Shoreditch’s design history

18th Century slum to East London design hub

01/2019


Shoreditch is known to be East London's design hub and creative heart. We wanted to explore how its industrial history led to it becoming the go-to area for creatives, design practices and contemporary furniture stores alike.

Before the areas industrial development really began to take off in the late 18th century, Shoreditch would have looked very different indeed. Initially a rural area, the earliest known reference to 'Soerditch' (as it was originally known) is around 1148 AD. During the middle ages, Shoreditch was small and scattered over several hamlets. Even as late as the 18th century, Shoreditch's landscape was still mostly pasture and arable land.

Industry in Shoreditch began after the opening of the Regents canal in 1820 during the industrial revolution that was happening across Britain at this time. Starting with water-power mills along the River Lea, manufacturing grew to include industries such as Oil, Paint and eventually the furniture trade. In the early 19th-century timber yards were built along the river which provided cheaper and easier access for this thriving and developing industry.

Shoreditch eventually became home to London's furniture industry and it quickly matured into a pivotal centre of manufacture, sale and trade furniture supply around the world. As the city of London grew, the population quickly flooded the neighbouring suburbs and housing growth led to a rapid demand for furniture. By 1901 there were already over five thousand furniture, piano and cabinet makers in Hackney - the London borough Shoreditch is part of.

This demand meant that some residential properties were converted for industrial use, so externally still reflecting the neo-gothic and other historic revival architectural styles. Revolutionary developments in steel production meant larger factories and furniture warehouses could be built using a metal framework. This combination of larger industrial buildings and smaller artisanal workshop spaces has left Shoreditch with some great examples of architecture, covering a range of historical styles.

In 20th century post-war London, a decline in manufacturing meant the quarter became run down and semi-derelict. However, furniture, clothing and printing were the three surviving trades and Shoreditch quickly became a hub for creatives and a place where all spectrums of the arts flourished. This has continued and helped towards the areas 21st century success.

Shoreditch: East London's 21st century creative hub

Even with the whispers of "gentrification" flying around, and sure, Shoreditch has cleaned itself up a bit since its gritty nineties-noughties heyday, but you can still feel and see it's lively, creative energy pulsing through the streets. Establishments that help give Shoreditch some of its cultural edge include RB12 neighbour, the effortlessly cool Ace Hotel (5 minutes walk from us!) and the Geffrye Museum which explores home life, interiors and furniture since the 1600s, highlighting changes in society, behaviours and style.

Shoreditch continues to celebrate its creativity and position in the world of design with cultural events throughout the year including the London Design Festival partner event, Shoreditch Design Triangle - a true celebration of design and furniture by local creative companies. Find out what we did for last years Shoreditch Design Triangle here.

Factories, warehouses, workshops and showrooms still line the streets of Shoreditch today. Some with small artisanal stores, some large design firms and architects, but all creatives. This gives the area and its buildings a unique industrial facade which continues to excite and inspire to this day. Historic features such as Victorian wall cranes and loading bays can still be seen among the buzz and vibrant Shoreditch street art.

RB12's connection to Shoreditch

RB12 Co-Founder, Dean Louw says, "Shoreditch is an area filled with creativity, whether it be art, design, fashion or architecture. It also tends to be more contemporary and edgy than say the West London design district around Chelsea Harbour and Kings Road."

When asked why this design hub was chosen for the RB12 contemporary furniture showroom, Dean went on to say, "Our collections are at home in this contemporary and creative environment. We are also right in the midst of so many architectural and interior design studios who our showroom was predominantly designed for. We wanted to provide a space to inspire them, give new ideas and somewhere they would feel comfortable bringing their clients. We also felt that our concept would be appreciated by homeowners who have come to expect more from their shopping experience and who come to Shoreditch for that very reason!"

The decision to launch our concept furniture shop and showroom in such an inspiring and spirited area was easy. With its rich history and since becoming East London's design hub, Shoreditch is the perfect epicentre for interior design lovers, contemporary furniture hunters and our professional peers. Visit Shoreditch and discover our contemporary furniture collections at RB12 anytime!