Ellie-Jo meets Heather Linnitt in Chorlton to check out the modern vintage marvel that is Department
9 minute read
Someone once asked me “what’s something you read every day?”
I wish I had a more politically-informed answer, or I wish I could say that I read my library book everyday because then I’d actually be in with a chance of meeting my Goodreads goals, but if I’m being honest, the only thing I read every single day is Architectural Digest. Interiors, furniture, ceramics, upholstery, getting lost in Lily Allen and David Harbour’s Brooklyn townhouse, it’s my jam.
It’s almost like a gallery, or a spot where you want to sit with a coffee and watch people walk past with their whippets in those little turtle neck fleeces
Therefore, when I received an email from Heather Linnitt about a shop in Chorlton that stocks modern vintage furniture and art, I got excited. I hopped in the car and parked behind Department on Barlow Moor Road. I felt like I was on Bargain Hunt.
Expecting to walk into a jumbled trove of antiques, vintage stools and old film posters, I was taken aback by the curation of it all. Department feels like a collection of mini stage sets, all beautifully arranged to highlight each piece in all it’s glory. Pieces that range from retro globe chairs to green martini glasses and cowhide side tables.
Heather let me have a wander first, and chatted about Department’s origins. “I was inspired by a few shops that I’d seen on Instagram and Pinterest, but none of them were in the UK. There aren’t really many places like this in the UK, maybe a few in London, but there’s this place in Sweden called Dusty Deco and I just loved what they’d done with the space.”
Department doesn’t feel like a shop in Chorlton. It’s feels like a gallery, or a spot where you want to sit with a coffee and watch people walk past with their whippets in those little turtle neck fleeces. The walls are all white, a design choice that Heather made as “it allows all of the different furniture and artworks to shine. If everything else is white, the pieces aren’t competing with the interiors, and I knew there was going to be a lot of colour and pattern to contend with.”
When I say it feels like a gallery, it’s not got that clinical feeling that say, The Tate’s Turbine Hall has. You still feel like you can touch the furniture, sit on the chairs to see if they’re comfy, turn a lamp on and off. This was always Heather’s goal. “All sorts of people come in here, and although everything has its place, it doesn’t seem to be off-putting," she says. "People don’t think that the space is too exclusive and I always have the front doors wide open so people can just wander in and out.”
Like Heather said, there aren’t many places like this in the UK. In Chorlton when a new business opens its usually a bar, a barbers, a restaurant, a nice convenience store, and “when places like Habitat closed down, there was only really the big names on retail parks or wholesalers for people to go and browse for homeware. There’s a couple of smaller spots in Manchester, but nowhere like this.”
At Department, there’s dining sets, crockery, sideboards, clocks, lamps, old street signs, pre-loved clothing, records, prints, and everything in between. Pieces range from affordable vases and Stan Chow prints, to one-of-a-kind sofas and secondhand Japanese military jackets. I asked about the sourcing, where does everything come from?
“I always knew that I wanted to invest in a select group of dealers, ranging from vintage dealers to people who specialise in contemporary decorative accessories,” says Heather.
The shelves and side tables are decorated with pieces from independent artists, and unlike other vintage homeware emporiums in Greater Manchester (places such as Pear Mill) everything is organised aesthetically. Therefore, Heather has complete control over how the store looks. Pieces are shown in tandem with one another.
Department started out with about 25 associate sellers, and expanded to include pre-loved clothing from a range of high-quality brands and designers, and records supplied by three local vinyl collectors. The shop allows you to imagine how each piece would look inside a real ‘lived-in’ home, and a playlist of funk and disco keeps the vibes intact.
I want everything.
Heather’s love for interiors came from her mum who "had a real knack for making a house feel like home, wherever we moved. Our house always looked absolutely beautiful, and I think I picked that up from her”.
Previously, Heather had worked in the restaurant industry, then trained as an upholsterer, and owned a similar store in Leeds. As an upholsterer, chairs are a massive passion, and the ones in Department are a marvel. I’d met a fellow chair fanatic, finally. Heather is also obsessed with anything green, so we have a very similar Instagram feed and a love for Charlotte Perriand.
Department works in South Manchester, but the shop is eager to attract a wider customer base. Having moved to the city for university in the mid-80s, Heather was drawn to Chorlton and it’s quirky streets, but has since had customers from the Midlands, Surrey, North Wales and Scotland.
“People have discovered the store on social media, and Department has become a destination for collectors and interior lovers. We’ve sold some really incredible pieces since we opened and the goal is to expand to stock plants outside and make the outside look as inviting as the inside does. We’ve also had people come in to buy one-off pieces for bars and co-working spaces, and I love knowing where our furniture ends up. There's a 1972 Olympic Games poster hanging in Stretford Canteen that came from here.”
Recent trends in mid-century modern interiors (watch Don’t Worry Darling for inspo), and the rise of sustainable shopping has also allowed places like Department to thrive. In the same way that charity shopping and vintage fashion has taken off via the likes of Vinted and shops like Cow Vintage on Oldham Street, people love the idea of having pre-loved items in their homes.
Heather adds that “people are interested in sustainability, but they’re also looking for quality. Things that were made in the 60s and 70s are sturdy and timeless, and I want Department to serve as a place to come for inspiration.”
Heather interacts with designers and artists all the time, constantly searching for the perfect piece to add to Department’s collection, and she wants customers to feel like they can do the same. “People have come in with notebooks and picked out things that they feel inspired by, and that’s what it’s all about."
Inspired is the right word. The bookshelf in my flat is full of design magazines and interiors guides, but Department made me want to go out there and search for the perfect piece. The perfect chair to go by the window or the coolest candleholders to put on the kitchen island. If you’re in Chorlton for a coffee or brunch, walk down to the corner of Barlow Moor Road by Drop Bar Cafe and spend an hour in Department. Buy something from an independent artist or ask Heather about a particular piece, fill your homes and wardrobes with stuff that has history.
Department opened in Chorlton nine months ago and has since gone from strength to strength. You can find the shop on Instagram and Facebook to keep up to date with new items, get inspiration for your own home, and discover new independent designers. The store is open from 11am until 5:30pm Wednesday to Saturday and from 11am until 4pm on Sundays.
Department Manchester, 477 Barlow Moor Rd, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester M21 8AG
Follow Ellie-Jo on Instagram and Twitter.
Read next: Manchester Architecture: A History. Part One
Read again: Manchester is a city of jukeboxes
Get the latest news to your inbox
Get the latest food & drink news and exclusive offers by email by signing up to our mailing list. This is one of the ways that Confidentials remains free to our readers and by signing up you help support our high quality, impartial and knowledgable writers. Thank you!