I spend my life trawling beautifully designed sites packed with a plethora of covetable products – but sometimes the sheer volume of options is overwhelming. Once in a while I come across a store that captures my attention with its quiet confidence. I have been an admirer of Scottish homeware brand Sparrow and Co. for years – with a handful of original and beautifully made items to choose from – hand-painted tableware, simple but exquisitely patterned textiles and new Ash wood furniture – each one has the essence of a future heirloom.
I spoke to the brand founder Samuel Sparrow about running a small but perfectly formed business.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m Samuel Sparrow, owner and creative director at Sparrow and Co. – a British homeware brand based in Scotland.
I live and work in Glasgow with my wife Laura and our two sons, Rowan (2 years old) and Elliot (3 months old).
What did you do before Sparrow and Co? Why did you decide to start the business?
After graduating from the Glasgow School of Art I cut my teeth in London working for homeware companies Habitat and Ikea.
Working for Ikea taught me the importance of commerciality – a balance between functionality, aesthetics, availability and pricing.
However, I soon grew dissatisfied with the throw away culture synonymous with brands like Ikea. I was uneasy with the ‘out with the old – in with the new’ attitude and the notion that one would want to simply throw everything away and start again. Of course, I’m not opposed to newness or reinvention; I’m just more comfortable with the adage ‘things grow better with time’ – if given the opportunity.
With this in mind I decided to carve a path based on my own design principles – creating my own brand; one that I would be proud to put my name on.
What was your vision for Sparrow and Co?
Our vision at Sparrow and Co. is to design and source products that will stand the test of time, products that are not designed to fit a passing fashion. We are the antithesis of mass produced products and we are proud of it.
At Sparrow and Co. we celebrate the imperfect and inherent beauty that comes with functional, handmade products.
Our products need to have provenance – a story to tell and share.
Tell us about your set up, what are the logistics of running an online store? Do you work out of your home?
As my wife will testify I am a perfectionist and work hard to ensure what we are doing is consistent and adheres to the values we believe in.
However, as the business has grown I have had to learn that there are certain jobs that require other peoples help.
While I understand that it is important to have a grasp of all the responsibilities associated with running a business – I simply would not have a business if my time was focused on every task.
What is a typical day in your work life?
As anyone with young children will know, the day usually starts early! Once the boys are organised I will usually be found at my desk with a cup of coffee!
We are about to launch our new website. Therefore, a lot of my time is taken up tweaking the layout, photographing new products, updating the journal or finalising product descriptions.
My afternoons are usually spent packaging up orders for delivery. Today I will be replying to a press loan request and answering questions for this feature!
Evenings are spent on design and product development – often into the wee small hours.
Of course, Laura and the boys always provide a welcome distraction…
The visuals on your site are beautiful. Who shoots and styles these?
We work really hard to try and keep the same handwriting flowing through all our branding and photography – all of which is done in house. I would love to say we fly a team of stylists and photographers around the world to a hacienda in Mexico to shoot the collection. We are still small so photography and styling are usually done on our kitchen table; with a little help from our two year old son, Rowan!
Having said that, we do have some exciting photography collaborations planned for Winter 2014.
Where do you find your stock? How do you plan your collections?
We plan our collection around three main season launches – Spring/Summer, Autumn/Winter and Christmas – with each product designed or carefully sourced around our values; quality and sustainability.
We have had the opportunity to meet and work with some of the most talented makers’ around the world – from countries including Morocco, India, Central America, England, Wales and of course Scotland.
Our collection is small – but perfectly formed.
Tell us about some new finds.
Native Stool – they’re sturdy and unashamedly utilitarian. Each one is made by hand in Wales from native ash.
Bandhini Cushion – Intricately made using India’s finest tie-dye technique; grains of rice are tied into the cloth to build up a pattern of dots and circles. The cloth is dyed, dried and then carefully pulled to release each thread and reveal the pattern.
How has Sparrow and Co evolved from launch till now?
Sparrow and Co. launched in November 2011 – the same month our son Rowan was born – with our own range of candles.
The response was good. A buyer from America noticed them and suddenly we were selling through the company that owns Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters; they bought the entire collection and stocked them in US garden/home store Terrain.
Our first year in business was spent around our kitchen table labelling, boxing and wrapping thousands of candles to be shipped across the Atlantic.
Keen to grow we expanded the business with a small, curated homeware range with products we had designed and sourced, including; hand knitted throws from Wales, tin lanterns from Morroco and rare breed sheepskin rugs from Scotland.
Recently we opened a Pop Up shop in Glasgow – it gave us the opportunity to meet our customers and share the story behind each product face to face – the shop was temporary, however, it made me realise that one day I would like to open a bricks and mortar SPARROW AND CO. store.
In 2013 The Sunday Times listed us in their Top 10 online home stores – a very proud moment and one that has driven us to continue building a brand we would be proud to pass on.
Author: Rohini Wahi
Rohini is a London based freelance journalist and trend forecaster for the design industries. She has worked for Elle Decoration, Living Etc, Houzz and Design Sponge amongst others.
She loves a period drama and keeps a tidy home. Launched in 2007 The Beat That My Heart Skipped focuses on home inspirations, design trends, lifestyle and food – coupled with an insight into Rohini’s work and home life – from key picks at trade shows to styled weekend soirees. To contact Rohini for queries, work for hire or just to say hi drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org