Do you struggle when it comes to hunting down beautiful items for your home, or searching for gifts for your nearest and dearest?
The internet is awash with interior lifestyle products of all styles, colours and degrees of quality, and sifting your way through an ever-growing catalogue can be exhausting and confusing. Your best bet? Find the right independent curated store, and you’ll always be able to find the perfect item with them!
Curated stores take all the stress out of shopping by presenting you with a carefully considered edit of the crème-de-la-crème of your chosen style to choose from. They’ve done all the hard work already, and once you find the store with the right style for you, you know you can count on them to deliver something tailored to your needs, time and time again.
In this post, we meet three independent curated stores based in the North East of England, who offer a range of contemporary, minimal and eclectic design pieces respectively, and discover what inspires their founders, how they select their stock, and what their plans are for the rest of 2020 and beyond!
After spending her twenties living in Toronto working as a retail manager and visual merchandiser for both national retailers and independent stores, Bellwoods’ founder Nathalie Bouleau Chabot moved back to Newcastle and found herself struggling to find similar stores to those she had been shopping with in Canada. “I found myself travelling to places like Life Story in Edinburgh, Hey Ho & Co in Salturn-By-The-Sea or Object Style in Manchester just to get that same shopping experience,” she tells me. “I’d always wanted to own my own shop but never had the courage to do it but this May, when I was put on furlough from my day job, I decided it was now or never!”
Naming her new store affectionately after Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto, Nathalie set out to bring the indie shop scene she loved to Newcastle. “Many of the practices within big retail really didn’t sit with my values,” she says. “I’m really passionate about supporting and shouting about independent designers. I want people to see the amazing work made by someone’s own hands – and the creativity, time and effort it takes to make something truly unique and special, rather than a mass produced item made with no care and attention.”
We’ve all been spending more time at home, and I think people have come to appreciate their space as much more than just four walls.
“I am inspired by keeping things simple,” she tells me, “and choose products based on craftsmanship, functionality, concept, or just because they look so good that I need them in my life!” Each maker and item in the shop is thoughtfully selected to feel like it belongs next to the other, creating a beautiful visual experience for customers. “It also takes out some of the stress or overwhelm that I know people feel when shopping – especially when looking for someone else. I want the whole experience to be personable and enjoyable.”
She buys items in small batches and regularly introduces new products, so that people are inspired each time they visit her online store. “I chose a mix of Northern designers,” she says, “who aren’t well represented in Newcastle, such as A Woven Plane and Fison Zair, alongside makers from across the UK and Europe who people may not know about. My aim is to create a platform for independent makers who are themselves working towards offering an alternative to high street shopping.”
Alongside the main collection, Nathalie also hosts an online exhibition of prints by Northern female designers, called “In Her Own Way”, curated for International Women’s Day. “Eight designers came together to celebrate women in all their incredible forms and raise money for local women’s charity, Smart Works Newcastle,” she says.
Having launched her website during the pandemic, Nathalie tells me that business has been great so far. “I’m so grateful for all of the support I’ve received,” she says, “and that I’ve had customers from across the country – not just my friends and family! It has been really encouraging. We’ve all been spending more time at home, and I think people have come to appreciate their space as much more than just four walls. We’ve learnt to appreciate the small things and take life at a slower pace. I think the pandemic has allowed people to show they care by choosing how they shop. I know in Newcastle, and in Whitley Bay where I live, there has been a huge increase in people shopping locally and wanting small businesses to succeed.”
Nathalie is currently busy gathering her Christmas collection together, which will focus on thoughtful gifts and great pieces to keep people occupied in what may be a Christmas without family visits. “We have jigsaws from Pieces of the Puzzle and weaving kits from Squid Ink Co arriving,” she says, “as well as lots of self-care items.”
“I really think that self-care and wellbeing has become hugely important in the last six months; we have realised that we need to take care of ourselves to get through these strange times, whether that be as small as painting your nails with our Vegan Nail Polish, having a bath with our Himalayan Bath Salts or lighting a candle with one of your favourite smells.” Nathalie’s own favourite act of self-care is getting in a blanket; “I bought our Nude Blanket in Midnight as soon as it arrived!” she tells me.
Going forward, Nathalie hopes to move Bellwoods into a physical retail space. “I am currently waiting out Covid,” she says, “while keeping an eye on any potential locations. There is nothing better than to see and touch beautiful objects in real life!”
Images © Bellwoods, used with permission.
Olives & Lilys
“I have always had a passion for all things home and interior,” Olives & Lilys founder Sand Atkinson tells me, “and when I was in my early teens I was adamant I was going to be an interior designer! I was continually rearranging my room and styling it in different ways.”
Of course, life often doesn’t take us on the easiest, or most obvious, route. “I was dissuaded from following this path,” Sand says, “and instead pursued a career in Project Management in the Construction industry. I worked my way up to Project Controls Director, overseeing a portfolio of projects in Europe & the Middle East with revenue of £80m. Ultimately though, I felt I was working at a pace that was not allowing me to live my life how I wanted.”
After taking time away from work on maternity leave, she took the opportunity to reassess her career and knew it was time to follow her heart into the home interiors world. “The fear of not taking the plunge and creating a business I love,” she tells me, “was more significant than the fear of doing it and possibly failing! It, fortunately, coincided with an opportunity to take redundancy which I was pleased to accept,” she continues. “I then worked with a visual ideas coach to thrash out exactly what I wanted my interiors business to look like.”
I wanted to create a business that was intentional about not following trends and focus instead on timeless, durable pieces that would stand the test of time.
As well as her love of all things home, Sand is also passionate about the need to change the way we consume in order to protect the planet for future generations. “I believe trends cause too much waste,” she says, “and I wanted to create a business that was intentional about not following them and focusing instead on timeless, durable pieces that would stand the test of time. If I had to sum up what I do in one sentence,” she says, “it would be: to provide style and substance home accessories & lifestyle products to people who want to live boldly, and tread lightly.”
She tells me she has four core foundations that she sticks to when sourcing products; Are they sustainable? Are they ethical? Are they neutral? And are they evergreen?”
“The products we source will be made from sustainable material, have a low environmental impact or repurposed or recycled material. For example, our throws are 100% organic linen derived from the flax plant and one of the most eco-friendly materials as it requires minimum water & pesticides. Our wooden boards are made from mango wood, which is highly sustainable wood due to its cultivation as a fruit tree, which grows to maturity relatively quickly for a hardwood. The candles we sourced are soy wax with essential oils and presented in repurposed wine bottles.” She is committed to only working with suppliers who ensure their workers are paid living wages and work in appropriate conditions. “It is so important to behave with sentience, respecting and caring for all people, animals & our planet,” she says.
As for the colour palette, she is committed to a neutral scheme using natural elements, such as wood, basket ware and lots of organic forms so that items can be layered and work throughout the seasons. “Our designs are timeless,” she says, “and we love the allure of simple living, having less but buying better. It’s time to embrace the concept of showing restraint in our consumer choices. Our purchases need to be both durable and versatile, and they need to stand the test of time in terms of style.”
“Large companies use marketing techniques to convince us we are not enough. They target home styling, fashion choices and beauty regimes. They use slogans like ‘bye-bye boring’, ‘ban the beige’, encouraging us to have a wholesale change in our interior decor or clothing every season. Ultimately, this is all to keep revenues high and keep us consuming by believing we aren’t enough. One of my favourite sayings is ‘You are enough, it’s ridiculous how enough you are.’ It is more important to live in a manner that supports your core values rather than having the latest on-trend items.”
At the moment the store doesn’t have a very high percentage of products sourced from the North of England, but Sand is in talks with local ceramicists and candle makers, and has several product designs she is hoping to have produced here in the North over the coming months. “It is essential to me to support local small business owners, especially with the pandemic and the effect this is having on society,” she says. “I believe now more than ever it is vital to support your local communities, and look out for one another in what is proving a difficult time for us all to navigate.”
Business these days is slow but steady. “I genuinely believe people want to buy from people these days. They want to know they are supporting a small business where someone is passionate about what they do and create. I think the trend to purchase online will continue, but consumers want a different level of engagement and connection with the brands they are buying from. They want to feel part of your journey, and know how you think and feel.”
With Christmas on the horizon, Sand thinks that customers will want to give gifts that are inexpensive but deliver on a sensory level. “I have been creating ‘Moment Boxes’ so that people can select a box to send directly to friends or family already gift wrapped with a handwritten card,” she says. “The boxes will include; a spa moment, mindful moment & me moment. I have sourced some extra items to make these boxes extra special – all will be revealed very soon on our website!”
Images © Olives & Lilys, used with permission.
Founded by Jenny Vaughan & Simon Young, RE is a huge, joyful emporium filled with colourful homewares launched in 2003, which has since established itself as a beloved cult favourite of all unique homeware lovers in the North East. Both blogger Dan Hull and stylist Nancy Straughan picked it as their favourite local store in the My North series, with Dan describing it as “a treasure trove of items; you never really know what you’ll find when you go there, but you manage to always walk away with something!”
Before RE both Jenny and Simon had careers in fashion design, and armed with years of experience designing, developing collections, planning and compiling comparative store reports, they decided they wanted a new challenge; to set up shop, selling lifestyle and home accessories. “Vintage and antique items have always been a passion of ours,” says Jenny, “and were always going to be an important part of the RE offer.” “Whilst on a visit to Paris we came up with the name RE,” says Simon. “The letters R & E feature as a prefix or suffix in many words, making them perfect for use in store and online. The next day we were at a marche aux puces and found 2 large metal letters R and E – it was meant to be!”
“We opened shop on the 7th of November 2003 in a converted workshop, a large industrial space at the back of a filling station in Corbridge, a small market town in Northumberland,” says Jenny. “In our previous jobs as fashion designers we were inspired by some of the new fashion and lifestyle retailers that we’d visited around the world, and decided to embark on our own vision selling the things we love.” Their exuberant selection of quirky objects sourced from across the globe has won them legions of fans, and the duo mix mass-produced and hand-crafted items seamlessly to ensure there is something for everyone across every price point.
“It was always our intention to reach a wider audience,” says Jenny, “so we launched our first mail order catalogue and website in 2004, followed by ecommerce in 2005.” To differentiate the brand, they also developed REgd., their own range of unique products designed in house and produced by local crafts people or trusted manufacturing partners around the world. “Although our products come from far and wide, we have a strong philosophy of working with Fairtrade organisations and local co-operatives where we can,” says Simon, “to ensure fair pay and working conditions. We are proud to work with companies who produce beautiful homewares for us fairly and ethically.”
The pair want customers to have a unique experience in store with colour, pattern, music, fragrance, humour, and the unexpected, around every corner.
Since those early years RE have gone from strength to strength, winning Homes & Gardens Retailer of the Year in 2011, the same year in which they opened a pop-up in the prestigious London store Liberty, which was followed by a concession there in 2012 which ran successfully for the following two years. “We started with a vision for RE,” says Jenny, “which was to create a unique retail environment and customer experience. It’s a great space; an old industrial building with its own charm and character, and with the aid of scREens, sheds and rooms – all on wheels – we divided it into different environments; garden, kitchen, textiles, china room, haberdashery, plants, toiletries, ‘the shed’ and moRE – creating an ever changing and exciting space.”
The pair want customers to have a unique experience in store with colour, pattern, music, fragrance, humour, and the unexpected, around every corner. “REcycling, REusing and REspecting the environment have always been mainstays of RE,” says Simon, “well before it became fashionable. We have never used plastic bags in the store, preferring REcycled paper shoppers stamped in-house. Our mail order packing is 100% paper based and we ensure, wherever we possibly can, that our products are environmentally friendly, Fairtrade, and made from sustainable materials that are REuseable or compostable.”
“At the beginning of lockdown everything went quiet and the store was obviously closed so, like the rest of the country, we embarked on all those jobs you never quite get round to!” they tell me. “Then, much to our surprise, mail order got very busy snowballing in the weeks that followed, as everyone began shopping online. We reopened the shop at the end of June with safety measures in place and have been open ever since. We are very lucky to have an established mail order business, and loyal retail customers, who have continued to support us throughout the pandemic.”
They have recently launched a small trade offer for other retailers which they tell me is becoming increasingly popular, and plan to continue developing and extend both the REgd. and trade ranges by introducing more unique and exclusive products.
→ RE, Bishops Yard, Main Street, Corbridge, Northumberland NE45 5LA. View map.
Images, including article lead, © RE, used with permission.