Welcome to the latest Where We Work profile. This time we venture to Herne Bay, Auckland to visit The Ivy House showroom to talk to its founder Annie Loveridge. I met Annie through mutual friends over dinner in Wellington some years ago when she was starting out in her design career. We've kept in touch ever since - more so now that I am often sourcing wonderful rugs from her business.
How did The Ivy House come about? Running my own business was never something I imagined; it's evolved through luck and a lot of hard work. I remember reading an item on designer Abigail Ahern's blog about the many challenges of starting her business and that if she had to do it again, she would be reluctant to. Fortunately we don't know what we're in for when we start out on a new project, because if we did, often times we would never contemplate doing it.
My background involves chartered accountancy, principally working in funds management in the UK. My husband and I renovated a few homes in London and the US before we had children and this sparked my interest in design. It wasn't just the aesthetic side of it I enjoyed, it was also the problem solving aspect of the design challenges that appealed to me. We had a builder from Newcastle whose motto was "there's always a solution; it's just a matter of how much it's going to cost you". At least I think that's what he said, he was hard to understand. Nevertheless it was profound in its own way.
After children, I decided not to return to banking. I realised I didn't care enough about the job and I was fortunate that I was able to stay at home with our girls. Nevertheless, I did find it hard as I juggled motherhood with studying interior design while still renovating our own homes. I knew I wanted to work for myself but had no idea how to start. As an excellent procrastinator, I was able to argue myself out of each idea I had. Two people gave me some good career advice; one was you Charlotte! One friend told me just to do something, one thing, anything essentially. It will lead to something else and it may not be what you intend but it is better than doing nothing and standing still. Following your suggestion, Charlotte, I started a blog which got me involved with design. Both pieces of advice amounted to the same thing - putting one foot after the other and seeing where it leads you.
I took on some furniture re-upholstery work which then led to me to a role representing Quadrille Fabrics covering the New Zealand and Australian markets. By chance, a phone call to the designer who had previously distributed Quadrille in Australia provided an introduction to Armadillo&Co. I'm pleased to say The Ivy House is the New Zealand distributor for this great brand. I've been able to draw on my previous career skills in the areas of project management and problem solving to add value to the work for The Ivy House. It's my firm belief that nothing you've done previously is ever wasted.
How hard was it to develop the business you have created? The hardest part was getting started. It's not easy measuring your new business against other like-minded business who happen to be succeeding. You do question if you're good enough. However, self belief in a good work ethic, along with doing extensive research and engaging well with people so you build up good relationships were essential in the early days of my business. I can't stress enough how important self-belief is in developing your business.
It has been hard at times entering new territory but it also helps that you can approach things on your own terms. It is incredibly important to me to always be honest, friendly and respectful to our clients. This is a key value of The Ivy House and is upheld across our entire team at all times.
I've been fortunate with Armadillo&Co to be able to sell a product that I truly believe in and use in my home. They are the most amazing company to work with and I have had so much support from them along the way. I suspect my lengthy, onerous and very detailed emails to them are legendary in their offices!
The bottom line, it wasn't overly hard to develop the business, just a lot of little steps! I've learned is that it's incredible what you can achieve when you have to and when you commit to the challenge.
Can we talk about your relationship with Armadillo & Co rugs as well as your other brands? Hand on heart, I feel I am the luckiest person on earth representing Armadillo&Co in New Zealand. The rugs are beautiful and I'm amazed how genuinely good this company is. It is privately owned by two women whom I both admire very much. They are clever and continue to grow the business whilst sticking to the ethics they started with. I recall a recent interview where one of the co-founders Jodie said, "Armadillo&Co has always been conscious that we remain strongly connected to our vision and mission, which is for our rugs to lie lightly on this earth." I think that is an admirable statement.
We wanted some smaller furniture items to compliment the Armadillo&Co rugs. I was introduced to Melbourne's Coco Flip by Armadillo&Co's Tasmanian stockist, Simon Ancher Design. We then source HEM's Pocket Chair for its beautiful handmade quality of timber and leather. It became about wanting the finest handmade items. What I've learned is that when you work with businesses you care about and have a friendly relationship with, it's good for everyone from supplier to customer. I've never followed a business strategy, rather I'm guided by my gut feeling and have always been prepared to back a product I believe in. If you're not invested in a product then you'll find selling all the more difficult.
You have a great showroom in the upmarket and beautiful inner city suburb of Herne Bay. Why base yourself here? We are happy in Herne Bay. In short, it was close to our home and small enough to be affordable. At the time - only three and half years ago - the Herne Bay shops were rather lacking in anything 'home' related. I figured it's Herne Bay, it should be better. I wanted to be away from the traditional homeware shopping hubs and I loved the character of this space. It has good parking and since we've been here some other great brands have opened - clothing and home wares - so we feel it's been a good business decision. Down our end of Jervois Rd, we now have Dear Jervois cafe and Kathryn Wilson shoes as neighbours. It's a great little neighbourhood. This is an excellent mix and nice for us too!
Tell me about your showroom? The Herne Bay pharmacy was temporarily in here and I remembered thinking what a perfectly sized (small) space this would be. I couldn't imagine taking on anything bigger. Everyone said it was too small and down the wrong end of Jervois Rd. But I figured another 100 metres from the busiest end of the road would be okay. I think our location is fantastic and we're very lucky to have it.
The space was always small. When it was emptied out, it was really sad looking and I had doubts about the wisdom of my decision. But I had signed a lease so I forged ahead. We spoke with a fit-out company who wanted us to spend a lot of money stripping all the character. I quickly put a halt to that thinking and proceeded to coat the whole place in white paint. We had ladder rails built to hold the rug samples, installed a simple desk and lighting. With the encouragement of friends (and wine) the samples were successfully (and happily) displayed. Now that I think about it, I actually don't know how I got this place open!
Where did you seek inspiration for the showroom? That's easy - the Armadillo&Co Trade showroom in Fitzroy, Melbourne that opened not long before The Ivy House. It was similar in size and layout - in my mind anyway. But in reality, their space was bigger, smarter AND had a courtyard.
With regards to my showroom, the fact it is a Victorian building meant that the character was already there and that we didn't need to add anymore. Just a splash or two of white paint, or so I thought! It's a traditional two up, two down so it has a homely feel which is important to me. It is tricky displaying rugs in a small space but we've had to be clever with ladder rails and rotating floor stock to keep the space constantly fresh. A larger space is on the cards but it would need to feel right.
Which is your favourite Armadillo&Co rug? That's hard, really hard as I have several favourites for different looks or schemes. But if pushed, the one rug that I think works in almost any space and always looks good is Armadillo&Co's Dandelion. It's available in three sizes - 1.55 metre diameter is great in an entrance (we have one at home), the 2.15 metre and 2.74 metre take all the hard edges and 'boring' out of a living space. I love seeing the handiwork that goes into this handmade rug. The hemp is braided then turned on its side and hand stitched, resulting in a more robust rug. When you look at it, it's a wonder how much time and handiwork goes into each beautiful rug. I love that!
What are your top tips for purchasing a rug? There's the usual tips - measure your space, go as big as you can to define the space, all furniture on the rug or at least the front legs of sofas. But from experience other things to also consider include:
- Appreciate who made the rug. I believe there's an energy to a hand woven rug that a machine-made item can never replicate. I look at our Armadillo&Co rugs at home and love that they are handwoven for me, by a weaver in India. And importantly, this person was paid a fair wage for their craft.
- Stepping out of bed onto a soft rug is magic - ask anyone who has had bare floorboards. Ideally, under a bed have the rug 2/3 up the length of the bed so you step out onto it and the remaining 1/3 sits beyond the bed. A 2.5 x 3.5 metre rug does this perfectly (running long ways across the bed).
- Measuring can be hard for most people - myself included - to help decide what size rug is needed. Filling the space with newspaper is a good idea but I can't ever imagine having the patience to do so. It's much easier to take 4 pieces of A4 paper and place them at all 4 corners. It is so easy to do and it works!
- Buy something you love. Should you move house, or relocate the rug to another room in your current home, you will always love it regardless of its setting.
- Make sure it's practical for the intended space. You and others want to be able to enjoy it. People tell us they won't allow children on the rug, but what fun is that? That's the beauty of a natural fibre; it can be cleaned easily and you can enjoy it.
- If under a dining table, remember that food be dropped regularly (an issue in our house and SHE is 12). Ask yourself the following two questions: do the chairs have stoppers that may catch on the rug? Will moving the chairs back and forwards be an issue? A flat weave New Zealand wool rug will be fine with all these issues. Armadillo&Co's Designer Collection rugs are perfect under a dining table and you can design your own from 51 colours.
- Hemp is the most amazing fibre and used by Armadillo&Co. It is grown organically to refresh crops and has certain advantages over sisal, jute and coir. It is not scratchy, in fact it is incredibly soft. It wears in, not out. I can't explain why but it refreshes itself over time and stays looking beautiful. It tolerates water without bleaching. It is great for kids' rooms as it's neutral, organically grown and will grow with them through to the teenage years.
What are your plans for The Ivy House this year and beyond? I think last year was still about growth, and getting up to speed with systems and staff. The focus was on the showroom and our retail business. This year is about getting out there with our trade and wholesale clients, and looking after them. I am a true introvert and very happy behind the desktop. I actually find getting out there quite hard. While it certainly doesn't come naturally to me, when I do get out, I find myself enjoying it. I have an amazing team whose company I relish. I think it's important to educate and inspire our clients with the real beauty of ethically made items for your home. The combination of aesthetics and ethics is rare and special. That is what I want to achieve in 2017 - really inspire through the real beauty of Armadillo&Co.
Charlotte - I saw on your blog that you were married at home with an Armadillo&Co Twine Weave rug where the ceremony took place. I was so happy seeing that. An Armadillo&Co artisan wove that rug by hand in India and there is an energy to that that I love. They don't always understand where their rugs are going to end up, but this was truly special use of the rug.
All photographs, unless stated, by Paul Statham.