Both shops are characterised by their delightful clutter. Thirties industrial- style ceramics in that ubiquitous canteen green, restored Bakelite telephones, and tools one can't immediately imagine a job for, cover the surfaces of tables and chests of drawers. Fun furniture sits comfortably alongside more serious and solid pieces, and the air is perfumed with beeswax candles and herbal soaps.
Down a steep staircase you can find anything from a Twenties coat button to a kitsch decorated rubber washing-up glove as used today. After Noah brings a whole new meaning to eclecticism.
But, of course, it would not have been enough simply to house a lot of junk, no matter how desirable. After Noah's popularity is the result of a meeting of two canny business minds, both with strong artistic bents and very different talents. "When we opened After Noah we wanted to combine our talents," explains Matthew. "We both have a strong idea of our individual styles and managed to merge them well."
Matthew's background as a cabinet maker and furniture restorer ensures that whatever comes in for sale can be lovingly restored and beeswaxed back to health. His apprenticeship to his grandfather more than a decade ago means that he now boasts a workshop of 12 years' standing, trusted by the likes of English Heritage, Kew Gardens and even one or two embassies. Zoe is an artist and mosaicist with an unerring eye for consumer delights and a nice line in mosaic table-tops, which are now one of the shop's most popular lines.
The balance of old and new pieces is about 60-40, but you'd never know it. A handmade steel bed may resemble the one your granny owned, but it's available from the workshop, starting at pounds 595. Conical chocolate cups at about pounds 4 apiece look as if they are the last batch of a Thirties consignment. But don't worry - there will be a huge delivery of more next week.
If there is one thing After Noah has achieved it is this balance of old incidentals and the ultra new, such as Tumbler cups -vessels with a rocking bottom -and the vinyl vase - a strip of plastic sleevelets which you fill with water for single stems and attach to your window.
A price range stretching from pocket money to Fort Knox ensures that After Noah is relied on heavily by gift hunters: bored with the mass of glossy shops all offering similar goods found in every city centre, they troop in here knowing that they are always likely to find something a little different.
The philosophy of After Noah is simple: keep it basic, keep it functional. There is almost a puritanical streak running through the choice of merchandise in the shop, made doubtful only by the chaos: you may bang your knee on a stool and collide with a spray of dried flowers, both at the same moment. After Noah is like an attic. It's your attic, my attic - different contents, but the same mania. So perhaps there is a little bit of all of us that responds to what one of Matthew's assistants calls "disorganised comfort".
"People don't live in museums," pronounces Matthew. "They acquire things over a period of time. Some are good quality, some are not, but overall there is a look, a cohesiveness."
Is it perhaps a look which is simply a home from home, or do they, Jekyll- and-Hyde-style, live in high Napoleonic splendour? "I think the shop is probably nicer to live in," Matthew confesses with a little laugh.
Recently an advertising campaign has raised the profile of After Noah, which has prompted the couple to open a second outlet on the King's Road in Chelsea - some would say, the Upper Street of the South.
After Noah, 121 Upper Street, N1 (tel: 0171-359 4281) and 261 King's Road, SW3 (tel: 0171-351 2610)Reuse content