A LADY OF LETTERS

Frances King turned her passion for typography into serious business when she set up an online gift and homeware store celebrating the beauty of the letter. But separating business and pleasure isn’t always easy – her Sunderland home is a lexicographer’s dream, with type-inspired art work everywhere you look, and, as she tells Laura White, beloved items of stock sometimes never make it beyond her living room.
Frances King

To have the right word in the right place takes on a whole new meaning when you step inside the home of Frances King. Decorative words, letters, numbers and symbols have been found perfect little resting places in the most unlikely spots.

Frances uses type to decorate her home in the way others might use sculpture, china or paintings. Among the customary family snaps stands a cheeky chrome ampersand; reclining against the wall is a puzzling Rubik’s Cube-type arrangement made from various old print blocks; a charmingly rusty alphabet chart dangles above a unit; and a selection of antique ceramic weight markers is displayed on a shelf behind the sofa. Other choice items of interest and intrigue are strategically scattered throughout the rooms –adding oodles of character to door frames, picture rails and counter tops.

The quirky, whimsical, bold and intricate designs of these cherished pieces are allowed the space to breathe and take centre stage thanks to the calm and sympathetic backdrop created by Frances’s colour palate of milky, muted tones, tongue-and-groove wood panelling and natural fabrics to walls and floors. Pieces picked up in salvage yards, flea markets and even skips have a place alongside contemporary pieces spotted and “liberated” from the high street or created by artists in the UK and designers in Milan.

Some of these pieces have been members of the King family for many years, but a few recent additions were originally destined for the virtual shelves of Frances’s online shop, tÿpografikâ. “Sometimes I simply can’t part with my stock, especially the gorgeous little vintage finds I make,” she laughs. “I suppose that’s one of the drawbacks of selling things you love.”

Frances says she’s always loved typefaces and letters. Previous jobs in the arts industry and in graphics have meant she has worked professionally with typography and has
long had an affinity with it. But her first memory of admiring the use of type as decoration stretches back to an unlikely 1970s cultural reference.

“When I was a child I remember watching the American sitcom Rhoda. There was a character who had letters hung right across her wall and I thought that was just so cool. It really stuck in my mind and seemed to plant a seed that has now grown into something of an obsession. I can spend hours admiring typefaces on the internet and have often been known to go ga-ga over the style of a letter ‘g’.

“Although we use letters and numbers every day in so many ways, we often take the shape and beauty of them for granted. As well as having practical usage they can also be decorative and can inject all kinds of moods into a room. I feel like I’m an evangelist for the word in all its beauty!”

Frances gave up full-time work as an arts development officer to bring up her sons, Morgan, eight, and Alex, five, and once the youngest started school she found herself dreaming up business ideas. “I sat down and tried to think of the ultimate business idea but that seemed an impossible way to go about things because it didn’t feel sincere. Then when I realised that what I needed to do was develop something that I was really interested in the concept of tÿpografikâ struck me. I knew that if I had an interest in this kind of thing other people probably did too and that was enough to get me started.”

Frances set about sourcing a selection of products ranging from the practical and utilitarian to the frivolous and decorative. Using her knowledge of designers, artists, wholesalers, salvage yards and markets she soon assembled an emporium of new and vintage goodies, including cards, children’s products, stationery, homeware and gifts.

“I really enjoy ‘spreading the word’. I love the idea that old discarded things find their way back into the hands of people who love them and see the beauty in them and in turn they bring such life and character into a room.”

www.typografika.co.uk

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