27 May 2024, 13:44
By Furniture News Aug 15, 2013

Capital venture by Barker & Stonehouse

In July, Barker & Stonehouse, one of the UK’s largest independent retailers, opened in Battersea, London. The retailer’s ninth store, and its first foray south of Nottingham, the 25,000 sqft two-floor outlet is an ambitious development – and, it turns out, one of the most inspiring retail premises in the UK, says Paul Farley …

As many who work, live and play in the city will tell you, London has an undeniably unique identity, and is consequently viewed with some trepidation by outside businesses. The capital’s reputation was not enough to deter Barker & Stonehouse MD, James Barker. “Economically speaking, London is doing well,” he says, “and if we were ever going to break into this market, this was the ideal opportunity.”

The discovery of the store’s characterful setting, an old candle factory, occurred by chance while James was staying with a friend in Clapham last year, volunteering as a ‘games maker’ at the London Olympics. Once the details were ironed out, the industrial space proved an apt backdrop for the retailer’s substantial product mix.

The store’s interior – specified principally by creative and display manager Claire Hornby – embraces the industrial brick and iron framework aesthetic of the original factory. The retailer’s reclaimed timber Rustic Reloaded collection is front and centre – “there’s more of a market for this type of product down here,” says James, “and it’s a good fit with the look of the building and the area.”

From the entrance, where a union flag-emblazoned Morris Minor greets customers, the ground floor extends through several of Barker & Stonehouse’s other own-brand collections: A Year In Provence, Brazilian Beats and Vintage Candy. A breathtaking Tim Oulton studio occupies the back of the space, together with a Farris candle concession – ensuring the original heritage of the location is retained.

Upstairs, it’s more about the big brands – Natuzzi and Stressless studios, and beds from Vi-Spring, Tempur and Somnus. The top of the stairs is dominated by ercol’s new Blotch Studio Couch, which boasts a stunning design from Timorous Beasties, while towards the rear are children’s furnishings – presented in a purpose-built, large-scale Wendy house – bedroom products, and a cafe.

“If we were ever going to break into this market, this was the ideal opportunity”

Fiona Cooper, previously a buyer and retailer with the likes of Furniture Village and Loft Living at Selfridges, is lined up to manage the store, and is currently undergoing training by a number of Barker & Stonehouse principals.

“I think Barker & Stonehouse always wanted to set up in London,” she says, “and had been looking to for a while. This building was perfect – and the fact it came with 40 free parking spaces? That’s unheard of in London!”

Having worked with a number of high-profile designers, and brands including Halo, Fama, Kartell, Tempur and Vi-Spring, Fiona is confidently looking forward to taking charge. “I know this store is going to do incredibly well,” she says. “It has something for everybody – so many styles, from ultra-modern to traditional. Every single aspect of this store has been very well-thought through – the place is incredible, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”

Accessories buyer Caroline Hodgson has overseen Barker & Stonehouse’s surprisingly recent foray into homeware and accessories retail, manifested in store by well-integrated display racks that contain every decorative element from the nearby room settings.

“Up until last year, accessories were only used to prop displays,” says Caroline. ”However, the market has shifted and grown, and the timing was right for their introduction – and we’ve had a really good response. The thought from the beginning was that we were presenting a complete ‘room to go’ – and I think that we’ve succeeded in conveying that concept here.

"This building was perfect – and the fact it came with 40 free parking spaces? That’s unheard of in London!”

“We’ve just launched a new artist to the market, Antony Martin, who creates one-off paintings. There’s a gap in the market between very high-value gallery pieces and mass-produced canvases, and we’ve worked with him to develop a range that really complements the furniture. Accessories with provenance are definitely in favour, as people want something unique.”

Like many of the Battersea staff – James included – Caroline is a northerner who has spent time in London, allowing her to see both sides of the retailer’s transition to the capital, and provide assistance with range selection.

“You have to be aware of regional differences,” she says. “But we are offering enough choice – both in terms of style and price point – to cater for a wide range of customers. There’s a good mix here, and high perceived value. A lot of retailers have just one style – with Barker & Stonehouse you see it all, but there’s still a consistency to it, and a handwriting unique to us.”

The store may be large for London, but it has taken several cues from Barker & Stonehouse’s recently-established 36,000 sqft Knaresborough store, including its approach to energy economy – despite the limitations of the setting, the Battersea building is well insulated, and features low-energy heating and an eco-lighting system specially designed by Barker & Stonehouse.

All of these elements point to certain success for the retailer – yet there is a catch. For all its charm and promise, the store itself is just one aspect of achieving success in London.

Barker & Stonehouse may be a fairly well-known name in the North, but it’s a relatively unknown entity in London, presenting it with a sizeable marketing hurdle. “It’s going to take some time to establish,” says James Barker, “and it’ll be more a case of PR and word-of-mouth than going all-guns-blazing on advertising. This is a huge project for us, and we just have to see how we go.”

The location is certainly very different to Barker & Stonehouse’s usual retail parks, but it offers a different destination that caters to a different kind of shopper. Bolstered by a slew of opening offers, footfall has proven strong to date, and the team is hoping that word of its inspirational new furniture and furnishings destination spreads fast, and that London comes to embrace the ambitious northern retailer.

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