A bold new project is taking shape at King’s Cross in the heart of London, offering shopping, dining and much more. We speak to the team behind this amazing space and take a tour to see the luxury and variety it presents
If you’ve been in the King’s Cross district in the last few years, you will have seen that things are changing ‒ radically. Where large expanses of the neighbourhood once lay unused, today there is a buzz of activity. From offices to bars, shops to restaurants, King’s Cross has seen a swathe of exciting openings, and there are more are to come. The area is home to one the most ambitious redevelopments in the recent history of London.
‘It’s so rare to have such a huge area in such a central district with such potential,’ says Craig White, project director at property developer Argent, organiser of this incredible venture. ‘The place that King’s Cross has in the history of London was a major attraction. You can feel that history in every building.’
A key part of the redevelopment is Coal Drops Yard, a renovated Victorian building originally used to store coal. The space ‒ which will be completed this October ‒ offers a new destination in London. Here you’ll find enticing boutiques from a variety of creative brands, restaurants, bars, cafés, a gym and more.
For White, and for Argent, it was crucial for Coal Drops Yard to have a strong identity. ‘We were trying to do something different for London that added to the city but didn’t detract from anywhere else,’ says White. ‘We recognise it’s not just about consuming a product. How you experience a brand and how you experience shopping actually enriches your day or your life.’ The approach, he explains, is about returning to the old-fashioned art of retail. ‘Visual merchandising, window displays, creative direction … we are working with brands that have a brilliant ability to tell their story through creativity ‒ visually or online or with their staff.’
Having met with more than 1,000 brands in just over three years, the team has so far selected 55 for Coal Drops Yard, out of 65 potential spaces. The variety is impressive. Alongside international superbrand Nike and established British labels such as Sweaty Betty, there are many younger brands. Emerging lingerie label Beija London is setting its first physical store here, while concept store Studio One Twenty will open its second location, as will the hugely successful Manifesto barber shop. ‘These are London success stories,’ says White. ‘Coal Drops Yard represents to them a really interesting location.’
Brands are certainly responding well to the project. British fashion designer Paul Smith is opening an exciting new boutique here. Smith is known for his creative approach to retail, and across the world each of his stores is unique, designed to reflect the brand and also elements of the city or neighbourhood they are in. This boutique will embrace the original architecture but also contrast it with highly modern elements. It will feature a variety of design concepts and will present a frequently changing array of objects and collections. This approach is very similar to the one that Argent envisages for the whole of Coal Drops Yard, says Craig White, citing Paul Smith as one of the team’s muses.
Tom Dixon is another resident White is particularly excited about. The renowned design house, led by its award-winning eponymous designer, is moving its headquarters here, combining studio, workshop and innovative flagship boutique under one (rather enormous) roof. ‘We will use the 17,500 square feet in this incredible location as a platform to broadcast our latest ideas in interior design, product innovation and experiments in food, functionality and future living,’ says Dixon, who calls the space ‘a new home’.
This sense of connection to the space is something the team at Coal Drops Yard has worked hard to foster. ‘What we thought was incredible was bringing 55 brands together where the owners of the brands would probably be working in the shops,’ says White, who adds that this is a key element of the return to traditional retail and the personal touch. ‘I can’t think of any street in London where there’s such a range of brands in such close proximity, and of course that helps you ‒ as a local or as a visitor ‒ because time is the new luxury. If you’re going to give us your time, all of our brands and all the values they display will really reward you for that.’
Of course it’s not just retail on offer at King’s Cross. The area has become a foodie destination, offering innovative restaurants, bars and cafés. Trendy yet welcoming restaurant Caravan was the first and remains one of the best. Another must-visit is Dishoom, serving modern Indian food in a stylish setting. The options for drinking and dining, or just grabbing a coffee, are among the best in the city.
Millions of people come through the King’s Cross area each year, and this is set to rise ‒ not only as the neighbourhood develops but also as transport links expand. The district is, after all, home to the only international railway station in London. For Craig White, the most important thing is the welcoming atmosphere. ‘We never want King’s Cross to feel like an exclusive part of the city,’ he says. ‘Everyone is welcome here, whatever your background or wealth. That was a guiding principle for us.’