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VM choice: Pitfield - a classy cafe selling desirable things

On the edge of London’s fashionable Shoreditch, north of the Old Street roundabout, is Pitfield, a café and store well worth exploring not just for its contents but for its apparently happenstance VM.

Owned by creative director Shaun Clarkson, who has an interiors background, and managed by fashion graduate Kate Weir, Pitfield is partly a café and partly a new-merchandise store. Named after the street in which it is located, it also retails a wide range of vintage and found-items which find new homes in the area. Notice how everything on this tea towel-covered tray of pre-owned cutlery is neatly labeled with a description and a bar code, distancing the store from the chaos of a charity store and permitting the item to be catalogued so it can be photographed for inclusion on the company website.

Weir says that customers fall into two categories. Many are reminded of familiarity with an item in stock because their mother or grandmother used the same thing. Customers purchase merchandise as a reminder of their pasts. This sounds so straightforward that charity stores must be wondering where they go wrong: it is probably in the VM display. Here, all the baking items are grouped together and create a baking story. I was severely tempted by the muffin pan (the same as the one my mother used for Yorkshire puddings), whereas an equivalent display of new pans in a kitchen specialist store would fail to tempt me.

The second reason for customer purchase is that they admire the effect the display creates. This is especially true of the wall of coloured glass, which might easily be a room divider as seen here or as a means of curtaining a window, as was fashionable in the USA in the 1950s.

Pitfield’s range of vintage items reflect kitchen fashions of the 1970s with these grotesque, anthropomorphic containers. Originally for pickles, celery or garlic, it is as though a gargoyle from the eves of a medieval church has landed in the kitchen.

Having fitted the store space with a scaffolding of planked shelves, space is now at a premium. But it does not descend to the chaos of some charity stores or the bric-a-brac stalls in flea markets. The careful balance between the serendipity of happenstance and presentation is maintained in the use of the two biscuit tins here, each respectively repurposed as containers for gingerbread cutters and clothes brushes. Notice that even they have bar codes and are for sale. Again a nice clean tea towel is folded into the base of the tin with a rolling pin in it, conveying that ‘as just seen in your kitchen’ impression.

The space between the shelves is filled with a mix of cabinets on which glass shelves formally display crystal merchandise. The mahogany of the cabinet is echoed in the turned wooden candlesticks in the foreground.

Not all of Pitfield’s retail offer is vintage. Candles are amongst the best sellers, beautifully colour-blocked as though they were pencils, with a selection of notebooks in the foreground, and the odd vintage item like the cine camera, snuck in between.

Pitfield doesn’t only sell small items. It also offers larger ones and an interiors service. I love that the re-covered, wheat-yellow, 1950s - 60s chair and matching stool has been decorated with some cool cushions. Sofas and chairs should never ever be seen without a good cushion, one that is soft and squashy not a hard piece of closed-cell foam. The juxtaposition with hand-woven shopping bags on the deeper yellow wall adds a touch of texture and emphasizes the colour.

Watching Kate meticulously identify merchandise, create a description and a bar code, and enter the item on the website, shows the attention to detail and the processes of consumption. It divorces the item from its previous owner, effectively cleaning it from previous associations and making it ready to find a new life. Very ecologically sound, and very satisfying for the new owner too. Go take a look, and buy something irresistible.