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All Change at Shelf

January 25, 2011
by the gentle author

I have a secret route to get to Shelf  – I go past the farm, across the park, under the railway line, across the wasteland, under the sinister railway arch, over the graffitied footbridge, and then I turn left down Cheshire St to arrive excitedly at this oddball tangerine-coloured shop which only opens at weekends. It has been my place of constant pilgrimage for ten happy years of treats, where I could always guarantee to discover some new delight, but last week Katy Hackney & Jane Petrie invited me round to break the news that Shelf is leaving Spitalfields, because in future they will be open for business to the whole world, night and day at

When they first opened in Cheshire St, I did not have a place of my own to live and so, as consolation, I went to Shelf and bought an iron door knocker, vowing that one day I should have my own front door to go with it. Ten years later, this handsome door knocker, cast from a nineteenth century mould in a Belgian factory, greets me every day as I go in and out of my house. I always relied upon Shelf for serious nonsense, whenever I had urgent need of some nicely painted wooden rabbits at Easter or a candle powered merry-go-round, hand carved with deer from the Black Forest, at Christmas. There must be room in life for whimsy and joy, and Shelf is a toy shop for adults where you can rely upon finding a functional wooden radio or clockwork songbird that really sings.

I always wondered where on earth proprietors Katy Hackney & Jane Petrie got all this astonishing stuff, which you could find nowhere else – “Our elaborate hobby,” they term it modestly. It was a rare adventure to visit these two shrewd yet playful women from Dundee who maintain a constantly engaging double act, full of non-sequiturs and completing each others sentences. After several years, I enjoyed the privilege of viewing their most coveted finds, colourful old prints and toys which they stash safely in drawers in the basement for their own pleasure – just to make sure no customer could ever find them and buy them – and it became apparent then that Shelf was an endeavour based upon extraordinary personal enthusiasms.

At Shelf, in perverse yet welcome contrast to common practise, Katy & Jane have championed old designers, like Pravoslav Rada of Prague, eighty-seven years old, and Frerk Muller of Berlin, who is well into his sixties. It is the exclusive outlet in Britain for Pravoslava Rada’s bright-coloured ceramics which he has been making in an unchanging style since the nineteen sixties, and also the only place you can find the designs of Frerk Muller – an old beatnik who creates droll minimalist images of birds with moody expressions – printed onto mugs and towels.

Undefinable and unlike any other shop in London, Shelf has thrived on its own idiosyncrasy, even though Katy & Jane never set out out to be shopkeepers – a role which they are happy to relinquish to concentrate on designing their own things for Shelf. And I am especially excited to learn that now all the treasures from the cellar will go on sale. Naturally, I shall miss popping in for a chat and emerging with a bird whistle, but Katy & Jane are going to be back, setting up stalls at Christmas fairs and seasonal events. And in the meantime you can enjoy a Shelf bonanza at the shop, where everything is on sale at daft prices while stocks last. Be assured, this is not “Goodbye” to Shelf but simply “Au Revoir.”

Vist the Shelf blog The Other Side of the Shelf and Jane Petrie’s Costume Detail blog

Kellner figures, made by the same family since 1919

Paper mache animal head by Rachel Warren

Wooden merry-go-rounds from the Black Forest

Plaster letters rescued from the Californian desert, originally created to make titles for silent films.

Design by Frerk Muller, a beatnik from Berlin.

Ceramic by Pravoslav Rada of Prague

Stationery packs with tickets, boot polish tins and rare old paper bags from Paul Gardner’s basement.

Enamelled copper letters to make your own signs.

Ceramic by Pravoslav Rada

Paul Gardner visited Shelf to deliver the last paper bags on Friday.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Markus permalink
    January 25, 2011

    Hey Gentle Author, great stories!
    Seems that you really love your neighbourhood!
    But how do you manage to do a story everyday?

  2. January 25, 2011

    Shall be sad to see that lovely shop close, I always look in there when we deliver to No. 10 Cheshire St. Have been coveting the Frerk Muller Crow (I think it’s a crow! or might be a blackbird . . . . . either way it holds much charm) since I saw it in the window last November . .. .. . . very pleased they will continue online though. Hope an emporium of interest opens in it’s place not a soulless chain.

  3. Markus permalink
    January 25, 2011

    Good article, great pictures.
    And just a note: This merry-go-round (and the tradition in general) is unlikely from the Black Forest in Baden-Württemberg but from the Erzgebirge in Saxony and called there christmas pyramids.
    No bother. 😉

    a real Erzgebirger

  4. Ann Mathers permalink
    January 25, 2011

    I, along with many others, will be sorry to see Shelf close. I have only managed to visit two or three times a year and always tried to make one visit the Christmas mulled wine and mince pies event. I thought it a really exciting and unique little shop although, being a ‘canny Scot’ still living in Scotland, I often secretly thought ‘Gosh that or this is expensive!!’ It didn’t stop me buying though and one of my husbands purchases is now a treasure in our home. It’s a Rob Ryan print. Lovely!!. Katie is a lovely person and Jane’s not bad either! so good luck with their new venture.
    Ann Mathers. (Jane’s mum)

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