The Liberty store, a London institution
There are some obvious things we like to ignore, like museums we discover late in life, even though we regularly walk past them and barely look up. And so it is that I have long ignored a London institution (it’s even an English institution!), the Liberty department store, without really knowing why. Having lived in the English capital, I enthusiastically wandered through its gardens, museums and various neighborhoods, stopping from time to time at Selfridges or Harrod’s (in the Home department, of course) to draw inspiration and discover new things. Liberty was well and truly on my London map, but I stubbornly refused to go there. Which is all the more surprising given that this superb building had everything to please me, especially the Anglo-Norman style of architecture that I love so much.
But stubborn as I was, I thought Liberty was akin to Marché Saint-Pierre (of course, the house’s famous print of tiny little feurs, Liberty, had a lot to do with it), so I didn’t see much point in lingering there. However, I often passed by and should have been struck by the flower stalls at the entrance. But perhaps they didn’t exist back then? I can’t remember… Anyway, things certainly happen when they’re supposed to, so it was on a recent visit to London that I finally took the time (ten years later) to visit this famous store with its old-fashioned charm.
I also invite you to take the time to visit Daunt Books if you like the atmosphere of old-fashioned stalls… and to top it all off, the booksellers are incredibly friendly.
Setting foot in Liberty is like stepping into another world. It’s like being transported into a warm, welcoming and colorful period atmosphere. The Tudor-style store was built in 1924 on Great Marlborough Street (just off Regent Street) at the instigation of its founder, Arthur Lasenby Liberty, an adventurer with a taste for fine craftsmanship and original designs brought back from faraway lands. You’ll feel a cosy atmosphere that only the English know how to create, and you’ll discover a rather exceptional building whose skeleton is revealed in all its beauty and without too much artifice.
Take time to admire the wood panelling, the sturdy framework made from ship-sourced timber, the parquet floors and beams. And let’s not forget the glass roof, a source of light that magnifies this decor from another era.
The parquet floor creaks under our feet, the furniture is Arts & Crafts, we feel as if we’ve stepped back into Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames, and we take immense pleasure in wandering through the different floors, discovering carefully selected products and fabrics for customers with character.
A genuine source of inspiration
At Liberty, we’re not at all into the sleek, modern conformism of a Conran Shop (which was a precursor at one time) or even a Bon Marché (even if some of their exhibitions are exceptional, like the Famiglia on Italian art de vivre). When I’m at Liberty, I feel a bit at home, with objects that resonate with me and that I could perfectly add to my interior without them clashing.
The decor, of course, has a lot to do with this, and was designed at the time to give the feeling of being in a charming English country home. Rooms are designed as if they were rooms in a house, with beautiful antique fireplaces enhanced by blue and white tiles, strong and powerful colors on the walls, and always those wooden panels that show off the impressive quantity of fabrics in various Liberty patterns, which customers choose with great care to make a tablecloth, a peasant-style blouse or a dress.
The store is very inspiring and the departments I was most excited about were home and stationery – I was able to bring back a few treasures, as best I could (actually with great difficulty, but you have to make a few sacrifices), on the Eurostar.
In the section dedicated to tableware, there’s a small selection of beautiful tablecloths (at reasonable prices – in fact, here’s one of my tables with a tablecloth bought on the spot), glasses of various shapes and colors, country-style plates… and Liberty also features exclusive collaborations with brands such as Emma Bridgewater or Joséphine Dessine. The lampshades are interesting, but I bought some in the Cotswolds last autumn and would never be able to take them with me on the train anyway. The candleholders are very nice too, with colorful illustrations.
You can also find pencil jars (which I love), pencils (good timing) with a Liberty motif and pretty notebooks. A few months later, I found some of the same items at Le Bon Marché (I wonder if their teams have been there…?), which is obviously more convenient than going to London. Overall, I had the impression that the quantities and selection of certain products were limited at Liberty. For example, I didn’t see many different tablecloths, but the selection is relevant and to my taste, so I don’t mind. So, if you like something, don’t delay too long in buying it.
I’m delighted to have discovered this department store at a time in my life when I can really appreciate it. It’s a place of inspiration that I invite you to discover, and as the British dandy Oscar Wilde once said, « Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper. »