Bespoke furniture company London Square sell characterful, individual children’s wardrobes, each one individually handmade and painted. Sara Walker spoke to owner Hilary Green about how it all began – and where it’s all going.
FDB: Tell us how it all began! You’ve mentioned that the inspiration for making the products came from you not being able to find anything suitable for your own son. What happened next?
HG: I didn’t have any professional design experience when I put pencil to paper to draw my son Aiden’s wardrobes. I just couldn’t find what I wanted for his room and desperately needed storage space. I wanted the nursery to be full of colour and have a playful, fantasy feel to it so I had the idea of large play houses that would double as wardrobes. I have always loved the style of London’s residential terraces and I thought it’d be most relevant to us as a family if I reproduced houses from two of my favourite local north London squares for his wardrobes.
The designs themselves are really very basic and the squares I chose lent themselves really easily to being simplified, the architects of the original houses deserve all the credit! I wanted houses that were like big toys in colours that reminded me of a box of crayons – as much fun as a wardrobe can be. To achieve this effect I drew each design on graph paper where each square represented 5cm x 5cm. This gives a symmetry and simplicity to the design. The window and roof details are always white, which is true to the original houses, and provides great contrast against the bright colours of the wardrobes which really make the colours pop.
To build the first set for Aiden I asked a friend who is a professional carpenter. He installed them into Aiden’s nursery and I’m afraid I’ll never get them out! When I came to revisit the designs for London Square I had to figure out a way that they could be flat-packed and transported more easily and for that I had the help of a very experienced tradesman who is now doing all of the construction for London Square. I did once turn a room into my house into a temporary studio and attempted (and failed) to prime and paint the wood for a set of wardrobes myself. I now have a much greater appreciation for how skilled and experienced you have to be to produce high quality finishes!
I first realised that I could make a success of selling Aiden’s wardrobes in the early weeks after his arrival in August 2018. Friends were coming over and visiting his nursery for the first time since the wardrobes were installed and they all gave me such enthusiastic feedback that it became obvious I should offer them more widely for sale. People say that the best ideas come from necessity and that’s what happened in my case, I didn’t start with the intention of opening a business.
FDB: How long has the company been going?
HG: London Square is my youngest baby!. Aiden is nine months old and London Square is about two months old. It’s early days! First I had to get the children’s wardrobe designs and finishes perfect which meant working very closely on final designs with the tradesmen. My standards for the London Square wardrobes are actually much higher than they were for the first set I had made for Aiden, don’t tell him though!
Once I’d found my charitable partner, The Childhood Trust, and I had committed a portion of our profits to them to help improve the lives of children living in poverty, London Square really took on a sense of social responsibility and consequence so I’d probably say that that was the starting point.
FDB: How long does it take to make each wardrobe?
The cutting of the wood takes about two days. The doors are particularly time consuming as the windows need to be cut out and the roof detail on the DeBeauvoir style in particular is quite tricky. The white window and roof details are small and intricate and are therefore also time consuming.
It’s the priming and painting, however, that really takes time. Each piece, including the roof and window details need to be fully primed and then painted three times to ensure a high quality finish. Then we put a light varnish on top to allow the pieces to be easily cleaned and hard wearing. A lot of work goes in to each wardrobe!
FDB: Obviously at the beginning you have to keep things small, but with a concept like this your mind must be fizzing all the time – castles, cottages, manor houses – what plans do you have for the future?
HG: I’m ALWAYS thinking about this! I’d really like to do some smaller pieces that’ll fit into the wardrobes or look great on their own, like storage boxes for clothes and toys in the image of mews houses. I have plenty of ideas but I’m going to focus on wardrobes for the foreseeable future.
FDB: What feedback have you had so far, what catches people’s eye about your designs?
HG: People seem to really like the colours and the fact that these wardrobes offer a fun and interesting alternative to standard nursery furniture. People also like that these are pieces that evolve with your children and they will be used for years and years. So much of what is available to buy these days is disposable and not intended for long term use but I think there’s starting to be a move away from that, I hope.
FDB: What’s been the hardest bit about running your own business, and what have been the good bits? If you could go back in time and have a chat to your former self before the business was set up, what advice would you give?
HG: For me the hardest bit has been to remember to pace myself. There is only so much I can get done in a day, with a baby who takes priority. Coming from a career in sales and marketing I started London Square with the same expectations I would have applied to my former roles. I’ve since had to adjust those expectations in line with what’s realistic now that I’m a mother and I’m still reminding myself of that and finding a balance. Motherhood and running a start-up business is all about balance, I’m told it can be achieved!
London Square wardrobes are priced at £1,200 each. To find out more, visit www.londonsquare.co.1