Simple Pleasures

It’s modest in style and huge in America. Kate O’Donnell serves up the lowdown on hip brand Canvas Home, whose only branch this side of the Atlantic happens to be in EC1.

There can’t be many investment bankers who’ve turned their hand to design, least of all to developing a lifestyle brand that’s USP is one of understatement. But British-born, New York-based Andrew Corrie, the man behind Canvas Home, is no ordinary investment banker.

“I moved to the US with a bank, which was involved in the financial side of manufacturing for retail, and I thought after 15 years it would be quite interesting to do that myself,” he explains. “And Harriet moved to America for me so I basically invested in Ochre at that point.”

Corrie is married to Harriet Maxwell Macdonald, one of the three designers behind the sophisticated British furniture brand Ochre, which has an elegant showroom on Britton Street.

“2005 was the right time for Ochre’s development,” Andrew continues. “We rolled out the New York showroom and had an embryonic presence in the States. We still have the showroom.” And the genesis of Canvas Home? “To help pay the Ochre showroom rent we started buying in glass, ceramics and textiles, mainly from makers we’d met during trade shows, and one thing led to another. But we started to think selling those things in Ochre was confusing so, in 2008, we launched Canvas Home and it went from collaborating to full-on designing.”

If you recall, 2008 was the beginning of the world financial crisis. Launching this new business could have been a disaster but Corrie and Canvas Home started small and that way of working proved perfect for both company and brand. American interior designers and customers couldn’t get enough of the handcrafted “décor accents” (as they say in the US). Those accents – tableware, barware, serveware, linens – are generally handmade in small numbers by artisans all over the globe. A handful of suppliers produce larger quantities but Canvas Home will never be mass market or trend led.

“We’re going in a different direction,” says Corrie. “Ceramics like ours are not ‘in fashion’.” Hence the name: “I was thinking ‘blank canvas’. Nothing is too much of a statement.” Instead, there’s lots of texture, a little pattern, soft colours. Nothing shouts; it all whispers. Everything is versatile, practical and intended for keeps. Prototypes get taken home to the couple’s NYC apartment or their holiday home on Shelter Island. If they pass the real-life test they go into production. The brand has a sustainable angle, too, but it’s worn lightly rather than worthily.

Two years ago, Andrew joined forces with former restaurateur Simon Lee, who’s married to one of Ochre’s investors, to open a British showroom. Lee knew Amwell Street well, having cycled along the street twice a day for years to his then restaurant, Medcalf, on Exmouth Market. Footfall isn’t huge (the showroom is trade only, apart from occasional sample sales) but that doesn’t matter because Lee thinks Clerkenwell has “a wonderful vibe”.

This winter, though, it will open as a shop to the general public for the month of December. So go, go, go and admire its signature dark and moody exterior (it’s Farrow & Ball’s Down Pipe) and its treasure trove of an interior. Alternatively, you can content yourself with its new UK transactional website, or find selected pieces at Heal’s, Fortnum & Mason, Debenhams, Cox & Cox and Fenwick.
Canvas calls its look “simple sustainable style”. It’s also very seductive.

Canvas Home, 57 Amwell Street.