One of my favourite bits about my day job as an interiors journalist is stumbling across new inspiring and creative people. Actually that's a bit of a lie, it's not one of my favourite bits, it's the favourite bit.
I first came across the lovely Magpie Miller last year - a quirky online boutique selling carefully curated pieces, perfect for adding interest and whimsy to your interiors. Better still, each piece is handpicked with love and care by one lady - Elissa Miller.
Let's not be too rose-tinted about it, times are tough and there's a massive amount of competition out there - launching an online interiors shop is not for the faint-hearted. I'm always inspired and fascinated by people brave enough to follow their dreams, so I caught up with Elissa to find out what made her take the plunge...
How long ago did you start Magpie Miller, and how did the idea for setting it up come about?
I started Magpie Miller just over a year ago. My grandparents are antique dealers and my Mum started her career as a fashion designer before moving into the interior business for twenty years - so I grew up surrounded by trends and developed a keen sense of what does and doesn’t sell over the years. I’d always dreamed of having my own shop (selling items I loved) leading to a now-or-never moment about eighteen months ago where I realised it could stay as a pipe dream that I always wished I’d done or bite the bullet and go for it. I opted for the latter!
Can you tell us a little bit about what you did before?
I used to be an animator for a large corporate company making video games. Not the shooty kind though; more cartoon style, family friendly games which was a lot of fun. Working there for most of my twenties taught me to be very disciplined and how to stay creatively motivated and organised when dealing with such huge dependencies – all of which helped massively when establishing my high-level business goals and ensuring the day-to-day tasks were prioritised accordingly. It also means that I’m relatively technically astute which was a huge bonus when setting up the website!
What's the most interesting thing you've learnt since starting the company?
I’ve learnt so much since starting Magpie Miller it’s unreal! From buying, to marketing, branding, photography... phew! But I guess the most interesting thing I’ve learnt is to stay true to who I am and have confidence in what I believe. I always thought these sorts of things sounded corny when I heard other business owners say them; but as long as you retain a clear vision of what you want to achieve, anything is possible.
What have you enjoyed the most?
Without a doubt the most enjoyable part of running Magpie Miller is discovering and dealing with such fantastic design talent. My tummy literally flips when I find a gorgeous item to stock in the shop - it gives me a real sense of pride to be helping independent designers that love their work and are making a business out of it. I also really love sharing the items with customers and knowing how much they value and appreciate good design. The bottom line with the business is that I love selling items so I can buy more… Danger.
Any particular highs/lows you've experienced?
Actually getting the business up and running and receiving orders within the first two weeks of being online was a real high! Building the business up over the past year has been A LOT of hard work combined with trial and error. I also work on my own (Muffin the cat helps out sporadically…) which can be tough and allows self-doubt to rear its ugly head every so often - but I’ve always felt so passionate about the business which is what ultimately keeps me motivated. The business is going from strength to strength at the moment and Magpie Miller is being frequently featured in traditional press and blogs, with a feature in the Saturday Times Magazine recently a particular high. It’s all just been amazing!
Which products are you personal favourites?
Oh gosh, that’s a tough one as they’re all my favourites! I guess if I was to pick a couple of items that are representative of the type of item and design I love, the Button Trivet would come high. It repurposes the universally familiar shape and applies it fantastically, transforming a potentially humdrum kitchen essential into a cosy statement piece. Another example would be the letterpress number coasters which are hand-fed through a century old Chandler and Price letterpress – I just love how much care and attention goes into making items like these.
How does your personal design ethos influence the brand?
When my husband and I bought our first house together we could only afford Ikea products - augmented judiciously with a smattering of Habitat. While this was fantastic (and something we still do now) I found it difficult to find interesting, unique homeware items that didn’t cost an arm-and-a-leg. The solution was to treat this as the basis for my business. To add interest to the house I was always looking for unusual items on the internet and scouring antique fairs and markets to pick up one-off and individual pieces. This led me to establish the Rescued & Reloved range through Magpie Miller.
Can you describe your own home?
I’d describe our home as a true reflection of who my husband and I are: warm and welcoming with an eclectic mix of ideas and styles. I’m a huge Scandi-style fan which influences the furniture we buy; albeit without the starkness that can sometimes be associated with this aesthetic. It also houses my husband’s huge music collection and his weakness for vinyl toys which I’m always threatening to minimise - but I secretly love that he has such a strong style stake in the house.
What's your hope for the company's future?
In the short term my plan is to treble the Magpie Miller range over the next year. I also want Magpie Miller’s style to evolve year by year and not get stuck in a certain ‘look’. Opening a shop would be a definite dream as it would be great to style all the items together - but really all I want to do is continue finding brilliant new talent and unearthing interesting and fabulous products!
Thanks so much to Elissa for sharing her experience in launching Magpie Miller with us! I'm already coveting far too many things myself...my personal favourites being the Mojave letterpress coasters, below left, (which I have just ordered, tut tut) and the Polyhedron Origami candlesticks, below right.
Magpie Miller is currently holding a super-duper January sale - check it out here>>