Tucked within an historic shopping arcade in Leeds, West Yorkshire’s biggest city, the latest store belonging to British spectacle-maker Cubitts is ready to welcome shoppers. Particularly those whose sights are set on framing their faces with timeless eyewear. Designed by London-based creative practice Child Studio, the interior of the boutique is imbued with lashings of nostalgia and old-school atmosphere. It pays homage to the history of the ornate Victorian-era arcade it inhabits as well as the broader design legacy of England’s north.
Nestled on the corner of the County Arcade in the Victoria Quarter district, the footprint that Cubitts now occupies was built in 1898 to the specifications offered by renowned theatre architect Frank Matcham. To this day, the opulent arcade continues to impress visitors with its original pink Sienna marble columns, gilded mosaic ceilings, wrought iron detailing and quaint mahogany shopfronts, each with charming curved-glass facades. Child Studio aspired to celebrate this history, while also introducing “a contemporary interpretation of the arcade’s architectural language”.
Cubitts spectacle shop in Leeds by Child Studio
“New interiors within historic structures often fall into a pastiche or offer a sterile minimalist look that doesn’t attempt to engage with the context,” says Child Studio founders Alexy Kos and Che Huang. “We wanted to take a more subtle approach,” they insist, which resulted in the construction of a “layered narrative” that acknowledges different chapters in the building’s history. “We tried to imagine how the space could have evolved organically over time, fusing the Victorian cabinetry features with the Art Deco interior elements and Modernist references.”
Authentic storytelling and the unwavering pursuit to create something timeless and meaningful is at the core of Child Studio’s design practice. “Tactility and craftsmanship are also incredibly important to us,” explains Alexy and Che. “Balancing heritage and modernity, the Cubitts project aims to provide an intimate and informal destination for this historic neighbourhood. Every detail in this interior is bespoke and based on careful research.”
This eye for detail is exampled by a series of dramatic display cabinets that wrap the perimeter of the store. Echoing the geometry of the original shopfront, the glossy, chocolate brown lacquer finish of the three-metre-high cabinetry contrasts with the off-white textured wallpaper that lines the illuminated display shelves. Front and centre, the custom-made “cash desk” was designed by Alexy and Che to resemble a writing desk; the designers pairing a reflective black glass tabletop with a stainless-steel base and cherry wood storage cabinet as an ode to classic pieces by celebrated furniture designer Robin Day.
Grounding the store is a striking geometric floor pattern, inspired by the nearby faïence floor detailing originally produced by the local Burmantofts Pottery Company. Child Studio employed square-format clay tiles in various shades of terracotta, sand and anthracite to create this effect, mirroring the materiality and colour palette of existing surfaces. Furthermore, the shop signage is equally in keeping with the building’s original intent. Hand-crafted by a local artisan using the traditional verre églomisé technique, the Cubitts name is presented to the thoroughfare in glimmering gold leaf applied to blackened glass.
But beyond the bespoke details of the store’s classically handsome fixtures and fittings, the design studio also sourced a selection of antique furniture pieces to complete the space. These include the ‘Monk’ leather chair by Tobia Scarpa, the ‘Jumo’ table lamp designed by Eileen Gray and the octagonal bakelite clock produced by the British company Genalex in the 1930s, originally intended to keep time in the schools and factories of yesteryear.
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