You know when you happen across a website, start browsing, and half an hour later you’re still there, hooked, clicking through categories and making mental lists of things you’d like? Curious Egg is one of those sites as this online store is literally filled with unique objects from accessories, textiles and lighting to (incredible!) wallpapers and artworks.
Curious Egg was launched in 2015 by artist Lorraine Aaron and her husband Roddy, who live in Perth in Scotland – I have to admit this Scottish connection also caught my eye. Lorraine has worked as a sculptor, painter, public artist and gallery artist, and has also taught contemporary arts practice and run a successful art consultancy business. Intrigued by how this experience led her to launch Curious Egg and informs her selection of pieces and artists, designers and craftspeople, I caught up with Lorraine to ask about her background and her business.
Why Curious Egg? What led you to set up your business?
I think we’d reached a point in our careers where we had gone as far as we wanted to go in one direction and wanted a change. We love to travel and we’ve enjoyed working on the houses we’ve lived in to make them really special. By combining our experience, my creative background and Roddy’s e-commerce experience, we felt we could build something that would take us on a journey, bring together the things we enjoy and ultimately allow us to make a difference further down the line with other things in life we feel passionate about.
We also wanted to break the rules a bit. As a visual artist specialising in sculpture, everything I made had a strong relationship to a room or building. I developed my artworks by playing with scale, materials, lighting and texture and I would design them with the space in mind whether indoor or outdoor. There was always an element of theatre when the two came together. I used to think, why not use the same approach to create really imaginative and adventurous interiors in our own homes with art, unusual objects and creative use of space?
It seemed like there was room for a different sort of store, one that combined interiors, art and wellbeing: three things that are very important to us. We’re only at the beginning and the business will continue to evolve into this vision.
Where did the name come from?
It just came to us one day as we were out on a Sunday dog walk. We’d been mulling over what we wanted to create with this new business and it was so many different things but each linked by the same underlying principles. We wanted it to be a creative place that would allow amazing products to be discovered under one roof and something that would provide an experience for our customers with room to evolve into new areas. An egg is one of the most universal symbols for life, the world and also a vessel. We wanted ours to be oddly shaped and hard to place – ‘curious’ in fact!
With so many online shops out there, how did you find your niche?
I didn’t even know what a niche was when we started! But it just seemed like there was a gap in the market for art inspired interiors where art is not an after thought but actually inspires an entire space. I felt as a visual artist, I had something I could contribute to retail for interiors – maybe a different perspective or something. Design features heavily in interior design but visual art tends to be used as decoration at the end. I want art to underpin the actual products we sell, how they are selected and how we present them; to show how art is there everyday, is easy to live with and most importantly that it can be for everyone. It’s not about selling cheap artworks, it’s about raising the perceived value of having art in the home.
We hope all of our products will inspire creative interiors with art at the centre and homes filled with beautifully crafted objects that tell a very personal story. We want Curious Egg to push boundaries and break the mould of what an interior lifestyle store can be. Most of all, we hope it’s a welcoming place where people can browse handpicked products of great quality, hopefully discovering what might be a new found love of art and fine crafted objects in the process.
How do you choose pieces for Curious Egg?
I nearly always go on instinct. The way we sell things as I described earlier means it’s important that I can tell the story behind the products because my customers are really me and so I have to believe in the things I’ve chosen if I’m to expect them to do the same. I do go to trade shows both in the UK and overseas to keep abreast of what’s going on and sometimes to look for new suppliers. I think it’s difficult not to be influenced and I am actually interested in trends but I certainly don’t set out to follow them. If I like something a lot then that’s what decides.
As an artist I took inspiration from such a wide and varied range of sources that even now I try to look for inspiration in unlikely places. Not everything we sell is small batch but nothing is mass produced on an epic scale. There are always going to be things I’ll never sell no matter how on trend – if they don’t have the essential character of Curious Egg at their heart they ain’t getting in!
I also won’t stock things that are widely available on the high street because our customer is someone who wants to find something a little different – not always eccentric different but with an edge and a bit of character that makes it stand out and add interest to their home.
How has your background as a sculptor and painter informed your eye when choosing pieces?
It definitely helps knowing a bit about how things are made, the creative process, authentic design and finishes etc. It probably makes me more critical than anything. I feel able to see through flimsy concepts and poor workmanship. I might still choose something for the fun element but it’s good to have a creative filter.
I studied industrial ceramics before I went to art school and painted large scale murals after graduating for a spell so I have a good understanding of surface texture and finish. I have to balance this knowledge with what I think will work for our market. I often choose strong forms and bold designs but tend to steer away from ‘high design’ pieces. I like pieces that ‘let you in’ and allow you to have some sort of relationship with the piece, an emotional attachment of some kind. I feel that although I can appreciate design objects they often seem detached from everyday living and all the irregularities and imperfections that life presents.
You’ve mentioned a love of travelling on your website – how has this influenced your eye?
Yes, we both love travelling. The more you see the more your mind and imagination expand and the possibilities grow. I think it’s hard to know what influences you are affected by because it’s often not a conscious thing but experiencing other cultures and environments gives context to your own, and you can see how your products sit and who they may appeal to in a global market.
I have a bit of a photographic memory when it comes to places I’ve seen. We visited India eight years ago and it imprinted so deeply – the hazy light, the colours, patterns and textures – it inspired us both and I can still see so many things I want to create and products I want to develop that have their roots in that experience.
On a more recent trip I saw an advertising billboard in the Czech Republic that had the most incredible layers of peeling paint and faded lettering. Things like this may influence how I put a selection of products together and how I present images. I think they’ll definitely influence the products I design for our own label in the future.
What’s a typical day like at Curious Egg HQ?
It tends to vary a lot from week to week but there are daily tasks that need doing so we have to be fairly structured to get through everything with only two of us at the helm! We have an early morning meeting on Monday mornings to plan the week. We then work on our individual task list for the day (we each have an office/studio). Roddy is responsible for a lot of the behind the scenes magic – he built nearly the entire website himself with only a bit of coding help and he makes sure all the systems work while maintaining the site – as well as any promotional activity and dealing with all the other tricky financial and logistical stuff!
My role is an organic one: choosing the products and artworks, visiting makers, setting up contracts and liaising with suppliers, and I do all the writing for the site, most of the photography and all of the social media. I enjoy that part now but when we first started social media it was completely alien to me. Its still a challenge to fit it all in and post across all the channels – I tend to focus on Instagram and have to remind myself to post on the others!
We try to have lunch together but it’s not always possible and one of us always takes the dog for a walk up in the woodlands which is great for clearing your head. There are inevitably unexpected things that come in and your list suddenly gets longer. Mid afternoon I usually start packing orders ready for collection. We sometimes get together at the end of the day for a quick meeting if something has come up that needs a joint decision or a bit of planning. We then try to finish around 7.30pm and make dinner – there are definitely exceptions there though as most new small businesses know, the day’s not over ‘til it’s over!
Do you have any favourite pieces from the collection?
I love everything or I wouldn’t stock it but I do have favourites. The Tatine candles especially the Garden & Forest range are just beyond gorgeous. The vintage Lassi glasses are so special, each one is unique, Rachel Lee’s ‘Angel’ prints are fantastic, really contemporary and fresh but also quiet and poetic. I’ve developed characters for each of them and our customers have a lot of fun picking which character suits them best. The Isle of Harris range of apothecary products is quite precious, micro batch but super high quality and created by Amanda Saurin Apothecary for the Isle of Harris Distillery – Harris is my favourite Hebridean island! Lastly I do love our range of Feathr wallpapers; there is truly something for everyone in the selection and each design was commissioned and created by a visual artist.
Are there artists or designers that you’d love to stock that you don’t yet?
Oh there are plenty but that would be telling! I think there’s always a right time to introduce products or artworks. Each needs its own space and allowed time to be seen so we’ll build our collection gradually. I constantly keep my eyes peeled across social media and through visiting makers shows and independent studios but I like the element of surprise so I try to only reveal those collaborations once they are live and we can launch the product. We have some really exciting plans in the pipeline but I can’t say anymore at this point – I like to keep things interesting!
What has surprised you most since launching your business?
I think just realizing how much longer things take than you imagine and how much you have to manage on a daily basis to keep things well oiled. The other thing would be the amount I’ve learned since launching almost a year ago. We’ve both had good careers with lots of experience but it was different experience. We’ve now picked up new skills whether that be website building or in my case engaging in social media and learning fast about good business – it’s great to be learning! There’s a wonderful supportive community out on social media and although I kicked and screamed and didn’t want to use it, I now absolutely love the engagement I can have with both our customers and other businesses.
What’s been your best piece of advice?
The best advice I’d give is to make sure you have a good amount savings as a buffer when starting you own business because everything takes longer than you imagine and you have to be patient. It takes time for people to get to know about you especially if you’re online and although the overheads are lower it takes a while to gather momentum. We still consider ourselves to be a very new company but we now have loyal customers and the wheels are well and truly in motion. The best advice I got was not to sit in the shadow of those people you admire; always look ahead and keep moving forward punching above your weight wherever you can!
How do you visualize Curious Egg evolving? What’s next?
We are absolutely itching to design our own products and get them into production. We also have a few other projects and areas we want to expand into but that’s more of a secret. We want to keep Curious Egg just that, an ever evolving, changing place that constantly surprises and delights our customers.
With thanks to Lorraine Aaron.
All photography from Curious Egg.