When we started Layer a few months ago, we wanted to share our love of home design and interiors. We’ve done this informally for years – helping friends with room and home renovations, poring over countless interiors magazines and nosying around anyone’s house who would let us in. I renovated my first home last year and my Mum has been doing this professionally for twenty years. We knew that we had something worth sharing, but still there was an element of doubt about our credentials.
The design industry can sometimes seem intimidating and exclusive and it can be overwhelming to be the new faces on the block. One of the things that has really spurred us on through our fledging steps has been connecting with similar likeminded individuals within the world of design. People who don’t take themselves too seriously, who believe fiercely in the importance of preserving and protecting vintage treasures and who enjoy sharing the beauty of design.
Few traders we have met have had such a fun, friendly and open-minded approach as Ben and Joe, the design duo behind Hopper + Space. Originally from the North of England and now based in Erith, South London (yes, that’s a real place!), they have built a stellar reputation for sourcing and selling fun and beautiful pieces, as well as recently using their expertise to design their own furniture line.
They opened the doors of their stunning, high-ceilinged, light-filled warehouse home and showroom to me and we chatted about their inspirations, style and what’s coming next for Hopper + Space. Their sense of fun is infectious and I wanted to stay for hours chatting about design, how to make spaces work and how they have developed their business into the multi-faceted design studio that it is today.
When and how did you get started?
It started off as a hobby for both of us. We were collecting pieces from different eras (Ben was collecting 1950s and 1980s pieces whilst Joe was drawn to furniture from the 1960s and 1970s). And then we just kind of turned it into a business in 2010 and haven’t looked back since then.
I think we managed to be there at just the time people were becoming more discerning and were starting to look for particular pieces. We had been upholstering 1950s suites and chairs for a little while and we were just doing it at exactly the right moment.
We’ve always been interested in furniture and it’s just been an amazing way to be involved. It’s just grown from that point and we are branching out in lots of directions including designing our own furniture line recently.
What were you doing before?
(Ben) I worked in recruitment and Joe worked for a wildlife charity. As Hopper + Space took off we moved over to doing it full time. It was a bit daunting at the beginning, without the security of a full-time job but it’s been worth it.
Where do you source from?
Everywhere! We’ve sourced from America, all over Europe and the UK. Sometimes we find something that’s just a mile away, and the next day we’re up to Scotland for some chairs. It’s just a lottery.
Do you have different buying styles from one another?
(Joe) Yes, I think so, but it’s all come together into one fusion of style now. I used to go for very earthy ’60s and ’70s pieces in oatmeal or teak. And Ben has always loved the 80s, post-modern stuff. We have both drawn out an appreciation for the other decades in each other. We are playing around with that mix now – in our home and our work.
How would you describe the Hopper + Space style?
We go for unique, eye-catching pieces, perhaps things that not everyone is sourcing yet and we mix that with real mid century staples. Our style is quite mixed but we always want to have fun, so a lot of our pieces are bright and colourful.
The Mid Century Modern look can sometimes feel a bit serious and stuffy, we just wanted to add a bit of vibrancy!
What was the first piece that ever sold?
One of our very first pieces we sold properly was a corniced leather swivel chair.
What’s the best find you’ve had in an unexpected place?
We went to a big antiques warehouse in Scotland and there was lots of teak, G Plan 1950s pieces and they were all priced really steeply. It was a trade warehouse but with really high prices and they weren’t keen to sell us much. But we spotted that bench upside down underneath some boxes and wellies, and we knew straight away that it was a George Nelson Bench. We picked it up for a song and as it was Joe’s birthday, it felt quite fitting!
Do you struggle to let go of some pieces?
We definitely did to start with! Now we have adapted and view it as a pleasure to handle certain pieces, if only for a short time.
What’s your typical customer like?
Somebody who is interested in their home, rather than ‘design’ per se. Our customers always want something special for their home but something that is also going to work in their daily lives. We’ve sold to famous people, to all sorts of people but always with the same underlying motivations – people who love their home and want something interesting and fun.
You recently started designing your own furniture line, what are the influences behind that?
We have a sofa and a chair in our own furniture line at the moment. We design everything ourselves and we use influences that are not necessarily represented on the High Street. We like to look at things that are not already out there and it keeps us interested and on our toes.
When we were designing the current sofa and chair we took a lot of influence from mid century pieces from the Soviet Union. They have a lot of quite punky pieces that aren’t necessarily elegant. There’s definitely a slight awkwardness to the design and it’s quite boxy.
With everything that we do, we only use the best. Once we’ve finalised the design, the pieces are manufactured in the North of England. We want to sell people something that will literally last them forever.
How do you find living and working in the same place?
We love living here and it’s a bit of an undiscovered creative hub. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface – artists, music studios, graphic design companies . There isn’t necessarily a ‘scene’ or an infrastructure but there’s lots of creative people getting on with things.
It’s taken us a while to get used to the whole live/work thing in the same place. We try to make the space as versatile as we can really, but we’re really lucky and we don’t really take it for granted at all.
What’s the most difficult and most rewarding thing about running your own business?
Not having the security of a normal job definitely keeps you on your toes to start off with but that’s really a good thing. The most rewarding thing is that you really just get to be yourself, explore your own interests in your own time and do it all through work.
On the flip side, it’s easy not to switch off – we always take the van on holiday ‘just in case’!
What’s next for Hopper + Space?
After the success of our own furniture line, we’re now looking into launching a range of plates and crockery. It’s quite an accessible entry point for people, you wouldn’t have to spend a lot. They should be quite good fun with a bit of an Eighties flavour!
We love building our own market with the style we’re developing. We’ve been looking a lot into design from the late 1980s and 90s. There isn’t a huge market for it at the moment, but we’re so enjoying looking into it and researching it. Who knows what will come next? Watch this space!
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