Thursday, 2 January 2014

Behind the Scenes with Sarah Massouh from Willow & Hall

Happy New Year to you all! I hope 2014 is everything you want it to be and more. The time between Christmas and New Year is always slightly weird, don't you think? We seem to always be coming and going, rushing round visiting family and friends. We had NYE and NYD at home though, it was so fun and relaxing. We got lots of stuff done inside and outside the house, although the stormy weather meant we had to scale back outdoor plans. I've been doing lots of reading and catching up on bookmarked blog pages, things I've seen online that I have wanted to read and not gotten around to doing yet.

One thing I love to do is read about other people who have taken the leap from a 9-5 job to something slightly different. In fact, I’m always excited to connect with interiors business owners who did something completely different before their existing career. I love the look on people’s faces when they ask me how I got into interiors, retail, styling, blogging etc – and I say well I started off with a law degree, then I worked in the City, and my last job was working on the legal desk at a hedge fund. Ummmm, yeah, not really anything to do with interiors at all....

But actually that experience, every one of those experiences, has stood me in good stead for running my own business. And although I didn’t go to art school, or do an interior design qualification, or even work in an interiors business before I started West Egg, I knew instinctively that was what I wanted to do; it was the same for Sarah Massouh from Willow & Hall. I know lots of people who read this blog are thinking of starting their own business from the emails I get asking for advice. My advice is to go for it! But don’t just take my word for it, I spoke to Sarah a few days before Christmas and I think you’ll find her story really inspiring.

Louisa: How did you get into designing and selling sofas?

Sarah: I don’t have a background in design, I did an economics degree and was a strategy consultant for Deloitte. Similar to you I felt that I had become a a bit like robot and was passionate about taking my business skills and applying them to something I love – furniture and interiors. I also wanted the opportunity to use my creative side as well as my business skills - furniture and interiors really enable this. From there I had the idea for the business and it evolved organically from there and through conversations with designers and British manufacturers.

Louisa: Yes! That is exactly like me, I felt like I was going mad! And actually West Egg evolved in the same way, lots and lots of conversations and advice from friends, and friends of friends. So, where did you get your inspiration for your first range of sofa and sofa bed designs?

Sarah: Well, I started with market research and lots of it. Initially I spoke to friends and family and got a really good sense of what people are looking for when they purchase a sofa or sofa bed. I then extended my research and eventually concluded that the key was to design simple, comfortable and practical sofas and sofa beds. From my research I knew that big and bulky furniture pieces are not really that practical for modern living as they can swamp a room, and also that comfort was paramount. Low back sofas, while pretty to look at, are not comfortable to relax on when you’ve had a long day and just want to put your feet up.

Louisa: Can you give me a rough outline of the design process for one of your sofas or sofa beds?

Sarah: Yes, absolutely. It starts with my sketches and ideas that I spend a huge amount of time on. Once I’ve got my ideas in order, I have the first of several meetings with our manufacturer in Wiltshire. I sit down with the owner, and one of his skilled craftsmen and we go through each different design and discuss the pros and cons, what’s going to work, and what’s not. Our manufacturer has over 35 years experience of building sofas, sofa beds, armchairs and the like, and his craftsmen have a similar number of years experience too. Together we tweak and change each design as necessary.

Once that stage is completed, they will build a prototype of each model. I then visit them and test them out from all angles – looks, comfort, durability and so forth. At this stage there are always improvements so then they will work on those changes.

As soon as the prototype is agreed and made, it will then be sent for the photoshoot and then it’s a case of uploading the details to the website. The whole process takes about 4 months. 

Louisa: So it’s a really time-consuming process then. What’s been your guiding principle while setting up Willow & Hall and designing the different ranges?

Sarah: The key has always been designing high quality products that have been thoroughly considered at each stage and also that are all manufactured in Britain using the finest quality materials. 

Louisa: I love it that all your products are made in Britain that is great for those manufacturing businesses where maybe other companies send their orders to China…

Sarah: Yes, I’m really proud of that and it’s something that was important to me. We actively choose to work with small British family businesses at all stages of the process – our fabric supplier is a long-standing family run business as is our delivery company. We like the personal touch in those smaller businesses as do our customers more importantly.

Louisa: Okay so this is the time of year when we’re all reflecting on 2013 and planning like crazy for 2014, so what’s next for Willow & Hall?

Sarah: Well we’ve got quite a few new sofa and sofa bed designs coming out in March 2014. We have two new corner sofa/ sofa bed units and a few new 2 and 3 seater sofa and sofa bed designs which is really exciting. In July 2014 we’ve also got a new range of upholstered headboards coming out which will all be available in our 78 fabrics like the rest of our furniture is. All the headboards can be fitted to a divan or bed-frame or supplied separately so it offers a great level of customisation and flexibility for our customers. We’re also planning to open a showroom in Surrey in summer 2014 for those customers who’d like to come in and see our furniture before they buy. 

Louisa: How exciting that your business is growing so quickly!

Sarah: Yes, we’re really pleased with our growth and delighted that we are able to provide beautiful British made furniture for our customers and at fantastic prices. We’re certainly excited for what 2014 holds.

Louisa: Me too, thank you so much for your time and I can’t wait to see the new designs in March.

I hope you enjoyed that insight into starting up Willow & Hall, you can click here to visit the website and they also have a great blog too - I just spotted this lovely recipe for plum, pear & apple chutney on there - click here to take a look. 

I could tell from speaking to Sarah that she is a real perfectionist and works long hours to make her business a success. There really is no substitute for hard work, so if you’re thinking of starting up a business as I said earlier just go for it…. oh, and work your butt off! I have a pinterest board of inspiring bits and pieces for small businesses – you can take a look here. My favourite quote at the moment is “when you rest, you rust”. Happy New Year everyone!

{This post was produced in collaboration with Willow & Hall, however as with all collaboration posts, the views and opinions expressed are my own. For more information on how I work with sponsors, please click on the Advertising tab above.}

1 comment:

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    You have a nice collection ofsingle seater sofa bed...
    Thanks for sharing such a nice blog...