Tucked away from Ledbury High St, in the aptly named Design Quarter is the fabulous Hus & Hem shop. The Swedish named (House & Home) store captivates the senses as soon as you walk in. There are walls of brightly coloured objects to draw you in and an array of deliciously scented Skandinavisk candles, with names like Carved from Glaciers, Calm of the Boreal Forest and Dawn Embers (which incredibly does actually smell just like the fire the morning after!). Who isn't going to stop and smell a candle called Freshness of the Seas?!
Hus & Hem is not your average high street home store. It is full of all sorts of beautiful things you have never seen before. I asked Louise, the owner how she sources everything.
L: Regular trips to Europe to shows, but equally shopping in Stockholm, Copenhagen, Gotland, Paris and any other city I happen to be in. It’s the best way to find the hidden gems. We never stop looking.
I managed to catch Louise, en route to the shows in Stockholm and Paris, on one of these buying trips and asked her to share her story with us, and of course, how serendipity played her part. I always like to ask this question as she very often has a hand in things!
L: Hus & Hem opened on 1st May 2009 – just as the UK had plunged into a recession! It was a conscious decision to start the business at this time – the reasoning for this? if it works when times are tough then it can only get better! You also have to work harder and smarter, it makes you appreciate that every penny counts. It also helped that we opened on a shoestring and didn’t borrow (I originally opened with my best friend Jill, Jill sold her share of Hus & Hem to me back in 2014.)
K: Did serendipity play a part in you going into business and opening a shop at all?
L: It did indeed! An appointment was made on a chilly day in March 2009 to see an estate agent in Ledbury about the possibility of any shops coming up. The appointment was for 2.30pm, with a little time to spare I wandered into a little shop that was called The Orangery, it had always been one of my favourite little shops, a great location, perfect size, and off the High Street, all the requirements that were on the wish list. I walked around the shop and just as I was leaving, Mandy the owner, mentioned that sadly they were closing the shop! I said nothing and promptly went over to the appointment with the estate agent. I said I had found my perfect shop and what should I do. Go and tell them he said! We arranged to have a drink in a local pub that evening and Hus & Hem was born (well not quite Hus & Hem as it was nameless at that point). We had found a shop in 20 minutes and we opened in 8 weeks!
K: What do you look for when picking a supplier?
L: I am rather impulsive! I often have that moment of ‘I want it’ I stick with this gut instinct! It may be slightly off the wall, and often the girls will say no we are not having that (we tend to buy as a group, myself Lily (Louise's daughter) and Lucinda in various combinations. It can be easier buying as a group as obviously if we all love it then it’s a definite order) Sometimes I just have to have something, they both object and I buy it anyway, they are often the gems! And obviously I can say ‘I told you so’ only when it does sell really well, if it doesn’t I just say nothing! I have to really want it; we never have anything in the shop just because we think we can sell it. If I am quibbling whether to order then it’s a no.
K: Can you tell us about your brand ethos and what is important to you?
L: We have to love it - Simple as that! It simply has to make the heart sing. I could go on for hours about this question...
K: How do you get around a common problem in retail and beautifully merchandise when you have overstock?
L: We try not to overstock. We order small and often on the majority of products. We like to have new stock arriving regularly to keep the stock fresh and customers coming back, there is nothing worse than seeing the same stock in the same place month after month, this stops that problem, it also helps when you have a good relationship with your supplier! Many have become good friends.
K: Why is being off the high street important to you?
L: Rent and rates are cheaper!! Only joking, well sort of! We are so lucky we were offered our building at breeze block stage, we could configure it to our own spec – how often would you ever have this happen in a rural Market town. A brand new shiny building that even looks Scandinavian from the outside. The original little shop was also up an alleyway, 16 paces off the high street, it worked there, we reasoned the new one would too, although it was much further off the high street, it had a great approach, and more importantly you could see it from the pavement. People often say they are drawn up, I like this, they discover us and they have to put in a little bit of effort, they have to make a conscious choice to keep on walking up the alleyway. This makes customers feel as if they have discovered us, I think they like that. We can also have our doors open in the summer without the noise of the traffic; you just hear the birds singing.
K: What do you wish you had known when you first started Hus & Hem? What piece of advice would you give yourself back then?
L: Now I found this question really difficult. I can’t think of anything. I just asked Lucinda the question and she came up with ‘until you totally give up you don’t really know’. When you run your own business you just change something if it doesn’t work, I honestly can’t think of anything of any importance, obviously there’s loads of small things like paying in different currencies and the amount of paperwork you have to do on a day to day basis. Luckily I quite like paperwork!
I love Louise's attitude of starting "against the odds" during a recession, knowing that if you can survive that, you'll be just fine! Next time you are in Ledbury be sure to pop in and try some of the INCREDIBLE salted caramel Lakrids liquorice sweets! They also have an online store with their beautiful homewares helpfully showcased by room and by brand, so you can shop to your hearts content!
Hus & Hem, The Design Quarter, 12 High Street, Ledbury, Herefordshire, HR8 1DS, UK
All images taken by Katie Spicer & may not be reproduced without permission.