Monday, 17 June 2019

Interior designers trying to brush off Brexit effect

Interior designers trying to brush off Brexit effect

TWO home stylists are combating the uncertainty around Brexit by backing British business.

Tracy Head and Sarah Nelson run Vintage Barn Interiors in Shiplake and try to source their products as locally as possible.

They say that if shoppers across the UK did the same then independent retailers and artisans would thrive and communities divided by politics could be reunited.

Their business offers an interior styling service and the women can source furniture and give advice on everything from paint colours to curtains and soft furnishings.

They also supply bespoke reclaimed wood tables made in Henley with timber sourced in the UK.

Mrs Head, 49, of Reading Road, Shiplake, has been an interior designer and stylist for more than 10 years, having previously worked in banking.

She has renovated several properties, including two previous homes in Derby Road and Grosvenor Road, Caversham.

She is married to Steve, a marketing director, and they have two sons, Toby, 17, a student in Southampton, and Max, 14, who attends the Reading Blue Coat School in Sonning.

Mrs Nelson, 50, from Chalkhouse Green, previously worked as a medical rep and in recruitment but has always been interested in interior design.

She took a curtain-making course and now has more than 20 years’ experience in curtains, blinds and soft furnishings.

Her husband Mark works in finance and the couple have two children, Daniel, 23, a tree surgeon, and Chloe, 21, who is at St Mary’s University in Twickenham.

The women admit that they don’t know how Brexit will affect the import of products but say UK businesses should be supported to minimise any impact.

Mrs Head says: “With Brexit, there is still the whole uncertainty. Bringing things in from Europe, we have no control over the products or the pricing and there is uncertainty over whether we will be able to source products from some European countries.

“We’ve been focusing on using our UK suppliers rather than overseas with a view to minimising any Brexit impact.

“It has been so satisfying knowing that our furniture is made from timbers sourced within the UK and made by a small Henley company. We’ve also established a number of other UK suppliers and artisans for our home accessory items, such as cushions and art, and it has been wonderful to support them too.

“We feel there is enough choice from the UK and in Henley and the local area, where there are some really talented artisans.

“We also want people to support us rather than just going to somewhere like John Lewis and asking them for a designer room scheme.

“We feel that we should be supporting local businesses as much as possible and if people did this nationally I don’t see any reason why we can’t be better off.

“It would create a better place where we are all supporting each other and that has got to be a positive thing.”

Mrs Nelson says that supporting local businesses has other benefits.

She explains: “One is if there is a problem with, say, a table leg or the design of a piece of furniture we can go to the carpenter and find a solution that we are all happy with.

“Even when we get flooring in, we try to make sure the company we use is a local as possible.

“We try to build a rapport with the suppliers because I think our business works better when you know the faces of the people you are working with.

“Some of the companies from whom we source our furniture comes from Europe and I don’t know how Brexit will affect that. With the fabrics we use, I love using British companies as we have got a lot of talent here.”

Mrs Head is originally from Harrogate in North Yorkshire and she and her husband moved to Caversham about 18 years ago.

After the arrival of her second child, she started to sell gifts and interior accessories under her company name Little Red Heart through an online retailer.

The company traded well but she felt “lonely” and struck up a friendship with Mrs Nelson, whom she had met on housing projects, and felt the same way.

Mrs Head recalls: “I met Sarah when I had my first house in Caversham. She was making curtains for the builder who I had bought it from. We got talking and we just clicked as our skills complemented each other. We soon realised that we had a shared passion.

“Both of us felt that while we were both established, we wanted to work with someone else so we could bounce ideas of each other.”

Both women live in barn-style homes and love all things vintage, which is what inspired the name of their company, which was launched in June 2016.

Mrs Head says: “We can supply anything for your home. We can do modern schemes as well as

“When we meet clients we both go into the meetings, even if the requirement is just for curtains or just for furniture, so we can both offer different ideas.

“When we style a room we tend to go from the ground up. We start with the flooring and then do the furniture and the rest of the room like lamps and light fittings and then we soften it up with curtains and other soft furnishings. We need to know what the room is used for, whether it’s for everyday use or for best and what their likes and dislikes are.

“That’s not to say we wouldn’t introduce something they disliked as we can turn people around. Often they may have that opinion because it is something that hasn’t been used or presented in the right way previously.

“We make our rooms robust and beautiful. We don’t create rooms that are ‘showrooms’ — they are to be used and lived in. If it’s a living room, I like there to be a big coffee table because it brings a room to life. I also love a big comfy sofa.

“We go away to our suppliers and see what is available. They may have something that they can adapt or be repainted or have made.”

Mrs Head says it is important to know everything about the products they are selling by working closely with their suppliers.  

She explains: “We know a Henley man who can make and reclaim pieces because we don’t want people coming into our studio and saying that we have bought that or that from a place, we want them to see something that is bespoke, unique, that you can’t buy anywhere.

“We have a really great relationship with our suppliers and pass that on to our customers as we want them to know exactly where the products and materials come from.

“I love knowing where my furniture comes from and the history behind it.

“There is a man in Essex who makes clocks. He works unsociable hours and puts in lots of hard, physical work, but it is great to get an amazing product from him and then give him some fantastic feedback from the client. You can see the joy in his face when we tell him.”

Mrs Head admits that some clients’ requests are more difficult to deliver than others.

She says: “We were asked to find a piece of art that needed to have a fun element and the client loved music. We were able to get a huge oversized piece which featured photographs of album spines, which was amazing.

“For a property in Nottingham we imported an old European shop counter and we used a local courier to fetch it and it came here from Hungary.”

When it comes to their own homes, the women practice what they preach. Mrs Head moved from Caversham to Shiplake about seven years ago with the intention of renovating a timber-framed bungalow.

However, this would have been too expensive, so she and her husband decided to knock it down and build a barn of one-and-a-half storeys with five bedrooms on the existing footprint.

The property is a “dream come true”.

Mrs Head says: “It is quite open plan with lots of rustic materials and oak and lots of natural light.

“Everything we sourced for the property we have used for clients as well.

“The shutters are from a supplier in Henley. The bricks are from Gibbs & Dandy in Henley and the flooring from Henley and Peppard. Every part of the build we have tried to keep as local as possible, which also helped to reduce our carbon footprint.”

The Heads hire out their property for photo shoots. Last July, Next used it to shoot its Christmas campaign in what was 30C heat so fake snow had to be used.

The women say they had no expectations about how their joint venture would do but things have gone well.

Mrs Head says: “We love the challenge of creating and we want to carry on serving Henley and working within this community.”

Mrs Nelson adds: “Looking ahead, I would love to expand a bit more, although we are already very busy, but we want to continue to be the faces of the business.”

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