The British furniture brand Andrew Martin has opened its first store in Egypt at Designopolis. Previously, a small selection of the brand had been stocked at Artissimo, a furniture gallery located in Garden City.
The success of the brand in Egypt was due to several factors: modern designs that hint at vintage points of inspiration, oftentimes including a touch of charming playfulness. Think classic couch created with leather treated to look vintage and worn with a Union Jack printed on it. With great taste and delicacy, kitsch is ruled out for suave originality.
While talking to Martin Waller, who was in Cairo last month to attend the store’s official opening, it was hard to separate the man from the brand. With great humor he reminisced about the furniture design industry and what it takes to keep such a business going.
Having co-founded the brand at the young age of 22 in 1978 and now solely behind the brand, Waller and Andrew Martin have grown together to become highly respected in the British design world. “It was the decade that taste forgot,” laughs Waller, modestly dismissing the incredible rise of such a brand that was once based in a small workshop.
Today, Andrew Martin produces furniture, home accessories, fabric, wallpaper and lighting. In addition, Andrew Martin sponsors a yearly interior design review book calling for contributions from furniture and interior designers from around the world.
The works of Egyptian interior designers Nihal Zaki, designer duo Hedayat Islam and Dina Khashaab of Eklego and architect Shahira H. Fahmy have been recognized and published in various editions.
Though very much a British brand, the overall theme is a look that is informed by cultures from around the world: Southeast Asian and African looks particularly color the brand with beautiful bold wooden furniture and colorful prints. There is nothing stuffy or overly prim about the brand. You can forget the mallards too. It’s modern London yuppie rather than Balmoral.
The buyer of an Andrew Martin piece is one who is well traveled, informed but likes a casual comfort to his home. “We’ve also always been about easy living, put your feet up so to speak. “
The brand, explains Waller, is “evolutionary rather revolutionary,” constantly developing upon this one identity of the homeowner as cultured traveler. “I think the handwriting of Andrew Martin remains the same,” says Waller.
The brand takes cues from seasonal fashion trends. “International design is influenced by fashion, people underestimate how important fashion is in the home,” says Waller.
“Whether it’s glossy fabrics, bronze or steel metal detailing, or vintage leather, those things on the catwalk will influence the materials we use to design our products. You have to respond constantly to that,” he acknowledges.
Yet anyone wandering into the store, whether here in Cairo or at the flagship store on Walton Street in London, will recognize that a lot of pop art influences are thrown into the mix, which is what lends the brand its cool Brit-pop cheekiness.
“People love the nostalgia thing. I’m a great believer that people are buying back their childhood, buying back the 60s and its art. One of the extraordinary trends of the last 15 years is midcentury and postwar art. Georgian and Queen Anne antique furniture were once rock solid investments but now a Rothko painting is more expensive.
“The comics and illustrations of 50s astound me; I’m amazed at how talented people were.”
Large prints of iconic actors hang in store, as brightly colored pillows printed with old movie posters decorate various couches. There is also a drum that should catch the attention of any die hard Beatles fan.
A modern day replica of the drum featured on the cover of the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. “We gave one to Sean Lennon, John’s son, who asked for one when we made it.”
Issues of design copyright, points out Waller, don’t exist for such dated references, and therefore images of the Fab Four can be used freely. Currently, they’re starring on couches, armchairs and pillows.
Several accessories in the collection available in store are inspired by Waller’s love for toys. “Toy designers are great unsung heroes of design.
I never really grew out of toys. As a small boy, I had the Britain’s Tin zoo series, which later on was an inspiration to me and I purchased the elephant mold from an auction at Christie’s. From that mold, I designed a large elephant statue.” The elephant is made of various sheets of metal hammered together and the effect is dramatic.
“In our London store we have a hair dryer for people to blow at a toy dandelion, I’m a great believer that shops should be entertaining.”
In Cairo, too, the Andrew Martin store is well worth visiting.
Unit B104, 106, 108
Designopolis, 38km Cairo-Alex Desert Road
The drum designed by Andrew Martin and inspired by the one on the Beatles’ album, was gifted to John Lennon’s son Sean.