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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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As much as I have delighted in a once in a lifetime maternity break, I have been itching to get back to design and my blog especially. It felt only appropriate that I kickstart it during the London Design Festival.

Having spent the past four months [has it been that long already?] in a haze of sleepless nights, playful days, much needed coffee mornings with new friends [lifelines] and a mind-altering education, it has felt like my brain hasn’t had the space for much else. The honest truth is that there were times that I found myself frustrated by the sudden lack of industry and inspiration. Spending over a decade working every hour under the sun at a job I really loved and then abruptly stopping was a very strange feeling.

But as with everything in life – hindsight is a beautiful thing and its only in looking back on my summer of love I’ve realised how amazing these last few months have been and not as devoid of inspiration as I initially believed.

A quick introduction to our bright star – Aarya [pronounced Ah-Ree-Ah] was born on the 24th of May and we grow more in love with her every day – we have been introducing her to our world and she to us. She has inspired me in a profound as well as a superficial way – her clothes, her nursery and making sure she is comfortable has opened up a whole new realm of sweet and playful design.

I kickstarted Aarya’s design education by inadvertently celebrating her 1 month birthday at the Ace Hotel [I went there for a launch]. She loved the hubbub of it all!

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Being a little more housebound than normal, I discovered the many charms of my East London neighbourhood [Wanstead] – a spate of new eateries and shops began populating our high street providing much needed respite.

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With everyone suddenly obsessed with sleep in our household, it became all about the bedding. We all had matching Metallic Polka Dot bedsheets from PB Teen, our bed was topped with West Elm’s Nomad Bedspread and Pillows with Aarya’s cosied up with a beautiful ruffle crib bumper from PB Kids. Stylish bedding promotes sleep in my opinion!

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I became obsessed with accessories for accessories – transforming my plain nursing pillow using Etsy store Modfox’s great selection of covers. Mine was the Grey Arrow Nursing Pillow Cover

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…weaning my baby off an ugly doll she loves using more stylish items like … Donna Wilson’s Foxleaf Toy at Mamas and Papas and a hilarious handmade Panda Puppet from the V&A Shop

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…with Baby Gap turning into my achilles heel… look at that whale print!

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… oh and not to mention very talented friends turning up with beautiful mobiles to treasure [a DIY on how to make these is upcoming this month].

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I hate leaving London in the summer when its at its best – every summer feels like a holiday in the city. This one especially – we spent so much time with friends, balmy evenings at launch parties and lunches at favourite eateries.

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…visiting exhibitions and capturing an alternative family portrait at the Digital Revolution at The Barbican…

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… a quick escape to the country with friends to celebrate Swedish crayfish season

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And of course my main inspiration…

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I’ll be reporting from London Design Festival this week so follow my Instagram and Twitter for updates with a post to follow on my new finds from the week. Till then – its good to be back!

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Succulents

For anyone that follows me on Instagram, you will have noticed that I have been a little preoccupied with arranging succulents of late. It all began when I visited the new Ace Hotel in Shoreditch and spotted beautiful arrangements of cacti and succulents of all varieties potted in single vessels creating sculptural displays [see first image].

After a bit of research I discovered how simple it was to make these arrangements at home – just find a beautiful vessel and fill with tiny succulents in varying heights – easy! I also became obsessed with  the ease of potting succulents in any type of receptacle. The brass plant stands above are from Ferm Living’s new 2014 collection, the hanging glass bubble from West Elm bought a few years ago in NY, and the other two earthenware vessels by a very talented acquaintance.

So given my new penchant for indoor gardening, I was really excited to discover the founder of online store The Balcony Gardener, Isabelle Palmer’s new book The House Gardener. Isabelle’s books always seem to carry a nice symmetry with my own green fingered experiments – her last one published in summer 2013 The Balcony Gardener tied in perfectly with me tackling my own balcony garden which I am proud to say is ticking along nicely. So this year given my move into house plants I was itching to get a hold of her newest tome.

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Filled with innovative ways to display your houseplants the book really taps into all the great indoor gardening trends, from air plants to indoor water gardens, terrariums and table centrepieces.

Stunningly styled images are all tied together with Palmer’s easy to put into practice instructions with comprehensive chapters for choosing and positioning containers, planting techniques and plant care. I already love this book, only having received and devoured it yesterday – and just know that it’s going to be a well-loved and well-thumbed modern classic on my bookshelf.

The House Gardener is published by CICO at £25 and is available at all good bookshops.

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I have to admit I unashamedly stole this post’s inspiration from my friends at The Women’s Room Blog because I just love a party decor web-shop.

The Americans do party decor really well, with design doyennes like Martha Stewart and Grace Bonney making crafting and entertaining a national institution. Across the pond, the online landscape is filled with inspiring offers from the likes of BHLDN, department stores like Target and not to mention Etsy’s covetable craft shops.

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The UK on the other hand leaves a lot to be desired with creative shoppers left to cobble together their decorations from uninspiring resources like Ebay and Amazon.

Enter Pea Green Boat a beautifully executed online store founded by friends Tessa and Zoe based in North London.

Drawing on their backgrounds in interior design and film production, their decor collections are fresh, modern and on-trend. Divided into inspiring sections like Decorate, Lay The Table, Gifts, Accessories, Vintage and by curated Theme, covetable products like bunting, cake toppers, giant balloons and table decor are sourced from all over the world and where possible, made in the UK.

Now all I need is an excuse for a party…

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