Design: What's up in W2?

How Westbourne Grove outgrew its down-at-heel roots to become London's trendiest shopping street. An insider's guide by Nonie Niesewand. Photographs by Adrian Cook
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Former home to crackheads, funky music and sugar-box-painted houses, the only landmark in Westbourne Grove used to be the slightly startling public loo, designed by architect Piers Gough. Now it has transformed itself into London's fashion spot for contemporary design. From 29 September to 11 October, you can join the W2 designer groupies to check out a down- at-heel area reinventing itself as cutting edge chic. Donna Karan buys chairs there. So does Bjork, Alan Yentob, Terry Gilliam and Dawn French. And now that a core of smart shops have banded together with special events and exhibitions for a fortnight on the Westbourne Grove design trail, you can imagine the distress from other designers at smarter addresses.

The design trail is promoted by the designer's PR, Yvonne Courtney, who opens her own gallery, Mission (45 Hereford Road), on the day it begins. Mission is very year 2001, designed by Misha Stefan with curvy Barbarella freeform walls and melt-down porthole windows in mint. Having ogled the shapely boomerang boxes, amoeba accessories and sinuous Fifties South American salt 'n' pepper maraca shakers in the gallery, move on down the street to see what else is on offer.

Christopher Farr (21 Westbourne Grove) stages a retro on Jasper Morrison's furniture made by Cappellini in Italy. Ten years in the business and Morrison is already Granddaddy to the new wave with his very own show. Why Jasper? "Because there's rigorous thinking behind his designs that doesn't bow to fashion," says Christopher Farr. "He's understood the Bauhaus heritage and kept faith and doesn't go where trendy labels are. So now he's in fashion." Farr shows the streamlined, slim profile, minimalist pieces alongside Morrison's most maximalist chair: the capacious "Jodhpur" chair is decked out like the Maharajah's muscular legs in polo gear. Farr's beautiful and best-selling rugs designed by Romeo Gigli, Allegra Hicks and other designer labels are the backdrop.

There's more British upholstery at Succession (179 Westbourne Grove), where the two Foley brothers, Liam and John, and Nick Plant take the classic Howard chair and make a stretch limo of a sofa out of it, with feather cushions. Succession also stretches leather over panels to make handsome boxes to store things from TVs to books or bedside tables, all handstitched like saddles. And it stocks Jugenstil antiques and Secessionist bits and bobs that were Europe's answer to Arts & Crafts.

Aluminium lights like sheaves of corn silvered by acid rain illuminate the debut collection by designers Bowles and Linares in their new shop at 32 Hereford Road. Concrete-cast vessels, vases and bowls by the duo are favoured by stylists as props in all the top decorator mags. As are their slim-profile aluminium furniture: an armchair with no welds, and a library bookcase held together in tension by wedges in well-shod wooden feet. Softer than steel, with amazing strength, working with aluminium is "like cutting butter," says Bowles.

Donna Karan was over from New York at SPACE (214 Westbourne Grove) recently, buying Darkroom's cubed dark wood chairs pierced by a single aluminium sheet. For the Westbourne Design Trail, Emma Oldham will show Michael Young's "Synapse Sun" installation and furniture like the big bellied "Magazine" sofa which has replaced a classic steel and leather Corbusier in a club in Japan, his biggest market.

Check out Aero (96 Westbourne Grove) for its neat storage systems, like the stainless-steel wall panels on which you hang butchers' hooks, store plate racks and spice racks and tidy away chefs utensils. Everything in this cool white, clean, thoughtful place puts the fun back into functional. From an ashtray designed by Laura Potter like a glass tile indented with a recessed pair of lungs you get the picture: strong graphics, useful, neat unfussy things with more to them than meets the eye.

Bill Amberg (10 Chepstow Road) is a showcase for his entire range of leather products. Only a year after

opening, the leather floor has aged beautifully, like sandstone coloured flags. Amberg makes everything in leather, from luggage to the handrails in his shop. And he is launching a home office collection - with desk, table, chair and accessories in bridle leather standing on poised stainless steel legs like javelins. Spot them in the window on a lilac buckskin jewellery case lined with aquamarine suede. That funky functionalism is what you will discover on the design trek of W2. The look is contemporary, cool, not in-yer-face, nor Establishment

Independent Offer Westbourne Design Route: 29 September to 11 October. Participating outlets are organising a "late night" on Wednesday, 8 October, especially for Independent readers, when the galleries and shops will remain open until 8pm. For admission, bring a copy of next week's `ISM' with you. Watch out for discounts for Independent readers in participating shops and some local bars. and restaurants Other attractions A quick detour off the design trail, offers many shopping possibilites. Vent, 178a Westbourne Grove, W11 (no telephone). Browse alongside designers and celebrities who frequently drop in for Fifties clothes, bags, shoes and knick knacks. Open Fridays-Sat urdays only. Adam Bray, 63 Ledbury Road, W11(0171-221 5820). An eclectic mix of antique furniture, ethnic and modern pieces, already on Donna Karan's top 10 favourite places in London. Oguri, 64 Ledbury Road, W11 (0171-792 3847). Vintage Balenciaga, selling alongside Oguri's own t asteful range for men and women. Ghost, 36 Ledbury Road, W11 (0171-229 1057). A perennial favourite among the hippy-chic set, the new Ghost shop also stocks its Seraph label and sumptuous home furnishings. Sheila Cooke Textiles, 42 Ledbury Road, W11(017 1-792 8001). Clothes, textiles and accessories from the 18th century to the Sixties and Seventies, favoured by film stylists looking for inspiration. Carden Cunietti, 83 Westbourne Park Road, W2 (0171-229 8559). Stocks bed linen, glassware, antiquesand an exquisite range of Chinese handbags, shawls and slippers. The Cross,141 Portland Road, W11 (0171-727 6760). Nicole Kidman was here recently. Slippers from Jackson, clothes from designers such as Dosa and Boyd and pyjamas by Jenny Bolton - too nice to just wear in bed. Mr Christian's, 11 Elgin Crescent, W11 (0171-229 0501). The breads alone are a good reason to visit this delicatessen off Portobello Road. Aoife O'Riordan