interview :: bethan john

Katie | November 27, 2013

beeswax candles

Online shops are two a penny these days. Everyone I speak to seems to be in the midst of setting one up. Most of them are lovely, but just like the last one. Decorator’s Notebook is different. Founded by blogger Bethan John and her brother Joe, it blew me away the first time I saw it. I couldn’t wait to catch up with Bethan to find out how they created something so distinctive in such a crowded space.

Joe John and Bethan John - Decorator's Notebook

How did you start blogging?
I’d just bought my first flat in London, which was in need of a serious makeover, and I wanted somewhere to collect together pictures and decorating ideas that inspired me and document the renovation. This was just before Pinterest arrived so blogging seemed like a good way to do it. I didn’t think about anyone else reading it at the time… it really surprised me when they did!

Shoreline plates - two sizes

What inspired you to make the leap from blogger to online shop keeper?
I’m really passionate about handcrafted homewares, and fascinated by people who make things using traditional materials and techniques. I think it’s the stories behind the things in our homes that make them personal and special to us. It seemed like a natural step to go from gathering products I loved for the blog and offering them in an online shop. Customers can find out where the items they buy come from and in doing so, we hope they’ll love them even more.

Dipped terracotta tableware range

How’s business?
An adventure! I love that every day I’m doing something new and we’ve already had such a brilliant response from customers to our collection and concept. I get a buzz each time I get to send one of our beautiful items off to a lovely new home!

Wooden eating bowl and spoon set

What’s the most important thing to know about you?
That I’m only one half of Decorator’s Notebook. I started the blog a few years ago but I teamed up with my brother Joe to launch the Decorator’s Notebook shop together this October.

Easterly blanket

What inspires you?
Nature. I’m pretty certain I was a cavegirl in a previous life! I always feel calm and at home when I’m in the great outdoors and you’ll see a lot of rustic influences in the products I choose for our shop. I love surrounding myself with natural materials and colours at home.

hedgerow ceramics - sold each

Your shop has got a really distinct look – how do you decide what to stock – and what not to stock?
We try to be distinctive in our ethos as well as our look. We intentionally launched with a very small and tightly curated first collection that really encapsulates our concept: a refined range of home accessories that combine quality natural materials with thoughtful design, skilled craftsmanship and interesting origins. That could be an intriguing story behind the maker’s inspiration, the revival of a rural craft, a social initiative or a product that makes use of recycled materials. Decorator’s Notebook isn’t about selling, it’s about inspiring people to buy.

Enamel billy can

How is working with your brother?! What do you fight about?!
So many people find it completely incomprehensible that a brother and sister can work together! I think the key is that we have a shared vision but quite different skills on a day-to-day level. We fill in the gaps with each other’s strengths and weaknesses so when a task needs doing, it’s easy to trust one another’s abilities. That’s not to say it’s all plain sailing, but we’re a good team.

Dipped terracotta jug

What advice would you give to an aspiring design retailer?
We’ve only been open a couple of months so it’s too early for us to be giving out advice! However, I can’t recommend the School for Creative Startups course highly enough to anyone thinking of starting a business in the design sector.

double sided frame

What are you most proud of?
That I was brave enough to make some really major life changes to make Decorator’s Notebook happen. I gave up my day job as an interiors journalist, sold my London flat and moved back to Somerset where we grew up to get our business off the ground. Without Joe’s support I wouldn’t have been confident enough to do all that.

Wooden milk jug vases

What’s next for you?
We’re working on a new Limited Edition range and inviting submissions from product designers who’d like the chance to sell with us. It’s a way for new designers to test out selling through an online retailer and, if their Limited Edition item sells successfully, we’ll consider including them in our permanent collection. We’re looking for fresh designs which haven’t been sold online before or designers who can give something they already make a cool twist that makes the product unique to us. They can email [email protected] to find out more.

Dipped terracotta mug

What’s your favourite colour?!
I saw a quote on Pinterest the other day which said “Why grey? Because my ideas are colourful”. I think that sums me up pretty well!

Burren waffle cushion

Further reading for the especially geeky:

Enjoy coadg interviews? Why not buy the book? Limited edition design book Interviews

Further Reading for the Especially Geeky ::

Founding Editor – Katie Treggiden

Having established confessions of a design geek in 2010, Katie Treggiden has gone on to a career in design journalism, writing for titles such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, Elle Decoration, Stylist, Design Milk and Ideal Home. In 2014, she launched Fiera, an independent magazine dedicated to discovering new talent at the world’s design fairs. Her second book, Makers of East London, was published in 2015.

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