Posted on June 20 2016
About 5 months ago hot on the heels of an inspirational trip to Paris I decided that we were moving stores. I had been turning the idea over for quite a few years but our own label products and their surprising success diverted everyone’s attention, energy and finances. However that Parisian trip was a big wake up call. I wondered around that beautiful city stumbling on the coolest stores and decided that enough was enough – we had outgrown Upper Street for some time and we had to make the leap come what may. Our own label (fingers crossed) will always be busy and crazy and time consuming – it’s a whole other business after all – so I just had to get on with it.
BEFORE: First look at our new store space
I found a space within a week after that trip. 12-14 Essex Road is about three times bigger, just a few minutes down the road from our own location with the hugest windows – I was in love. It was a little depressing in its existing state with horrid wallpaper, pale colours on the wall, a yucky floor but I had a vision. I see schemes in my head – visual images immediately started crowding my mind of how I wanted it to look and feel. I drew (interesting word since I can’t draw very well) out a scheme with a ton of notes and plans and ideas. I saw a space that was quite loft-like, with fireplaces clad in the most gorgeous faux stone, a floor to ceiling bookcase, chandeliers everywhere.
AFTER: Fireplaces and chandeliers in place!
Like any major renovation project, things are always more difficult, more expensive and take way more time than you planned! Who knew that it would be such an exhausting journey – trades not turning up, deadlines constantly moving but we got there. The biggest change to the space was to pull out the changing rooms and put in a new floor. I’m utterly obsessed with it, I have to say. It’s a carbonised, ebonised amazing floor by Millboard (which we will shortly be selling). The boards aren’t real wood instead they are composite and generally used outside (you will find them gracing the gardens of stately homes, decks of luxurious coastal hotels and uber stylish homes – plus my garden)!
DURING: Flooring in progress
Because they’re made for outside it’s pretty indestructible, which is great for a shop with constant footfall. In my own home we have painted wooden floorboards, and I’d tried to do the same thing in Upper Street. But what with people in and out all day and moving furniture and product around they were constantly in a state and we had to keep repainting and touching up over scuffs and scratches. Lesson learned – I knew we needed something much more hardwearing in the new shop.
AFTER: Beautiful flooring? Check. Madison Grey walls? Check. Oodles of texture? Check check and check!
Other changes – we built bookcases, faux fireplaces like I said amazing against our faux floor and I haven’t even got to the faux botanicals yet. We painted everything out in our own label paints and then subsequently spent 5 days styling and VM-ing. I know that sounds a lot but it’s a big store and it literally took Gem and I that long. Our faux botanical section is beyond cool (am I allowed to say such things) new flowers, new plants. We made a custom table out of trunks of birch (it’s one of the things I love the most) and it now houses the botanical selection.
BEFORE: Very early stages of creating an area for our faux flowers. Needed a lot of faith and vision at this point…
AFTER: Our finished botanical bar. Love it!
For the first time we had hugest windows to play with so for summer Gem and I have cowboy-ed them up and set up camp. We’ve put in a fire pit, our big loungy chairs, tables crafted from slabs of wood, branches hanging over head strung with foliage’s and string lights – who knew windows could be such fun! This opportunity to play with shop window displays is actually one of the things I’m most excited by. We’ll be switching them up regularly with new product and the changing seasons, so please do stop by to see what we’re up to.
DURING: constructing the central shelving bookcases
My overall brief to myself was make the environment as cosy as humanely possible – in this digital age physical retail stores have to be inspiring and give you something you can’t get from online. They have to make you catch your breath, so it was all about providing an experience that ultimately makes you feel tantalised, relaxed, welcomed and hopefully inspired too. That is the secret to retail I think (this is turning into a biz column, sorry!) – but if you want people to cross your threshold you had better do stuff and sell stuff that no one else is. Simple as that. We also have beautiful things in store that due to their limited production or custom design can’t yet be sold online, so there really is stuff you can’t find anywhere else. From another amazing addition to our convex mirror ranges, to new handmade ceramics to artwork and incredible linen sofas (my new favourites), plus sweet little custom branch candle holders.
Shoot day with Graham Atkins-Hughes
Well, there you have it. I do hope you guys love our new store as much as I do. If you’re a VIP or if you’ve been to one of our design schools then you’re invited to join us at our launch party to celebrate our new flagship – watch out for the invite it will be landing in your inbox any day. With one deadline over I’m now hunkering down and mentally preparing for 4-6 weeks of the longest hours yet. I’m working on my new global deal (by the way the hugest thank for all your comments on that on social!). AA is going global and I’ve got to get my act together and design the hugest collection of my life as it launches across America and the world next year. Thank God for flat whites are all I can say!