“Every time I’ve bought something I don’t particularly love—because I thought it was worth some money or perhaps it had a fancy name—it’s all gone a bit wrong,” reveals James Watkins, founder of Push//Pull, a vintage and contemporary design store in East London. Nowadays, Watkins has learned to trust his instincts. His advice? “Just try to get out there as much as possible and really only buy what you like.”
Watkins was a touring musician whose personal collection of vintage furniture gradually outgrew his home. “My little flat was overflowing. It became filled with more and more furniture and less and less music,” he recalls. Initially, he sold his surplus stock through eBay. An Instagram account quickly followed, and soon he found himself sourcing for interior designers and brands. Soho Home—the shoppable arm of Soho House—soon relied on Watkins to source a mix of 20th-century design and unusual one offs.
Eventually, the time came for Watkins to focus on his own brand, which references the ebb and flow of the items that pass through his hands and now includes a succinct edit of in-house designed furniture and lighting.
The vintage furniture, art, and objects Watkins’ sources are fundamentally well designed and well made: “proper things that are built to last.” Aesthetically, Watkins is guided by his own tastes which he admits are “always changing.” Push//Pull is headquartered in East London, where Watkins has observed “a real sense of freedom” in interiors. “People are really pushing the boundaries way beyond the realms of midcentury,” he observes. “More unusual one-off pieces seem to be what people are after now—and these can be so much more exciting to find.”
“People love the vintage furniture we sell, but when it comes to sofas, they really want something modern, high spec, and super comfy,” Watkins notes. It follows that Watkins has gradually added his own range of in-house designed furniture, which includes three sofa designs. “I really agonized about making contemporary products,” he reveals. “The last thing I wanted to do was send more sad old sofas to landfill.” With this in mind, he has worked with exceptional makers and sustainable materials to create products with longevity, both in terms of design and durability.
The newest sofa, the PP//03 Highline, is a contemporary interpretation of a classic midcentury shape. The sofa is available in a new eco fabric that Watkins has sourced from the Yorkshire-based brand Camira, industry leaders in terms of sustainable and renewable fabrics. (Their pioneering Oceanic range is made from plastic waste recovered from the sea.)
As well as being available to purchase online (check out the tantalizing previews of Watkins’ latest finds fresh from the field on Instagram stories), Push//Pull has popped up in several locations across London. “We’ve had various open studio events, including a really exciting six weeks on Redchurch Street with Donna Wilson, one of our favorite designers.”
That experience has compelled Watkins to open a permanent shop in a railway arch in Forest Gate. “It’s a brand new collab with our friends at Ramble Café, which offers amazing coffee, comfort food, and cake alongside some lovely vintage furniture too.”
When we speak, the shop has been freshly stocked with a chrome and wool Le Corbusier-inspired arm chair from the 1980s and a pair of modernist wicker seat stools “in the manner of [French designer] Charles Dudouyt.” We’ll take ours to go.
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