Mimi Berry's east London flat rests in the middle of a crescent balcony. Here, on the fourth floor of a Victorian red-brick mansion block, a line of neighbouring windows – most of which are still council-owned – are coloured by a sweep of golds, cerise and blues. The heavy Bangladeshi influence sits comfortably next to traditional hanging baskets and ornamental figurines.
Inside, a grey feline pads across stripped wooden floors as her owner ignores the shrill of a green rotary dial telephone. Sitting at a table in front of the south-facing window, Berry, 32, nods towards the disorderly cityscape enveloping the view through the pane. "When I first saw this flat," she remembers, "I looked through this window and saw something else." Beyond the immediate clutter of Victorian roof tops, Georgian chimneys and Sixties low-rise silhouettes, the Gherkin marks the point of the horizon. "The rooms were awful quite beyond words. The previous tenant grew weed and there were holes in the ceiling and staples in the window-frames from hanging hydroponics [lamps]. But through the window here, the tree just outside was full of leaves and filled the room with a dappled green light. It was beautiful."
Now firmly installed, Mimi sits at this table and often sketches designs for her boutique – conveniently located just 10 minutes away, on fashionable Cheshire Street, where she sells her unique leather bags and purses. "My dad said that if you find a south-facing window, the room will always look warm," she says. "And he was right. In fact, I never bothered putting up curtains. I often find myself just looking out."
Just off the hustle and bustle of Brick Lane, Mimi's shop sits amid a hub of vintage stores and original leather outlets. Neighbouring businesses desperately attempt to harness their demographic, be it the Bangladeshi strong-hold or the herd of students flocking to the original stomping ground of British artists such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst. Mimi, however, will not – and clearly needs not – entertain such tactics. Drawing a diverse and loyal clientele, her classic leatherwares are made from Italian materials, fitted in the UK, and transcend any fad trend or niche-market.
"Once Brick Lane was full of leather shops," she says. "Now it's predominantly bars, stuffed with college kids who look like they've collectively mugged a Topshop mannequin. I don't quite know where that leaves my produce, but I don't worry that it doesn't always fit with the current fashion."
Not one for chasing trends, Mimi's philosophy is simple: "If things are classic and well made, you'll always have return customers. A thing has to look good, but that shouldn't compromise its function." And such, it transpires, is the thinking behind the room in which we sit. "Pretty much everything in this flat has a purpose." Much is hand-made, too. "Those cushions," she says, pointing to a scattering of textured prints and colours: "I made those from bits and pieces found at
car boot sales. That plaid one was an old padded skirt. I just sort of see things and think, 'Oh, that'd be nice to sit on.'"
Mimi's flat is a space that works. While there is no doubt that it is truly stylish, overt styling has no place here. "The beautiful thing about finally buying your own space is that there's no rush to finish it. It is far better when you have the chance to let things evolve naturally," she says. This approach has allowed an eclectic mix of furniture, holding an assortment of interesting histories. The units in her kitchen, for instance, came from her last shared house, and were made by a friend. Their story combines a telling mix of the practical and the esoteric, as seen in both the character of the home and its resident. "The cupboard is recycled from three fruit boxes," Mimi explains. "The left [cupboard] is for my friend Polly, because that shade of blue is her favourite colour. The end one is mine, because the overlapping apples look like two bums."
An Eighties postcard of Joan Collins, next to a DVD of the controversial French cult classic La Haine and – naturally – an original Horse and Pony annual, confuses matters even further.
Mimi, why Joan? "Why? Look at her – Queen Bitch! She'd bite peanuts in half so as not to smudge her lipstick. I still remove my clip-on earrings before I answer my phone because of her," she grins wickedly. Yet it's not all Dynasty glamour: close by, a Rob Ryan print portrays a young boy in a quiet rural scene. "It was the first piece of proper art I ever bought," she smiles. "Rob's my friend and this piece reminded me of growing up in Bath and the surrounding countryside. It's a comforting image." And then, reminiscent of youthful collections, a plethora of pins and badges displayed in a rather more grown-up antique glass-fronted wooden cabinet. The record player, a further nod to the past, is favoured by Mimi over CD systems because "the process just feels so much better. It's so easy to turn on the radio and have a noise going on behind you, but you never really listen. There's a special moment when you put on a record and you actually hear it."
Upon the turntable casing, a half-finished jigsaw depicts a Sixties-style country scene. A young male couple point towards an absent spectacle. What lies just out of sight bears no relevance for Mimi: "They were obviously just told 'look over there'," she suggests.
The bedroom: a raised bed, made from the legs of a full-size snooker table ( "it's funny to sit on a bed as an adult and have your feet swing beneath you") and covered by a traditional Welsh blanket. At its foot, neon plastic baskets hold a selection of belts and tights fit to make any woman swoon. A stack of fluorescent cycling coats is stored above a rail of vintage frocks and coats.
The playful incongruity evident throughout this home, reveals a process present in her design. Though classic, there is something else at work, setting Mimi apart from her more traditional counterparts. And while it would be easy to attribute the assemblage of ostensibly ill-fitting pieces to the current trend of retro-nostalgia, it is clear that Mimi – like her designs – is above such fleeting trends. Either way, who really cares? The point is that it works.
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