You know when you’re looking around online for something, perhaps a gift for someone, only instead you find yourself sidetracked by an entire website of things you’d really like for yourself? That was my introduction to Such & Such – an online design retailer that presents a beautifully collated array of homewares, lighting, accessories and furniture. (I’m pretty sure I landed on this site looking at bags for my Other Half, and then strayed onto the gorgeously understated tableware and textiles!)
But Such & Such is more than a shop as you can also learn about the designers and makers whose work is featured and sold here, and read their stories and discover their inspiration. And you get to find out what makes Such & Such co-founders and siblings Nikki Sanders and Alastair Matthews tick, from their Saturdays & Sundays Journal to their musical S & S Playlists that you can follow on Spotify. Until December 6, Such & Such also has a Pop Up at Seven Dials in London.
I recently caught up with Nikki and asked about the concept behind Such & Such, the challenges of launching an online business, and how she and Alastair select their product ranges.
Where did the concept for Such & Such come from?
The initial idea for Such & Such came when Alastair visited me while I was living in Vietnam. Alastair was working as a lawyer but feeling very unsatisfied and was looking for a change of direction; meanwhile I was thinking about setting something up. We started chatting about lots of different options and then slowly over the next two years we started researching and refining our ideas until we arrived at Such & Such. We both love design and we are both creative, despite Alastair initially going down a more traditional career path, and we both wanted to work on something we felt passionate about.
During our search for products we continually came across great design pieces, but what we loved as much as the actual products were the stories behind the pieces or the stories of the designers themselves. We knew we wanted to somehow get these stories across and create a shopping experience where people felt more connected to the items they were buying, and also understand the history of a piece and what is involved in designing and making these unique designs.
What led you both to work together?
It was partly that we were both in the same place at the same time. Being brother and sister, people often ask us how it works working together, but we have always been close and always got on so we never really worried about that aspect. We both approach things in a different way but we have come to realise this is a good thing. On the whole we have very similar taste, so that definitely helps. Launching a business together helped as it is nerve racking starting something new and, despite researching and working out what we wanted to do, ultimately it came down to us taking a bit of a leap of faith.
How do you both differ creatively?
Alastair was always messing around with things when we were kids, taking them apart, working out how things worked; he is very practical and I think his training as a lawyer means he is very systematic about how he approaches things. I was always creative and studied Fine Art and then interior design, so I am full of ideas but I am not always good at implementing them. We really compliment each other in that respect. In terms of style we actually have very similar taste. Occasionally we have differing views on products we like but unless one of us really dislikes something, we are generally willing to trust the other’s judgement. We both like clean, simple designs that look great but that also work practically.
What were the challenges of setting up the business?
Where do we start… I think probably the hardest thing was making the step from talking about it to actually doing it. It was also being realistic about what we could do; we have some big ideas about where want to take the business, which we are still striving to achieve but you need to get going and hopefully grow from there. As a new business, particularly a retail business, one of the biggest challenges is getting the word out there and growing your customer base. You also have to learn a lot very quickly; it can be a steep learning curve as one day you are designing websites, the next you are doing the pricing and accounts and the list goes on. Finally, with just two people in the business, it can be a real challenge to do everything we want to do in the time frame we want to do it; there are just not enough hours in the day.
Where did the name come from?
We spent a long time trying to decide on a name and we had some great ideas that we loved but we would often get really excited about a name and then be disappointed when we couldn’t get the url. Such & Such is something we would say a lot to each other when we were discussing designers and makers we had come across; we would say “that great product by Such & Such” because we would be struggling to remember the name. We also felt that it worked as it was two of us and each ‘Such’ represented one of us.
How do you decide on which pieces and designers to stock?
We have never had a problem finding great designs but we are very specific about which designs we choose to have on the site. Everything we stock has a story behind it and this is something we are really passionate about. We believe that if you know the story of an item you feel more connected to what you are buying and those items become special and are likely to be kept and treasured.
We spend a lot of time online; we also visit some of the big design fairs and some of the smaller more specialized ones. We are lucky enough now to be approached by quite a lot of designers and makers.
Where did your love of craftsmanship come from?
Handmade items have a real beauty to them that you just do not find in mass produced products. We love the skill, care and attention that is evident in something that has been handmade. A handmade item has its own personality and character; each piece is unique and that is what we love.
Where did this come from? I suppose from the fact that we have come to realise that you can buy items that are cheaper and not handmade, but as you begin to create your own home, the things you love and keep are the ones that have sentimental value and the ones that are well made and, preferably, the ones that combine both of these elements. We were both fed up of seeing lots of the same mass produced items everywhere and when we began looking for products for Such & Such we were drawn to the quality and individuality of handmade items.
Why is the sustainable ethos important to your business?
Promoting and putting a strong emphasis on sustainable design should be high on all our agendas. This is the way design is developing and it is both fascinating and essential in the world we are living in. We often feel this is an area we could do more in and we really hope this is something we can improve on moving forwards.
Where do you both work?
We would love to say that we work from a beautiful light-filled studio or a cool industrial loft but unfortunately we both work from home. Being a new online business it didn’t make financial sense to take on an office space especially as nowadays we can work remotely. We spend a lot of the day on FaceTime as Alastair lives in London whereas I live out in the country. We both really enjoy it when we have a Pop Up space as we do now because it really gives us a base to work from and it is great meeting people and seeing their reactions to the products.
Do you have favourite pieces from the collection?
We both love the concrete and bamboo lighting we have by Bentu Design. We are also launching a lot of new ceramics at our Pop Up on Earlham Street in Seven Dials which we are both very excited about. We have some fantastic new ceramic French press cafetieres; this is my new must have as I think they are so beautiful and I don’t even drink coffee! Alastair has just got one of the Ada Blackjack Backpacks for his birthday and is a huge fan. The Kaaita products are one of our firm favourites; they are large felt storage bags and the bags are made from felt squeezed from recycled plastic bottles and sewn together by skilled craftsmen in Slovenia. We have had the Teixidors throws from the beginning and we love the product and the company.
Have your own interiors changed since launching Such & Such?
Since we launched Such & Such, we have both moved house and I have done a full renovation job and Al has put in a new kitchen and decorated throughout his new place. Setting up Such & Such has definitely influenced how we have done our own interiors and we also have a fair few Such & Such items in our houses. When I was renovating our house I bought the Hand & Eye terracotta pendants to hang over our kitchen table before I had even decided on the kitchen or table. I see them everyday and love them.
I designed our kitchen table and a few friends saw the table and asked me if I could make them one so then we decided to add them to the site, we make them to order and source the wood for the table tops, which we make with everything from reclaimed scaffolding planks to 10cm thick oak barn cladding. I think it has also made us think about the items we buy for our homes; we are definitely more considered in choosing things.
Are there other designers whose work you’re admiring at the moment?
There are so many great designs and designers we love and admire, these are just a couple of the ones we return to again and again and a couple we have seen recently, we could go on and on…
I am currently completely smitten with these stools and I am wondering how I can organize/justify shipping one of these ‘Stumpies’ by Pop & Scott from Melbourne, Australia… it’s never going to happen but I can keep dreaming!
We stock the beautiful Strand Lamps by Andrew Clancy and so we were fascinated to see the chair he designed. Needless to say The Carvel Chair is a gorgeous piece of design using traditional methods of production but in a modern context.
Both Al and I have been following the work of LA based designer Stephen Kenn from the beginning and we are rather obsessed not only with his designs but his approach to design: “Good design should embody the simplest, most functional form and the materials used should tell stories from the past and wear well into the future” – Stephen Kenn.
What’s the best thing about running your own business?
It may sound like a cliché but probably the best thing is being our own bosses and the sense of working on something we are really passionate about and enjoy.
How do you visualize Such & Such evolving?
The dream is to own a large barn or warehouse space with a shop and café; we would love to run workshops and create a space where people can come, relax, work and shop. This is the pipe dream but until then we are always looking for great new products and designers to work with and we are looking at a long term pop up space for next year. We are also working on our own range of products, which we are hoping to launch in the not too distant future, so watch this space…
With thanks to Alastair and Nikki of Such & Such. See the full collection here.
The Such & Such Seven Dials Pop Up is open until Sunday 6 December at 28 Earlham Street, Seven Dials, London.
All photography from Such & Such.