie of the day, but leave room for some Eton Mess or a British cheese plate if you can.
  • Sketch: This restaurant / bar / music and arts venue is somewhat of a darling of the London scene, and a fun option if you feel like splashing out a little. The food may be French, but the interiors are pure British eclecticism, with each of the different rooms completely unique in design. Come for lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, or just a drink at the bar.

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Stay:

  • The Zetter: A classic boutique design hotel, The Zetter's 59 rooms are each unique, mixing modern comfort with individuality. Located in trendy Clerkenwell, it's also close to some of London's coolest bars and restaurants. Also check out The Zetter Townhouse across the road for a fun twist on traditional hotel style.
  • Dean Street Townhouse: Simple luxe is the name of the game at this small hotel in the center of bustling Soho. The bar and restaurant downstairs serves up great meals, too.
  • Hoxton Hotel: Long a favorite in East London, this "budget hotel" has reasonable rates alongside Frette linens, breakfast in bed and modern, chic interiors.
  • The Boundary: If you liked The Conran Shop, then you'll like The Boundary, Terence Conran's entry into the hotel game. Located in busy Shoreditch, each room is inspired by a different designer or design movement. The attached bakery and food shop Albion Caff is a stylish destination in itself.
  • High Road House: Not all the cool hangouts are in East London — in fact this members club and hotel is way out west, right between central London and Heathrow Airport. If you're looking for a neighborhood feel, you could do far worse than lovely, leafy Chiswick, and rooms here have style to spare.

(Images: 1. Shutterstock 2. V&A via The English Muse 3. Eltham Palace via English Heritage 4. Liberty by Simon Greig on Flickr, used under Creative Commons 5. Ottolenghi via 101 Cookbooks 6. The Boundary)

Originally published 7.13.12 - JL

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Eleanor is a interior designer and freelance writer, embroiled in a love affair with everything glamorous, retro or delicious. This expat Canadian calls London, UK home but escapes to Paris whenever humanly possible.

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