We jumped on the train this week to Bristol to catch up with Nora the French owner of The Bouton Shop. We first heard about her when she was named in a recent version of Homes and Antiques as a “go to destination” by one of the featured home owners.
The shop is based off the beaten track in Bristol, down a very pretty street, alongside other independent businesses such as a vintage clothes shop and a bespoke vibrant interior designer.
As we stepped through the door of the period, double-fronted shop we found ourselves in a beautiful airy space with Nora’s workshop through at the rear for all to see. A stripped-down, petite French sofa was waiting patiently on a raised platform to be restored back to its former glory, something that Nora carries out with great integrity using the traditional methods of upholstery wherever she can – foam is a dirty word at Bouton.
From a personal perspective, I am somewhat enthralled by the French. Everything from the accent, sophisticated style, approach to life and acceptance of all things imperfect – I am a fan!
Nora’s story is one of dreams, passion and leaps of faith – mantras we would all like to be guided by given the choice. After spending some time with Nora my love affair with the French was certainly not dispelled!
The shop is a cave of discovery and almost feels like Nora’s living space rather than a retail space. Her carefully-curated collection ranges from beautiful Persian rugs on the floor to large overscaled cupboards which look like they may have just left a large French chateaux. Her beautifully crafted upholstery pieces are complimented by interesting and unique objects. It’s a true mix of pieces which all seem to sing alongside each other.
How did you get started?
I came to England ten years ago and didn’t speak a word of English so I took myself off to college for a couple of months to learn the language. My sister lived in Bristol but apart from that I was alone. I was a little fearful, but I liked the way people give you a chance here and I decided to make it my home. I began making curtains and cushions and gradually my business started to grow as clients also started to ask me to upholster pieces for them. I went to college to do a course and became totally obsessed with the whole creative side of furniture restoration and upholstery. I originally rented a room in a shared house and then found this place where there was already someone selling antiques at the front. When that person decided to stop it seemed like the natural thing for me to take over and buy and sell my own antiques and vintage pieces.
Tell us a little about your background?
I have been around fabric and textiles from about the age of 5 or 6, my mother used to sew and make all of our clothes. I used to make fabric dolls with my mum and I always had the best dressed Barbie doll. I worked in fashion in Paris for many years but became a little disillusioned with the way that the fashion world was heading which is when I decided to come to England.
My sisters are both creative, one of them is a jewellery designer and the other is a graphic designer as well as designing bags. I believe that everyone can be creative, you just have to open yourself up and trust yourself.
What is the first piece you sold?
It was actually some cushions that I made after a trip to India. I was rummaging in the street and found some odd pieces of fabric which I blended with velvet and made some bespoke beautiful cushions which were snapped up. I was shocked that people wanted to buy them but it was a lesson that if I trust myself people want to buy what I create!
What is your personal style at home?
I am like anyone in this business, I am probably the last on the list! That said, I try to surround myself with things I love and don’t think too much about matching. I don’t try too hard and this is how I encourage my clients to approach their own choices.
Do you restore the furniture and do all the upholstery?
Yes I mainly do this myself, however I do have a small team to help me if the restoration is a little tricky. I would never sell anything if it wasnt properly restored, I want my clients to be happy and have longevity with the pieces they buy. I am also respectful with the age of the piece, for example, I would never put foam in an antique because I want to honour the craftsmen who made the piece in the first place. This always takes more time but it is the only way to approach my job otherwise I would stop what I am doing.
How do you choose your pieces?
I adore the hunt, this is the fun part of my business. I love to rummage and find things where others fail to see the potential. One of the tables that I am selling at the moment was upside down in a place in France covered in debris but I saw the beauty and here it is now proudly sitting in my shop!
What is your favourite piece in the shop at the moment?
It is the yellow chair which I found on a recent buying trip to Brittany.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The bringing back to life of something is definitely a real buzz, people always want to know the story behind a piece and I enjoy being part of the story. It’s also a very eco-friendly approach to design.
So what next?
I intend to carrying on doing what I love. I may consider having more of a showroom in the future although I would miss my clients and the connection and relationships that I have with them. Maybe a bigger place would also be an option as my business continues to grow.
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