Brompton has been a part of my life for so long. I first got to know the area when I was doing my Masters in Design History at the V&A and RCA. As the home of these institutions, Brompton and South Kensington are truly the cradle of design and design education.
When I was a student I rented a long, narrow attic in the roof of a large house on the corner of Lennox Gardens. It was definitely not renovated and you could only stand in the middle. It was fantastic in the rain; Drumming on the slate roof tiles.
I recently had the opportunity to spend time here again curating the Brompton Design District. Each September we host a program of temporary exhibitions for the London Design Festival exploring experimental design staged in buildings owned by South Kensington Estates.
It was a great way to explore the area and poke around buildings all over the place.
This year part of the program is taking place at Cromwell Place – the new arts hub – and the theme is Make Yourself at Home, exploring the importance of home in turbulent times and reflecting on the role of design in making a place a home.
Best to eat and drink
Ognisko, the Polish restaurant on Exhibition Road, is housed in a beautiful house with a terrace overlooking the square beyond. I have so many memories of weddings and parties with vodka there. Tombo, a small Japanese cafe near South Kensington station, serves really good fresh salad bowls.
The Tangerine Café Bar has migrated from the Chelsea Physic Garden to the Institut Français. It’s a great place to eat before a movie at the Cine Lumiere in the same building.
where i train
You’ll find me on the bike path from Kensington Palace to the Serpentine; it has to be one of the most beautiful tracks in London. I often make a detour to a statue I love called Physical Energy by George Frederic Watts, a rider on a horse where they seem to merge into a wave of energy, man as part of the cosmos.
For a culture correction
The V&A. I’ve known it since I was a child, studied there and then curated exhibitions there. I love strolling through the galleries and discovering new things. For the London Design Festival we have a project called R for Repair. It is a Singapore-London collaboration in Design Now’s galleries co-curated with Hans Tan.
We’ve asked the public to donate broken sentimental objects they wish to keep and turned them over to designers for creative repair. It’s really about exploring both the psychological and functional dimensions of repair. Why do people want to keep things? What gives objects longevity?
to communicate with nature
Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens offer nature on a grand scale, they seem so cosmopolitan. I love watching the different tides of people coming and going through the seasons. The roof garden of the Ismaili Center is also one of London’s secret gardens.
Consisting of four parts demarcated by water channels around a central fountain, it is inspired by the Qur’anic Garden of Paradise. Look out for the occasional open house, usually during Open House London.
Bute Street is great for food, especially Moxon’s Fishmongers. There is also the Saturday morning farmers market which really shows the French influence on the area. Visit Old Brompton Road and Brompton Cross where you will find all the design shops like Cassina, Molteni, B&B Italia and The Conran Shop.
I walk and bike. I love browsing the squares and side streets.
Reece Mews, where Francis Bacon lived and had his studio. The stables in this area often have what’s left of garages and old trades, which I like.
Something you only see in Brompton
I love the mix of institutions and strange structures hiding behind the white facades. Some are quite eccentric, like the College of Psychic Studies, dedicated to the study of psychic and spiritual phenomena. I think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was an early President. Or there’s the Royal Geographic Society; possibly the only building on the planet with a bronze statue wearing mittens.
What’s the catch?
A few too many places geared towards tourists.
In three words
Draft. Education. Eccentricity.
Jane Withers is the curator of the Brompton Design District and is hosting a program at the London Design Festival through 25 September; bromptondesigndistrict.com.
Brompton has several elementary schools nearby that have been rated excellent or good, including Christ Church CofE and Oratory Roman Catholic. For secondary education, the immediate area offers only independent opportunities. Queen’s Gate School is an independent day school for girls up to 18. Knightsbridge School is a co-educational school which is also independent.
What it costs
Shopping in Brompton
Average package price: £1,852,460
Average house price: £3,988,570
Rental in Brompton
Average PCM with a bed: £3,100
Average PCM with two beds: £4,580