Heart & sole
By Kelly Beswick
Transforming a Victorian button factory into a shop and home was something Deborah Baker took in her stride, but then again, she is a top shoe designer with a magpie’s eye for fabulous and quirky finds
Cool, fun and funky, Deborah Baker is the sort of woman you immediately want to be your new BFF. With her London accent, throaty laugh and quick wit, you just know you’d have a brilliant night on the town with her. What’s more, she’s got a lifestyle most of us could only dream of, flitting between Bologna and London, with regular stop overs in LA and NYC, overseeing her small but perfectly formed shoe empire fiorentini + baker.
When in the capital, Baker’s abode is a light and airy apartment that sits above her Shoreditch shop on the corner of Rivington Street. Once a Victorian button factory and a rumoured strip club (‘Well that’s what this very old man in the pub told me.”), Baker also discovered that in the Sixties the property was home to The Antiuniversity of London, a short-lived social experiment into self-organised education and communal living. Evidently Yoko Ono attended lectures!
Moving to the area in 2012 was a coming home of sorts for Baker, who in the 80s attended the Cordwainers College (now part London College of Fashion) where her contemporaries were Emma Hope (still a close friend) and Patrick Cox. “Back then Shoreditch wasn’t really cool and it certainly wasn’t a place to go out in,” recalls Baker. “It was kind of abandoned and forlorn, really. But I could see the potential even then. Despite the dilapidation, the houses and parks were just beautiful.”
It was love at first sight with the Rivington Street property, with Baker immediately putting in an offer just shy of a million, which was accepted. “I was surprised, to be honest,” she recalls. “It was just so quick and simple, when I’d been anticipating this long, drawn out, complicated process.”
Similarly with the renovations she undertook. “When I moved in there was an office downstairs and a kitchen in the basement, which I really didn’t like, so I moved it upstairs,” says Baker. Other than that and doing the basement up a bit, I didn’t really need to do much work at all. Basically it’s just a big room on every floor with these amazing windows and beautiful bare brick walls, so it looks nice with nothing in it and equally as nice when full up. It’s kind of easy to make it look okay.”
Here Baker is being a tad disingenuous – the place looks a darn sight more than okay, with the shop, a mash up of vintage lamps, retro furniture and unusual display stands showcasing her signature androgynous boots, leather wedges and heels. Walk up the stairs and the first floor is an open plan kitchen and living room, which also doubles as an office and meeting space. And at the top of the house is Baker’s private quarters, with her bed and semi open planned bathroom housed under the original, exposed, gabled timber roof which Baker says reminds her of “a beautiful old ship”.
Everywhere you look there are interesting and unusual adornments, such as a striking star shaped light from a fairground, a life-size fibreglass mannequin, affectionately known as Lola, and a dining table filled with photos and art from friends and her travels around the world. The overall feel is relaxed, unassuming but undeniably chic, a bit like its owner herself in fact.
“I just think I’m an impulse junk buyer, who shoves it all in and hopes for the best,” says Baker in typical self-deprecating mode. “I don’t get in interior designers because I prefer to do it myself. But I never really have a plan. It just seems to come together.”
Baker admits that the one thing she has consciously avoided in Rivington Street is strong colours. “I’m not a big fan of them, and this place is all about the bricks and windows, so even if I did want to introduce more colour, it would be hard to figure out where,” she says.
She had been toying with the idea of adding an extra storey to the property, but is in two minds because of that old wooden roof. Besides, she’s a bit too busy designing her latest collection, dividing her time between here and Italy, overseeing the business Stateside and generally having too good a time to project manage major renovation works. Who wouldn’t want her life!