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A jewel of a shopfront

16 August, 2019

Grade II-listed Wartski in Grafton Street

IMAGINE for a moment you are the owner of a large chunk of real estate in the heart of Mayfair, but the complex of offices and shops isn’t really fit for the purposes you envisage for it, and frankly, its drab and worn exterior is rather letting down the neighbourhood.

So you get together with some clever architects and decide that what’s really needed is a massive demolition ball swung in the 1960s block’s direction so a new building can rise and be something much more in keeping with this swanky Westminster patch.

You duly draw up a scheme that would create an 83-bedroom hotel, new shops and restaurants, and even a smattering of housing. The powers that be like it.

But then you run into a problem – and the problem is in the shape of a rather celebrated 1974 shopfront for tenants Wartski, the celebrated goldsmiths and jewellers.

The shopfront can be found in Grafton Street, and was deemed interesting enough to be given Grade II-listed status, described as a wonderful “bespoke shopfront design”.

It meant when the plan for demolition was formulated by owners O and H Grafton developments, architects decided the Wartski frontage, made up of five patinated bronze panels, was just too important to end up in a skip – and perhaps would be a problem when it came to planning. They decided it should be carefully dismantled and then simply rebuilt around the corner in Barlow Place.

Described in its listing as a “distinctive and intact example of 1970s retail design which is now rare,” it was designed by architect John Frederick Bruckland. He studied at the Northern Polytechnic in the early 1950s and worked for the Design Research Unit, responsible for a series of influential architectural exhibitions held at Olympia in the late 1950s focusing on pioneering British design. He also did a brisk trade refitting the interiors of London pubs managed by Watney Combe Reid.

And to add to the decision to dismantle and rebuild, the Wartski firm itself has a rather lovely back story, referenced in the shopfront by the fact instead of saying Wartski of Mayfair, it calls itself Wartski of that perhaps less well-known centre of luxurious living, the Welsh town of Llandudno.

In 1865 Morris Wartski set up his firm in Bangor, North Wales. Trade was good and he could afford to open another premises in the fashionable seaside resort of Llandudno.

In 1911 another outlet was established in Regent Street, where it traded until 1974 – when it shifted a little further west to the Grafton Street shop – and had its Welsh heritage referenced in the fact signs each side of the front celebrate its Welsh coastal roots.

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