Behind the scenes: bespoke cowhide cushions for the Albion Clerkenwell

8/17/2016 08:43:00 am HELEN STILES 0 Comments

A few months ago I was absolutely delighted to be asked to contribute (in my own small way) to the creation of the newest Albion cafe, restaurant & bar in Clerkenwell, London. There are a small number of Albions dotted around East London (plus one on the South Bank) and I love everything about them, so being invited to work with them was amazing!

As a lover of food and drink, the Albion concept is right up my street – simple, seasonal, British food and drink, served all day, in relaxed yet stylish surroundings.  The locations combine a cafe with a grocery selling great fresh produce, baked goods and luxurious culinary treats. What's not to love?

The team behind the Albion is Peter Prescott, Sir Terence Conran & Vicki Conran (collectively Prescott & Conran) so it's no wonder that the concept has been thought out and executed so flawlessly.  It was Peter Prescott's team who first contacted me during the planning stages of the Clerkenwell destination. At our meeting Peter explained that for their newest venue he was planning a basement function room, Cheese & Charcuterie Corner and Pie Room in addition to the upstairs cafe, bakery, grocery and bar.  

My task was to provide bespoke cowhide cushions for the Cheese & Charcuterie corner (how could I refuse?) Accessed by a wooden staircase from the main bar, the lower floor has a very pared back aesthetic – stainless steel, exposed flues, breeze-block walls and concrete lighting.  There was definitely a need for a little softening, and what more fitting than some glossy, tactile cowhide cushions? 

The bespoke cowhide cushions we made are double sided in dark black/brown South American exotic hides, with flashes of white. (Originally they specified very little white, but once in situ decided to order several more cushions with more white on show to contrast with the grey block wall that forms the back of the bench seat). Selecting the perfect hides was paramount – and I probably agonised way too much about it. But working with a beautiful, natural product like hide does, of course, involve plenty of natural variance. Each hide has different markings, hair length, colour, texture and curl that needed to be taken into consideration to create a set of cushions that worked beautifully together.*

These cushions were fairly large, meaning that we could only get one 1 or 2 out of each hide – but the end result is large, glossy, single piece cushions that really show off the natural variations. The picture below was taken for the opening...

A few weeks ago, when the venue finally opened, I was invited to a Great British Design Evening at the Albion Clerkenwell – organised for all of us who contributed to this latest venture. I couldn't turn down a chance to sample the fabulous charcuterie and craft beer (I highly recommend the handmade scotch eggs too!) I have to commend Prescott & Conran for their support of small, local business – without people like Peter Prescott it would be pretty difficult for people like me to survive. It was lovely to be invited to a thank you evening and to see so many other local designers and small businesses there. 

Amongst the scoffing and chatting I just about remembered to take a picture of the cushions in situ, a few more were added, together with a wall of vintage mirrors to overlook them! 

Of course the design of the rest of the premises is immaculate – a simple yet welcoming mix of design-classics (angelpoise lamps and pendants; tolix stools with red leather cushions) and textures (concrete, oak, marble and white metro tiles). Even the bathrooms were great – cement tiles and brass basins (you've got to love a good loo!) 

So if you haven't been to an Albion, I suggest you make a beeline for one the next time you find yourself in East London. Oh, and for those fellow-parents out there, you should note that they're child friendly too – free meals for kids under six during weekends and school holidays, all day (until bedtime). That's my plan for Friday sorted anyway!

*I realise that hair-on-hide makes some people feel squeamish, more so than regular leather (although presumably not those sitting in the charcuterie section eating fabulous meats?!) Our hides are all sourced from Argentina and Brazil, where the cattle are reared for their meat, naturally grass fed and are free to roam over 1000s of acres. At the end of their lives they are transported minimal distances and their hides as well as their meat go to good use.