Aria was opened on Islington’s Upper Street in 1989 by Pushpa and David a local couple who shared a passion for art and design. Their vision was to bring quality design to the area at a time when there was nothing else like it around - and Islington was only just beginning to rejuvenate. As Aria approaches its 25th anniversary, look at Upper Street now - it's full of boutiques and restaurants and hums with life.
The shop hasn’t always been in the same place, but for the past six years it's been in Barnsbury Hall, an old music hall, built in 1850, which had been derelict since the 1930s. It was in a sorry state, but undeterred the couple bought it and set about renovating it into a 4,000 square feet showroom. Most noticeably they have kept the walls which have a beautiful patina of exposed brick and layers of paint. The lofty space has inspired the couple to run events such as supper clubs and book launches which are popular with customers who are often struck by how big the building is inside.
Who are you? Pushpa Gulhane and David Smith, owners of Aria
Where can we find you? Barnsbury Hall, Barnsbury Street, Islington, London N1 1PN www.ariashop.co.uk
Describe your store in five words: Contemporary, Eclectic, Inspiring, Independent, Friendly.
What makes you different? There are several things: longevity in the business, good customer service, our wedding and gift lists, our in-house cafe with complimentary tea and coffee, and the events we host in our showroom. Aria collaborates with designers and brands on product launches and hosts regular events including an ongoing series called 'After Hours at Barnsbury Hall' which reflects a change in how retail spaces are perceived and re-purposed. Occasionally, after closing time, our beautiful 150 year old hall transforms into an exclusive supper club.
How you decide what makes the cut? Our products are carefully sourced from leading British and international brands, as well as including hand-selected vintage pieces and special collaborations with local designers. We value quality materials and a high standard of finish in our products, as well as the experimentation and innovation shown by both leading and up and coming designers. We believe that high quality design should be infused into all parts of our lives and surroundings.
If you were starting again what advice would you give yourself? Always trust your instincts. If you really love it, it will work in your space. And remember to step off of the beaten path to find your creative ideas. The less obvious places offer the most inspiration.
What are you most proud of? We are most proud of our staff - Aria employs a friendly and knowledgeable team many of whom have been with us for over a decade.
Do you have a favourite thing in the store right now? The Tokyo sofa is a proven customer favourite because it strikes the balance between style and comfort. We offer it in an extensive fabric range, but right now we’d like it in a richly coloured velvet.
What's hot for 2014? Stutterheim raincoats made with skill, passion and authenticity in the small town of Borås, in Sweden. Their motto is: “Let’s embrace Swedish melancholy. Embracing rain is a good start.” It is in that spirit that a 1960's raincoat [as worn by Alexander Stutterheim's grandfather] has been updated to fit the modern man and woman, so it's now possible to be well-dressed - even in bad weather.
Every Wednesday 'Indie of the week' celebrates the best independent stores around. These places sell interesting and varied collections of design-related things you don't see everywhere else. They may support young or local designers or be great at finding unique things from around the world. By thinking a little more creatively about what they stock they are fighting the bland homogenisation of so much of the high street. And since I'm down with the realities of modern life, online only stores count too, because a beautiful and easy to use website is just as delightful an encounter in cyberspace.
Do you you have a favourite store? I'd love to hear from you.