Cult Shop: 80 years old, Ann’s is still lighting up London
Every taxi driver in London knows Ann’s,” says Mandy Goldstein, company director of the lighting shop that has been sitting proudly on the brow of Kensington Church Street for the past 80 years. “It’s an institution.”
Goldstein – an eccentric character easily identified by her magnificent grey beehive and deep golden tan, which she jokes, with a wink, she got in “Kensington-at-sea” – ended up there by way of an Evening Standard classified advertisement. The founders were looking for a new manager to take over from them. It was “pure fluke”, she says. “And 30 years later, I’m still in awe of the shop; I still get a thrill unlocking the door and walking in every day.”
Aside from the dazzling window displays of baroque chandeliers and curvaceous lampshades that Goldstein and Oidin (her creative partner of 22 years) arrange themselves, the shop front also boasts a Royal Warrant. Queen Elizabeth favoured her pleated lampshades, Goldstein reveals.
Inside, the space is infused with old-world charm; the shop’s contents are often mistaken for antiques, but in fact “everything we do is reproduction”, says Goldstein. The selection of more than 1,000 lamp bases, created by artisans mainly from Italy but also elsewhere in Europe, and the sheer range of shapes, sizes, fabrics, colours and concepts, is extraordinary. A tower of teacups is the base for a shimmying fringe shade; across the shop floor, it finds a friend in a “teapot”, a pearly white shade with a handle and spout.
The lampshades themselves are all handmade and handstitched in a factory just outside London. “We’re one of the last remaining handmade lampshade makers,” Goldstein says proudly. She likes to gift each a name: Waiter (a tall shade, with a shirt and tie comically sewn into one side), Onion Rings (its head, a curly perm composed of fabric loops), Hostess with the Mostest (a mass of black and white organza that greets customers upon entry), Bra and Knickers (self-explanatory), Witch’s Hat and Beefeater (a nod to the King’s Guards). “I have a big sense of humour,” says Goldstein. “We go over the top.”
The shop’s services also include rewiring and restoration, as well as converting almost any object, ordinary or extraordinary, into a lamp – such as musical instruments. Department stores John Lewis and Peter Jones recommend the shop for its bespoke shades and fittings, and often defer to Goldstein’s counsel in a lamp crisis. She can usually see the problem the moment a customer enters her door – and remedy it just as quickly. Her joy in the task is evident.
Remaining on the ecommerce periphery has added to the shop’s cult status. “There’s nothing like going into a shop,” says Goldstein, whose soundtrack of colourful swing and jazz tunes is a feature of the in-store experience. She credits Ann’s endurance to a little bit of luck, her knack for a sales pitch, its location a stone’s throw from Kensington Palace Gardens, and to remaining loyal to their niche – beauty with a touch of bonkers.
Ann’s, 34A Kensington Church St, London W8, @annsklc