How bus blinds became the coolest of personalised artworks in our homes.

July 19, 2017

How bus blinds became the coolest of personalised artworks in our homes.

You’ve used that mode of transportation commonly known as a bus before right? Even if you are super-duper posh and normally get flown everywhere by your own troop of unicorns, you’ve caught a bus at least once. Even Her Majesty the Queen hopped on board the Cambridgeshire Guided Bus in 2013 – there’s photographic evidence and everything!

And just how did both Queenie and you know what bus to get (assuming you didn’t plan your route on citymapper). THE BUS TOLD YOU!! That little information window above the driver faithfully displayed its numerical classification and intended destination in off-white or yellow text on a black background. It might have said Brixton, Barking, Buckingham Palace or Betsy’s House (in my dreams) but you knew the end point of that fabulous vehicle. Which, when you stop to think about it, is pretty handy!

Destinations and stopping points have been displayed on buses since 1829. To put that in some historical context, President Jackson was trying to buy Texas from the Mexicans but they weren’t having any of it, Russia and the Ottoman Empire (get your history books out) were signing a peace treaty, but the Brits were putting our first Bobbies on the beat and sorting out properly informative public transportation signage!

The original buses (even the horse drawn ones) had a single place name on a plaque. By the 1930s, bus routes had become more complex and all the destinations were silk-screen printed on to paper strips that were then pasted on to rolls of linen up to 30ft long. Later still, bus blinds were screen printed directly on to rolls of man-made fabric that could be any length. If you want to see some of these first hand then I highly recommend a visit to the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. They have some very fine examples of VERY long bus blinds hanging from the ceiling of their very beautiful building and you can even have a go in a tube simulator and pretend to be a train driver.

Side note: at the end of the article is a link where you can see the whole process of a modern destination bus blind being made. It’s fun, but don’t skip down there just yet!

But how did these functional items of signage move out of the buses and into our homes to become the ultimate statement piece of urban art?

Well, the love of vintage has a lot to do with it of course. We’ve always loved bringing unusual things into the homestead and breathing new life into them. This decade has brought us the apple crates as shelves, the bare Edison light bulbs in LED form (sometimes being held by resin mice and monkeys!) and mason jars as drinking glasses. With works of art on walls the vintage world has been our oyster. Anything from album covers to sheets of stamps to gig tickets to advertising posters has been co-opted into our homes. And why not? All the aforementioned usually have great graphic elements to them and are perfect for displaying!

So why bus blinds?

Destination bus blinds have been turning up in auction houses and antique markets for quite some time now. Bus routes change, or get decommissioned, or place names get updated, new stops get introduced or the blinds just get worn from being cranked around so many times that they get a second or third edition made!

What makes them so appealing owes a lot to the designs skills of calligrapher Edward Johnston and the eponymous font he created especially for London Transport. The brief was to create an easily read font that would tie all of the Underground signage together under one brand and make them distinct from advertisements. The font should also belong “unmistakably to the twentieth Century”

Amongst many characteristics, its perfect circle O, straight sided M, and diamond dots above the i and j make it instantly recognisable. Adopted across the whole of Transport for London and then later as the font for the GLA, the London Assembly and the directional signage for London 2012 Olympics, it seems no other font represents London quite so distinctively. This is maybe why bringing it into the home instantly evokes an urban out and about feel!

Many of the decommissioned bus blinds were chopped up (oh the inhumanity!) and individual destinations were framed and displayed, but it didn’t take long at all before whole length bus binds starting appearing on discerning walls in interiors magazines such as World of Interiors and Elle Decoration.

I guess this is where Betsy Benn came in. A full length original bus blind, as blissful as it is, had some peculiar combinations of destinations. This might work for you and is very authentic! But what if you could have every destination that had ever been important to just you and not the whole of your town?  

What if your very own destination bus blind could start with where you grew up – maybe even as specific as the road you lived on. And then journeyed through the schools you went to, the parks and high streets that knew the teenage version of you. A personalised bus blind that traversed the holidays you loved and the places you discovered when you met and fell in love with that someone special? Could it even pick out restaurants and beaches and that one location and date where someone proposed spending the rest of their life with you and you accepted?

Well, lucky you! Because, since 2010 that is exactly what we have been creating. A full range of bespoke destination bus blinds to capture all of those amazing adventures and memories.

Our first creation was a metre and a half long canvas in homage to the original form and function of the destination roller blinds, and it sits in my home to this very day. Charting the path of the first 15 years spent with my husband, we took the best and the beautiful parts of our lives together and created the bus journey of our dreams! We were the first company in the UK to offer these amazing personalised works of art and they still hold a firm place in our hearts.

After the canvas option came the long thin destination print. Again this was unique in the UK and to us. The sizing allows us to capture 16-18 destinations and place names and is not a standard sized print like the A3 and A2 options. It’s very reminiscent of the bus blind shape and format and works so well.

This print graced the front of the Notonthehighstreet.com Valentines Gift Guide in 2011 and essentially propelled both us and the personalised bus blind into the limelight! It wasn’t until an article was published in the Independent in 2012 that we learned the bus blind print had been the TOP selling item across the whole site in 2011. It seemed that the concept and our interpretation of this design classic had really struck a chord with people.

As a company, we have very strict styling rules for every bus blind print or canvas that is ordered. Similar I guess to the rules that apply to the guys making the functional ones for the actual buses! Letter point sizes have rules, the spacing between letters (or kerning) have rules, where and when we take prefixes and suffixes and make them smaller (words like station or in dates the TH) have rules. It’s very much the first thing that all our graphic designers are taught when they join the company, and prints are not allowed to leave the building unless they are signed off by a style expert!

That way, we can ensure that each print is in our own unique style, but also is very recognisably inspired by the original Routemaster bus blinds.

More bus blinds followed and our range of personalised destination prints is now the most comprehensive and fabulous anywhere in the known universe (it’s in a blog post now so it must be true!) We have bus blinds for weddings and anniversaries, big birthdays, new babies, graduation and gap year gifts – all sorts! In fact, for any life story you can imagine, we can create the perfect destination style print.

And although they look beautiful in classic black, we can print them in any colour you would like to match your own personal tastes. More recently we have added gold, silver and bronze metallic prints in the same style. Perfect for wedding gifts and anniversaries! We even offer some in the most gorgeous Sapele wood that we could find!

And in case you were left in any doubt that these are simply the best custom prints in the whole wide world, here is a picture of Richard Curtis giving one to Dustin Hoffman after the filming of Esio Trot. Two of the nicest and most brilliant people anywhere in the universe, actually.

Dustin Hoffman and Richard Curtis with a Betsy Benn original destination style print

 

Silk-screen printing of a modern destination bus blind:

 




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