Summerill & Bishop: Table Manners
Redesigning a perception is a meaner feat than creative vision alone. And for West London's Summerill & Bishop, creating striking tablecloths came with an image problem to solve
Founded by June Summerill and late friend Bernadette Bishop, Summerill & Bishop turned a shared passion for entertaining into an opportunity – and has continued to do so for 25 years. They opened the doors to their Holland Park boutique in 1994, described by Summerill as “our dream shop: a place for people to spend time, that would always play beautiful music and smell delicious”. She explains how, “For both of us the kitchen was the heart of the home, it should look effortlessly beautiful, just like any other room in the house. We wanted to achieve it with just accessories.” And first and foremost, that meant the table.
Following Bernadette Bishop’s passing, her son Seb Bishop stepped in. He recalls, “Laying the table was one my ‘jobs’ as a kid. I remember doing it with my mother, we would go out into the garden and collect beautiful leaves that we would use as placemats.” Bishop and Summerill now drive a celebration of his mother’s influence through impeccable table textiles. “When Bernadette passed away,” Summerill explains, “it was important for us to create something that would mean she was still at the table with us.” Bishop furthers, “The company’s vision is still to change the way people eat. We have found that people stay longer at a table that is beautifully laid, and the foundation for this is a beautiful tablecloth.”
Yet, the brand’s beginnings came amid a tablecloth-sceptic world, and in the early ‘90s, the hosting public needed some convincing that the accessory deserved more than disdain. Bishop details how, “When we started out, our greatest challenge was to make the tablecloth relevant again. When an item you are so passionate about is largely seen as unnecessary, undesirable and old fashioned, you have a big challenge ahead!” Now, their vibrant, 100% linen designs play centrepiece to dynamic ‘tablescapes’ worldwide, part of a growing fixation on dinner table aesthetics. “For us, the table has always been having a moment, it just seems that the world is now catching up,” Bishop says. “If we are not willing to hang the tablecloth on our walls as a piece of art, then it has no place on the table either.”
But, more than just visual, Summerill & Bishop know the greater power their designs can have, and their true craft is in creating moments. Bishop explains, “Our tablecloths are for life, not just for dinner! We like to think that people will pass them down through the generations and keep them as family heirlooms for all the gatherings that take place.” Finding new meaning in the material, he observes, “Mealtimes are becoming increasingly important, because society is moving at a faster pace. A tablecloth can be a conductor to good conversation and laughter, a canvas around which you make life's biggest decisions and surround yourself with those most important to you.” And with this, Summerill & Bishop’s mission becomes one that universally resonates, suggesting perhaps we’re all cut from the same cloth after all.