Dot Com Designs
The internet is teeming with interiors-focused start-up design companies. Claire Spreadbury discovers a world wide web of chic boutiquers.
Online shopping is the future. It's pretty much the norm already, with 80% of UK adults buying a wealth of wares over the internet - and that figure is expected to increase to 90% within the next four years, according to Future Foundation's consumer trend forecasters.
But it's not just shoppers who've experienced change when it comes to snapping up new and wonderful things. Although the internet's often blamed for poor retail sales, it can also harness a new breed of shopkeeper.
Allow me to introduce the 'chic boutiquers' - a cluster of fashion-forward online style gurus who, without the expense of bricks-and-mortar, are setting up shop and trading with ease.
We meet the shape-shifters forging ahead in the world of interiors.
FFOREST GENERAL STORES
Selling: Welsh blankets, bushcraft and camping kit, plus local artisanal treats
Among the lobster pots and pebbles of picturesque Aberporth bay, on the Ceredigion coast in Wales, is a pretty, stone cottage, just a few metres from the beach. Sian Tucker and her partner James Lynch live here with their four sons, running fforest - a camp where they combine ethically sourced materials and local craft to create relaxed, comfortable and inspiring spaces where holidaymakers can stay and play. They have a cafe and a 'pizza tipi' as well as an online shop, with the outdoors at the core of all they do.
Both art school graduates, the couple spent many happy years in East London's trendy Shoreditch working as designers, until deciding to up sticks and move to a 200-acre farm.
Sian jokes that James is "the designer" and her role is to "buy clutter'" But this is a dream team with a shared creative vision; a yin and yang partnership that results in inspiring and incredibly beautiful interiors.
They initially opened a bricks-and-mortar shop selling outdoor clothing and kayaks, but soon realised they couldn't compete with bigger stores, so decided to sell carefully selected products online instead.
The online 'general store' is filled with things the fforest family lives and works with. Welsh honey - sourced a few miles away - rustic aprons, beautiful blankets (woven exclusively for fforest using a vintage pattern that Sian adapted) and camping paraphernalia. It's a beguiling and expertly edited store, filled with well-made, utilitarian treats.
One of the prints fforest stocks features Welsh words that are important to them, including Hiraeth, Twymder, Teulu, Nos, Bwyd and Cariad - which translate as Longing, Warmth, Family, Night, Food and Love. These small pleasures convey the essence of their way of life - simple living and being connected to the natural world brings wealth that far outweighs financial or material gain.
LIEFS VAN MAANTJE
Shop: liefsvan maantje.nl
Selling: Illustrated prints, stationery and paper goods
Janneke van Houtum's online and offline worlds merge into one, magical realm in her Dutch home in Eindhoven.
Her colourful pad is filled with fun details, as is her whimsical web shop Liefs van Maantje, which translates as 'Love from Moon'. Her online site is covered with tiny glittering stars and the virtual aisles are lined with quirky illustrated prints, while her home is a cheerful wonderland.
Janneke set up her online shop because she wanted a creative project to sink her teeth into, following a bout of illness.
Liefs van Maantje allowed Janneke to indulge her life-long passion for illustration. Her collection is unique - carefully selected paper decorations, stickers, greeting cards and posters are sourced from near and far. "I deliberately include products by both well-known and lesser-known artists," she explains. "I want an eclectic offering that nobody will find elsewhere."
The three-bedroom home she shares with husband Jeroen and their sons Raave (6) and Midas (4) is an extension of her creative vision. Pom-pom and paper garlands adorn windows and living room walls, while colour and pattern are widely embraced.
"I love to shop online and sniff out vintage finds at flea markets," reveals Janneke, who has a gift for spotting the unusual and beautiful.
Juggling a full-time job with parenting and running an online business is tricky, but she enjoys her various responsibilities and manages her time carefully: "I run the web shop in the evenings and at weekends. I wrap packages in the evenings and Jeroen drops them off at the post office in the mornings - we've got a good system in place!"
Shop: mini moderns.com
Selling: Wallpapers, lampshades, paints and home accessories
Dungeness, off the coast of Kent, is the only official desert in the UK. It's a strange, surreal, beautiful place, where sky, sea and vast expanses of shingle meet the surrounding land. Nestled between clumps of grass on the sands, is a converted railway carriage that belongs to designers Mark Hampshire and Keith Stephenson - the duo behind Mini Moderns.
"We'd been visiting this area for 17 years before we bought our home here," says Mark. "The strange oddness of Dungeness really appeals to us - even on cold, wintry days."
In 2012, they spotted their dream property - "basically a shed on an exposed beach" - and they painted walls white, restored floorboards and fitted a wood-burning stove.
Having a coastal retreat has influenced Mark and Keith's designs, which grace wallpaper, fabric and home accessories. The surreal and rugged local landscape formed the basis for the 'Hinterland' collection - a range that includes shingle-patterned linen fabrics featuring lighthouses and huts, and a new 'P.L.U.T.O.' wallpaper design, inspired by the 'Pipe Line Under The Ocean', a World War II fuel line built under the English Channel from Dungeness to France, to supply the D-Day invasion troops with fuel.
Keith and Mark find unending inspiration in Fifties and Sixties designs, and have been fans of the mid-century era ever since they were teenagers, buying second-hand clothing in charity shops. Nowadays, the vintage shops in nearby Rye provide rich hunting ground for the eagle-eyed pair.
"We never take our computers to Dungeness," says Keith. "There's no TV and no wi-fi. We think, we create and we plan our next set of stories. Until you have space, you don't realise how much you need it."