Meeting Frances from MAR-DEN in her stunning Peckham home is like walking into mid century furniture heaven, but with a twist. Steering clear of traditional mid century furniture stalwarts and opting instead for more unusual pieces from Germany and the Czech Republic, the MAR-DEN look is all about having fun. Whether it’s colourful Czech desk lighting, a 1960s suede German balloon chair or useful French white metal bedside tables, you can always count on this team to provide beautiful and unexpected mid century furniture pieces.
We chat to the wonderful Frances about her experience in the furniture industry, working in the entertainment industry and some of her most spectacular finds!
How did you get started in the trade and what were you doing before?
I wanted to start my own business and I’d always had a big passion for old things in general. My style moved towards mid century, I began to trawl the markets to buy pieces and I thought then that I ought to make a go of it. The excitement for me has always been about finding the treasure in unexpected places.
What did you before this?
I was mainly working in the entertainment industry before this so I was involved in television, theatre and most recently, I was helping to manage comedians. I’d always had a keen eye on design though so I was probably always going to come this way!
Do you remember what the first piece you ever sold was?
Yes – it was one of those little brass pineapple trinket boxes that I bought for a pound and sold for £40. We thought that was a good markup so it was time to scale up from there!
Where do you tend to source your pieces from?
All over the place, and it sort of swings in phases as well. We’ve bought from abroad a lot and we hosted a pop-up shop in Berlin a while ago which was brilliant. We were sourcing from Germany a lot at that time, and then started to see all of the pieces coming over from the Czech Republic. We really fell in love with Czech design and have met some really great dealers from over there who have since become our friends.
Who is the typical MAR-DEN customer?
We sell to everyone but we’ve found that most of our sales are returning customers who have signed up to our newsletter. Our stock moves pretty quickly so once a customer knows about us, they tend to come back and check what we’ve got fairly recently. We do also work a lot with interior designers.
What is it about the Czech designs that you really like?
They’re just a bit different! Whenever I see them, I think they are really interesting. There are constantly new Czech designers who we’re discovering and every single one has something quirky about them. We particularly love all of the Czech lighting.
How would you describe the MAR-DEN style?
Our ethos has always been to have fun with it and that there are no rules. We’ve always gone on what we like, rather than trying to really go for a style. We end up naturally finding a style within that. Mainly we go on what a piece looks like and then if it turns out to be a named designer, so be it but we just buy things that we would like to have in our own homes.
Have you ever found a spectacular piece in a really unexpected location?
We found a wonderful brass étagère tucked away in a basement in France. There was nothing else there really aside from this amazing 1970s étagère!
What’s the best thing about running your own business?
The best thing is the freedom and the fact that every day is different. I think also finding your ‘team’ is satisfying. It’s so great when you find a really great upholsterer or a really good electrician and you start to built a relationship with them.
And what do you find the most difficult?
There are big challenges running your own business but the most difficult thing is deciding where to allocate your time to be most productive. Knowing when to employ people and when to do things yourself is also difficult. You end up being a stylist, a photographer, an accountant, a restorer… so you’ve got to realise the things that you’re good at and focus on that.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I go to a lot of gigs because my boyfriend is a jazz pianist so quite often I go and watch him perform. I visit a lot of art galleries and I’ve just recently been to the Escher exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery which was great. And I also enjoy good food and wine as there’s so many great places here in Peckham – my favourite restaurant is Artusi!
And what’s next for MAR-DEN?
Well we already have our MAR-DEN Made range which has three products at the moment and those are doing really well with restaurants and cafes, so we’re looking to have about 10 products in that range within the next year or so.
ON THE MARKETPLACE
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