Here beginneth a new chapter in the All Up In My Space book (can you image how great that book would be?) – we’re launching our newest category and it is called Workspace. As the name suggests, it focuses on the spaces we work in, and all that entails. Having worked in many and varied offices, shops and showrooms, we want to find out what makes a workspace good, what the emotional ties are to work spaces and how those spaces fuel the businesses they house. We kicked things off with the lovely Emma of Design & That. She’s an interior designer and brand new shop owner (and purveyor of many, many beautiful things) and we wanted to find out about the journey into bricks and mortar retail and just how you go about sourcing everything to fill such a great spot. Robyn and Emma know each other from waaaay back, so we got to chat really openly and honestly about everything, which, you know, is very much our bag. Oh, and two Emmas in one interview was confusing, so for the purposes of this post, ‘Emma’ is our esteemed interviewee, and other Emma is called ‘El Crappo’. It’ll make sense when you read it.
Robyn: so come on, when did you decide to do this?
Emma: we started thinking about it in 2016 when I first set up my interior design company. I always wanted there to be a Design & That Studio and Store – I wanted a space to showcase all of the brands and products that I love. It’s also a great opportunity to talk about the interior design side of my business. Sometimes, people just want a little bit of advice, and the shop gives me the opportunity to offer that.
El Crappo: how do you get to this stage of opening the shop?
Emma: we wrote a big chunk of the business plan and what we wanted to do 3 years ago, but I ended up getting really busy with projects and the bigger plan was left behind. I had a project in the run up to Christmas that ended up not going ahead, so had some unexpected time on my hands. Jade encouraged me to use that time to make the shop happen. So I did – I picked back up on the business plan, secured a business loan and found our dream space. And then it was time to find brands we wanted to work with. Once one thing was in place we had to work really quickly to get everything else in place. It’s been a complete whirlwind from January onwards when we decided to really go for it – it’s been six months of solid hard work!
Robyn: how’s it going?
Emma: on the whole, it’s going well. The first week we opened it chucked it down and so hardly anyone came in – that was quite hard. But we’re building momentum now… Sunday’s are great as we’re so close to Columbia Road Flower market. And I’ve already met some amazing people that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet. So in that sense, it’s been great. It was just really hard at first, because you open those doors and expect the store to be busy from the offset, and it’s just never going to be that way..
El Crappo: because it’s taken so much to get there
Emma: yes exactly, we’d had such a busy few weeks in the run up to opening. We’d had our families here to help set up and Jade (Emma’s wife) had had a week off work to help with everything. Then, when everyone left and Jade went back to work and I had that first day here on my own, it was quite a big [and scary] moment.
Robyn: like having a new baby, like you can’t even go for a wee
Emma: ha ha yeah, when it was really quiet in the shop those first few days I was just like ‘what have I done’. But I got chatting to a few other shop owners on Hackney Road and everyone has been sofriendly& supportive – there’s such a strong community spirit here which is amazing.
El Crappo: that’s all understandable. It’s such an emotional thing – you put so much into it
Emma: exactly, I used to go into little independents and I never thought about the owner or what goes into making it work and now I have such an appreciation for that.
Robyn: yeah cos it’s such a lot to make it work and so much of who you are goes into it
Emma: yes, you totally put yourself out there
Robyn: have you had any douches come in?
Emma: you know what, no. Everyone has been so nice and supportive. People are really friendly and want to chat and that was a bit foreign to me at first cos I wouldn’t usually be that chatty when I walked into a shop!
El Crappo: but you have to be now
Emma: yeah! But it’s great
El Crappo: has owning this changed the way you shop?
Emma: oh absolutely, when I’m sourcing things I’ve always championed independents. I try to work with a mix of more established brands that I have loved forever, mixed with smaller, emerging independent brands and makers. I find it more interesting that way – I love seeking out new products and that feeling of discovery. I love finding something that I haven’t seen before.
Robyn: are you worried on how this will impact on the design side of the business?
Emma: I was to begin with because I didn’t know how busy it would be and how I’d balance things, but it’s actually working really well. I’ve got quiet space between customers where I can concentrate on the design side.
Robyn: your mum must be made up
Emma: yeah – she’s been amazing and so supportive. And our no.1 customer! But you never feel like you’ve done enough, do you? Once this is off its feet, I’m sure I’ll be on to the next thing…
Robyn: but that’s at the core of how you work isn’t it – you’ve always moved on and up to other things from commercial and residential to hotels – it’s not an industry that stands still
El Crappo: yeah, I’m working on a few really exciting projects at the moment as well.
Robyn: can you tell us about them? Your upcoming interior architecture things. It’s interior architecture, right?
Emma: I have a few big residential projects I’m working on and a meditation studio in Fitzrovia in the works. Design & That is an interior architecture and design studio, so I like to get involved in all aspects of the project and advise on the scheme as a whole. From reworking the floorplan to designing and detailing bespoke kitchens, bathrooms etc, right down to choosing furniture, lighting and the finishing touches. So yes it’s interior design….
Robyn: …with a hard hat on
El Crappo: do you like the hands off clients or people who are all over it?
Emma: It really depends on the project. I’ve worked with a mix of clients – some have been out of the country so I’ve been on the ground managing the project for them, whereas others want to be more involved – I’m happy to be flexible to suit the client.
Robyn: It must be so great to have that that symbolic ‘I’m at work’ thing in the shop. Like something more personal than a WeWork and less officey than an office. I work from home some of the week and I can get so distracted.
El Crappo: I did that at first and then realized that if I did all my work at the start of the day I’d have the rest for me. You work with the tv on don’t you, Robyn
Robyn: Yeah, I need the ambient noise
Emma: If I’m at home, I work in complete silence – I get into a zone. But this is a bit different – I love having music on now. And when people come in here it’s not a distraction, it’s a welcome break.
El Crappo: when I’m working on something, I’m in the client’s rhythm and the radio totally messes with that and I’ll write in the style of that music
Robyn: and you mainly listen to 80s and 90s hip hop
El Crappo: yep
El Crappo: is everything for sale?
Emma: yes, everything is for sale – the smaller items are in stock and can be taken away on the day, whereas the bigger furniture items can be ordered in.
El Crappo: what do you think of online vs offline
Emma: I think we have to have both, and they have to work together. I see our online shop as an extension of our physical store – it’s a curated selection of things that we love, and we’ve taken time to ensure that it is really carefully edited which hopefully sets us apart from the bigger retailers. We’re very aware of the big online retailers and they often have the power to undercut you, which can be tough for small businesses with bricks and mortar stores like ours. But I really want to see more stores like this. Shoreditch is an amazing place for just wandering into stores, and discovering something new, and it’d be such a shame to lose that.
El Crappo: and people will trust the store because they’ve seen what you’ve put together online
Robyn: has your wife Jade’s taste fed into the shop because you’ve got a slightly different aesthetic
Emma: we’ve definitely done this together. All of our sourcing trips to Stockholm and Milan over the last few years have meant that our tastes have evolved over time – we have met the designers and suppliers together and been to see the pieces we’ve chosen – and that’s when you really fall in love with a product. There’s things Jade has chosen and things that I have, but most of the decisions have been mutual.
El Crappo: has it impacted on you relationship working so closely together?
Emma: it’s been tough at times – I guess in the sense that we haven’t spent any time together, without talking about the store, in a long time – and there’s no time to switch off. But we’re both so passionate about making this work, and in that sense it has made us stronger. We’re very supportive of each other and when one of us has a down day the other one pulls them up.
Robyn: I know this is really personal but do you think losing your dad a couple of years ago been a catalyst to you doing this?
Emma: I have an amazing family – my mum and Paul, my stepdad, have always been incredibly supportive and I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without them. My relationship with my dad was a little bit more complicated but like with any parent, I always wanted to make him proud. My dad actually had a shop when I was growing up – and I remember sitting there and eating sweets and him joking about me eating all the profits. There was a moment when we were open and I thought of him and thought ‘oh my dad had a shop’ and I’d never made that connection before
El Crappo: yeah, I get that, even if you don’t think about it while you’re doing it and then you realise you’ve done a subconscious thing. Like my mum loved writing and always wanted to be a writer and now here I am doing it for a living
Emma: yeah, when it was a tough week last week I had a little moment where I thought it would be really nice to speak to dad
El Crappo: those little relatable moments
Robyn: and your mum has been incredible – she’s always been such a G. Do you think she’ll move nearer you eventually?
Emma: I think she’d like to as we’re all here, but then they have their life in the North, which they love.
El Crappo: most people think ‘it’d be so nice to have a shop – I can just sit here surrounded by nice things’. You make this little aspirational corner of the world.
Emma: yes, totally – I often think that. And I’m so happy that we’ve actually done it, and we feel really proud of what we’ve achieved. If it was just that, then it’d be easy, but there’s so much more to making it a success – and that’s all still to come
Robyn: will you do another one?
Emma: we’re going to take one thing at a time. We need to get this to a point I’m happy with first. This is a store and a studio, and the space is made to work for both. I need to focus on learning to balance both and find out how it all works together, and then I’ll think about adding things
Robyn: you’ve got so many amazing, creative friends involved
Robyn: oh, they’re Sarah’s candles! It’s so nuts that these people who in my mind are still, like 22, are now real business people creating these legit products you can actually see on shelves. Blows my mind
El Crappo: they are lovely candles. They’re the great unifiers, aren’t they. You go into a shop and you feel like you can touch them and they give you something to do
Emma: then our friend, Puya is an amazing ceramicist based at Turning Earth in Hackney – he makes the most beautiful organic forms and his glazes are always really interesting and unusual. We wanted our edit to feel really individual – to offer new and interesting brands that you can’t find elsewhere.
El Crappo: think what’s really good is people will come in and get a little thing like a pair of earrings and then come back and back
Emma: yes I didn’t really appreciate how much retail was based on relationships and that people will keep coming back if they have a good experience. They might keep popping in to browse, or just buy something small on their first visit. But then, when they are looking for that bigger purchase they will hopefully remember us and come back.
So there you are, the scoop on how Design & That came to be – go visit Emma at 61 Hackney Road, Shoreditch, E2 7NX and say Robyn and El Crappo sent you. Or pop to the website and shout the same thing pointlessly at your computer.