Nikki McNamara, founder of Stylemaker, discovers Annie's passion for natural, kindly sourced materials and living with the things you love.
Read Stylemaker's Q&A with Annie and why creating a warm and welcome showroom is part of The Ivy House experience 😀
1. We love how The Ivy House is named after a home you once lived in. That must have been a special residence, do you think it has influenced the ethos of your business in any way?
I think it has as I feel it's my name over the door so there's a personal pride to what we do! It really has formed the business we are, and in different ways over time. It started out as representing my meaning of 'home' and its importance to me and my family (I am the biggest homebody of all time) to today, encompassing how my team and I want to be treated ourselves. We are constantly asking - are the items we offer those we really want for our own home? Are we treating our customers the way we want to be treated? Do we feel good about asking our customers to choose us to supply their rugs/fabrics/furnishings - are we doing the best by them?
In my previous career I worked as a Project Manager in Funds Management. All projects need to be properly 'scoped' before going any further to ensure you stay on the right track and achieve what you set out to. Naming my business after my own home back at the start provided my 'scope'. Always remembering the importance of our homes and the spaces we spend time in. Our customers and their homes are what we are about before the items we offer. Sometimes we need to make decisions that foster more empathy than a purely business decision. I'm really proud of how our team reflects this belief.
2. Your considered and thoughtful approach to gathering brands for The Ivy House is commendable (side note: I’m the proud new owner of a Coco Flip ottoman, its irresistible). What is the process for selecting items, I can imagine it’s both a rational and emotional checklist in many ways?
Thank you for choosing Coco Flip and it's no nice to hear you love your new Puku ottoman! We now represent Armadillo & Co, Fermoie and Coco Flip and it's been a slow and organic process. We've looked at other items we love and that would sit well within TIH, but it's where the personal relationship hasn't 'fired' that it has not gone any further. We have close relationships with these 3 brands and we take our role as their representative seriously; someone has built their brand and there's an obligation on us to honour their vision. We're not choosing pretty widgets to sell for a profit - that's not the business we're in. I believe that the relationships we have with our brands is reflected in the way we care for them in our showroom and the way we present them to our customers.
That sounds more strategic than it really is! It's just organically transpired that we have chosen to work closely with people we admire. And those people create beautiful homewares.
3. How did the idea for The Ivy House come about, or has it always been a tightly-held vision of yours?
It was a long time in my head before starting! As mentioned, I worked in Funds Management before I had our 2 girls (now 15 and 17). Once they started school I wanted to do something but the thought of returning to FM was frightening! I spent a long time feeling quite frustrated at wanting to do something but not knowing what. Worse, I could find many reasons not to do anything I thought about. I think a lot of women who take a career break feel this way and I know I felt that I had nothing to offer. So as self deemed un-employable, I started my own business!
I'd love to say I'm focused with a clear vision for TIH but I look back and wonder how on earth I ever survived those first few years! Thank goodness for Google and a determination to keep going. I do believe in the products we offer, and feel a sense of responsibility to our brands, and that encapsulates TIH and how we have evolved. I'm very lucky to have had really good people working alongside me throughout; I have them all to thank for the business I love and am proud of today.
4. There is a real sense of calm and welcome in your store, it’s very “homely”. How do you convey this feeling?
Thanks Nikki - that is the nicest thing to hear! I know there's a trend to showcase minimal yet obviously highly crafted spaces, but that's never been our thing. We always have a candle burning and the heating or cooling going so it's comfortable - just like home! I really believe in our products and what they bring to a space and that is our priority. And excellent, kind service. We talk about this in house all the time, that our priority is our customer and the service we offer them.
5. Choosing a rug can be a little overwhelming and there is a lot to consider. What’s your top advice for the uninitiated
There's a lot of rules out there but number 1 to us is, choose what you love. You want to walk into the room and have that space make you feel good so get it right the first time. The way we live now we move, we want to change things up so if you choose what you love, it will work in another room, another house.
Natural fibres will be easier to clean - good quality wool is inherently stain resistant and jute is naturally hard wearing yet softens over time - meaning our rugs 'wear in not wear out'. A good rug should be easy to live with and continue to look good over time while allowing you to enjoy it - functionality is key. A beautiful rug that will mark when cleaned or isn't suitable for the space isn't a good investment and will leave you disappointed.
Outside of that, getting the size right is key to making the space feel right. Our top tip to getting this right - easily - is get 4 pieces of A4 paper and place them where you would like the rug to cover then measure between. Your eye will travel the 4 corners and this is such a simple way to envision the coverage. Ideally all furniture should sit on the rug, but this isn't always practical so if not, try and keep balance by doing the same on all sides furniture sits e.g. sofa has front legs only on rug, do the same with the other sofa, side chairs etc. Balance is key to how you will feel in the space. If a standard rectangular rug doesn't work, and custom size isn't an option, try a round rug.
Lastly, ask for help. You're making an investment and you should receive all the help you need and want.
6. Protecting our planet is no passing trend (thank goodness) and your products are designed to last the distance. What’s your benchmark around sustainability at The Ivy House?
We are so lucky with our products; the goal of sustainability is at the heart of what we do in line with their lead. We firmly believe that natural materials, sourced kindly, produce healthy homes. What you surround yourself with affects your health; if you have man made materials using chemicals in your home, these can give off VOCs which affect our health. Surrounding ourselves with natural fibres enhances wellbeing and brings us closer to nature.
Armadillo & Co, Fermoie and Coco Flip all work in natural materials across their range of products - wool, jute, linen, cotton. Their products start with the natural beauty of their fibre and are then crafted, by hand, into something special that adds a layer of beauty and invisible energy to your home.
We also believe that as well as ensuring our products are made from natural fibres, kindly, ensuring they will be with you a long time aids sustainability. Part of sustainability is reducing short term purchasing, the homewares fast fashion. Our ethos at TIH is about helping our customers select items they really love so they will look after them and keep them in their homes for a long time.
7. You must have your favourites… so we’ve got to ask, do you have a product (or two) that has stolen your heart above all else?
Yep that's hard! You can't beat our Armadillo & Co Classic Collection for a great family friendly rug for your home - the Atlas is a favourite in our house. Actually, anything that can continue to look good after having dirty feet (dog & human), coffee and direct sun fired at it makes me happy! We finally put an Agra rug in our home and I have fallen in love with that range all over again. I knew they were beautiful but even more so at home; the hand knotting in such beautiful wool, the softness underfoot and how robust they are in a busy home. They are a true heirloom piece.
We also love our Coco Flip ottomans - they are just so perfectly formed. Sophisticated yet fun and their wool top and bottom makes them naturally soft and practical. Imitations don't come close to their beauty and personality. We have them in our girls' rooms as seating/piling up teenage 'stuff' and the larger one in the media room. It doubles as extra seating or a coffee table but adds another layer of interest that a coffee table wouldn’t.
8. I remember buying my first-ever rug… it was a beautifully coloured round Numdhar rug from Trade Aid. Do you remember your first purchase, or even a childhood rug that sparks a memory for you?
I used to have a Persian rug from my Grandparents in between the beds in my bedroom as a child. I used to pretend it was the sea between two islands and try and jump over it from bed to bed. Drove my mother nuts and proved a little dangerous at times! Fast forward I discovered the power of a good rug to transform a space when renovating our first family home in London; my favourite being the rug I put in our eldest daughter's nursery. It came from Laura Ashley and was rather pink and floral and not my taste now at all really, but I still love it for how it made a neutral room so inviting and special. It has wonderful memories of a very special time.
Fermoie is new to TIH and I spent lockdown planning how to Fermoie our home! Watch this space!
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