It’s a story that began in 1884. Adventurous young brothers, George Percival and James Baker, based in what was then Constantinople, decided the riches and beauty of the city and its surrounds should be shared with the rest of the world. They started to export Persian, Turkish and Turkoman carpets back to England, travelling to London in 1884 to set up GP & J Baker. An instant hit with the Victorian world, the rugs were then exported again to customers in Paris and the US.
Shortly afterwards, the brothers purchased the renowned Swaisland Fabric Printing Company in Crayford, gaining with it most of its printing blocks and a huge archive of pattern books dating back to the 18th century. By 1893, GP & J Baker was employing some of the finest Arts and Crafts designers of the era, developing exclusive designs from the ever-growing archive.
Almost 140 years later, GP & J Baker is still going strong and producing the finest fabrics, wallcoverings, furniture and trimmings from its base in Design Centre Chelsea Harbour. It gained a Royal Warrant from HM The Queen in 1982, an accolade that it holds proudly to this day. The brand is also an umbrella for names like Threads, Baker Lifestyle and Mulberry Home.
Despite the difficulties of 2020, the dedicated team remained undaunted by the challenges ahead. They swiftly embraced the advantages that technology has to offer, reconfiguring the team so they could work just as efficiently from home. They also used the opportunity to pivot to become a real partner for designers, rather than just a supplier.
‘We’ve shifted our marketing direction to messages that really help the designer,’ explains Ann Grafton, managing and creative director. ‘We’ve created virtual pattern books online, which designers can download onto their mobile devices, so they have a library of colour books that they can refer to anywhere. We’ve worked hard to shift our direction to tools that work in today’s new environment. And we’re going to continue to develop more to help designers work in a smarter way.’
The team is keen to carry the learnings from 2020 into this year and beyond. They are launching five new collections in 2021, one of which is called Portobello. In a palette of warm blue, white and red, and using embroidery, jacquard and block printing techniques, it was developed from the archive in response to changing interiors trends. ‘People want lovely things that are timeless but easy to live with now,’ says Ann. ‘They want a comfortable, beautiful environment in which to live and work.’ They are also celebrating Mulberry Home’s 30th anniversary this year, with a new collection called Long Weekend of printed linens and velvets, as well as the Iconic collection, a celebration of its most beloved designs over the years.
As for Brexit, Ann and the team aren’t concerned. They’re used to working with partners around the world and have a strong business across Europe. ‘We’re as prepared as we possibly can be,’ says Ann. ‘My view is it’s going to happen and we all just need to get on with it. As a country, our businesses are very adaptable and flexible, and we can just move forward. I don’t see it affecting our day-to-day business.’
Above all, they are very hopeful about the future: ‘I’m really super optimistic about 2021,’ says Ann. ‘We have this vaccine on the horizon, but people have also really focused back on home and comfort. Builders and designers are swamped with work. People have come to appreciate their homes and gardens through this time, which is hugely positive for us. And people want to look forwards from all this with enthusiasm for moving on.’