Cult Shop: the irreverent genius of Maison Voltaire

Newsletter: FT Weekend

In 2010 Studio Voltaire, the non-profit exhibition and studio space in Clapham, South London, opened a festive pop-up fundraising boutique. A success from the start, it saw a multitude of famous artists contributing not only to special prints, but also to limited edition tree decorations, tea towels, blankets, T-shirts and original knick-knacks and irreverent. The queues circled the block.

Amy Allen and Joe Scotland from Studio Voltaire © Lesley Lau

The studio had been producing artist editions to raise funds for its art program since 2006, but the pop-up set a new tone. “We wanted to have fun with the name, so it was initially slightly ironic to make it look like a fancy fashion house,” says Studio Voltaire director Joe Scotland of the boutique’s irreverent nickname. “I don’t think we expected House of Voltaire to take off so much, or people working in fashion and design to be so engaged.”

Scott King 'Nostalgia is a disease' T-shirt, £ 55
Scott King ‘Nostalgia is a disease’ T-shirt, £ 55 © Lesley Lau

Since then, House of Voltaire regularly hosts pop-ups and sells online – the store now generates 30 percent of Studio Voltaire’s annual revenue, and next month will see the opening of its first permanent premises. The entire space of Studio Voltaire has been completely redesigned by architects Matheson Whiteley to accommodate the boutique and 40 artist studios. Seven of the studios will be reserved for artists supported by the Loewe Foundation, and there is a huge exhibition space, café and courtyard garden designed by Turner Prize nominee Anthea Hamilton.

House of Voltaire has collaborated with more than 250 artists and designers

House of Voltaire has collaborated with more than 250 artists and designers © Lesley Lau

James Shaw Baroque Recycled Plastic Standing Bowl, £ 400

James Shaw Baroque Recycled Plastic Standing Bowl, £ 400 © Lesley Lau

Linder & Jochen Holz blown and finished glassware, from £ 95
Blown and finished glassware Linder & Jochen Holz, from £ 95 © Lesley Lau

The boutique’s contemporary classic aesthetic developed from that first pop-up – mid-century and atelier-ambience, with clean oak furniture, hand-painted panels, and cashmere blankets from artists hanging on the walls. “We’ve had a lot of influence on Bloomsbury Group’s Omega Workshops and Keith Haring’s Pop Shop,” Scotland explains. The items for sale are constantly changing but always include a colorful, unexpected and playful range of unique artwork and print editions, as well as clothing, housewares and artist-designed items. You might find a canvas tote designed by Jeremy Deller (£ 30), salt and pepper shakers by Olaf Breuning (£ 190), a golden scalloped applique by James Rigler (£ 1,000) or dish gloves. by Wilma Johnson (£ 85).

James Shaw Baroque Recycled Plastic Candlesticks, £ 75 each

James Shaw baroque recycled plastic candlesticks, £ 75 each © Lesley Lau

Olaf Breuning ceramic salt and pepper shakers, £ 190

Olaf Breuning ceramic salt and pepper shakers, £ 190 © Lesley Lau

“Maison Voltaire is not following suit. They’re unique, ”said artist Scott King, whose contributions have included sweatshirts (£ 75) with“ Nostalgia is a disease ”on them. New orders for the launch include pieces from Kaye Donachie, France-Lise McGurn, Jonas Wood, Phyllida Barlow and Rachel Whiteread, as well as new household items from designers John Booth, James Shaw and Jochen Holz. “We’ve collaborated with over 250 artists and designers over the years, so there’s a lot to offer,” Scotland explains.

James Shaw recycled plastic baroque grid stools, £ 800 each.  Limited Edition Boxed Candle
James Shaw recycled plastic baroque grid stools, £ 800 each. Ryan Gander’s limited edition ‘Scent of the Artist’s Hearth’ boxed candle, £ 80. Ceramic FireWorks Studio exclusive to House of Voltaire, from £ 60 © Lesley Lau

Scotland also regularly associates artists and fashion designers to create House of Voltaire collections; the first was a 2008 collaboration between feminist collage artist Linder and the late designer Richard Nicoll. Sacai, Chloé, Simone Rocha, Roksanda, BLESS and Matty Bovan then participated. “Joe is very good at creative pairing,” says Linder, who designed everything from porcelain jars and prints to tablecloths and drinking glasses. “We are both turned on by the endless possibilities of questioning and queering around the house. Each edition is an adventure into the unknown.

Laura Aldridge ceramic enamel mugs, from £ 70 © Lesley Lau

But, fundamentally, House of Voltaire remains more than a fun business; its blend of humor, beauty and creativity funds one of London’s most interesting independent arts institutions, a place that “supports artists at a very crucial stage in their careers – through their first institutional exhibition, and in presenting opportunities they wouldn’t normally have, ”says Victoria Siddall, Global Director of Frieze Art Fairs, who has chaired Studio Voltaire’s board of directors since 2014. Yes, it could be a magnet or a ‘A £ 4 badge from The Neo Naturists or a £ 8 matchbook by Pablo Bronstein, but it’s a film loaded with cultural significance.

1A Nelson’s Row, London SW4 7JR,, @houseofvoltaire

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