Archives for category: Design

As a long standing food retail obsessive I am always looking at what is out there, what I think of it and what the next big thing will be. I have an active imagination which means that I am constantly looking to see what’s going on and piecing together bits of what I have seen into my fantasy place which would be cutting edge and innovative.


In its time, Bills Food and Produce Store was that new place that everyone wanted to see and understand. Founded in 2001 by Bill Collison it was the second iteration of his original green grocer in Lewes, East Sussex. The original store was washed away in the floods of 2000 and as with all these stories, out of such a disaster came the silver lining as he re-established the business with the addition of a cafe. It was a clever model as he was able to add value to the raw produce by making delicious dishes and yet he had all the visual glamour that fresh fruit and veg offer, especially when handled by a talented team. Bill’s sister-in-law Tania Webb encouraged the evolution of the concept bringing her restaurant experience and a woman’s touch to the proceedings and paired with a good chef who understood the value of simple good food, history was made.

Over the years they stuck to their values: serve really good food, make sure every customer has a good time and go that bit further to make sure Bill’s is always somewhere people want to come back to….and they did!

Today Bill’s has been taken over by that talented corporate machine that is Richard Caring and don’t you know it. The individual charm has been rolled out to a formula and whilst it is better than some on the high street it does not have that individual entrepreneurial feel or charm any more. Bill has gone on to write a book, create Bill’s branded items and is still involved in the roll out of the brand but it is Tania and her creativity that brought me back to that Brighton area this weekend.


Tania merged her love of good food, interest in design, expertise in the industry, kitchen designing partner and fellow food lover/co-worker at Bills, Louise Carter, together and in Summer 2013 Cafe Marmalade was born. She is one clever lady who may downplay the objectives of opening such a place but there is no doubt that her savvy approach has meant a roaring trade and a successful business.

What I liked was the fact that those original values that they set out at Bill’s were ingrained in the offer. Good food, great service, go that bit further.


I think the whole tone of the place is established through its relaxed and homely approach. The design is rustic and eclectic, you could almost say unfinished. But it is a style no less.


Simple things like shelves of raw produce and jams, stacks of well thumbed cookery books propping up the product displays and baking trays put straight out on display without touching up the overflowing browned bits of cheesy sauce all add to the feel. But more than that the staff are just great. Young, enthusiastic, engaging, smiley, chatty and above all attentive, they strike just the right tone under the watchful eye of the owners themselves who are there, in site, just bringing their concept to life every single day they operate.


The flair with which they present everything is absolutely theirs. You feel their interest in food throughout the offer and as the day progresses, the counter moves along with new items added at differing times of the day as they are finished off in the tiny open plan kitchen. Breakfast evolves into lunch and then giant platters of scones or cake stands of friands come in to signal tea. And whilst the food is not going to win any Michelin stars, it is homely, tasty, generous, great value and just how you wish you could cook at home.

If you are even vaguely in the area I heartily recommend it and then take a long walk along the beach – you will need to walk off your over indulgence after falling for all the fab food they offer.



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I found out this weekend that my picnic concept won in the Wallpaper Design Awards 2016. Created this Summer I was trying to bring something new and innovative to the offer at Melrose and Morgan and it seems I achieved that.

It is always difficult to come up with something truly original especially in the food retail world as it is so full and fast moving. However I am a strong believer in innovation driving success in business and that meant that I had to come up with something new that would meet the demand of my customers, the approval of the team and also stand out from the crowd.

I had been collating interesting packaging ideas on my Pinterest board for some time and it was clear that there were lots of great new designs using cardboard engineering to replace more costly and cumbersome solutions. I find Pinterest a great way of saving creative ideas especially as I am such a visual person and you can see elements of various projects I have worked on over the years grounded in my different boards.

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Added to that was the fact that people’s tastes in food have been changing a lot. The traditional wicker basket hamper felt too staid and restrictive to me. Some people may want to plan a full blanketed, basket based experience but I think we are increasingly spontaneous in our food requests these days especially where outdoor eating is concerned. We Brits like to take advantage of the good weather and as it is pretty unpredictable I felt we needed an offer which was flexible. It could be a few pieces of great cheese, with crackers, tomatoes, chutney and a bottle of wine as much as an organised spread for 12 to lay out in the park.

In addition I wanted to give my shops a more flexible solution to selling picnics because I think it is challenging for shop floor staff to sell a high priced item in a fast moving casual retail experience. By bringing in a set of trays for two people to mix and match I was able to get more choice on display, better perceived value and arm the team with something that they could get behind every day for a variety of customer needs.

A search online brought the inner boxes that I needed to light which was most definitely the easy part. And populating the ingredients of each box: Meat; Cheese; Fish; Veggie; Dessert was as simple as cherry picking from our great supply base and engineering to fit the boxes (and the margin!) – a bit of work but all within the realms of a days work.

The hard bit was the cardboard outer that really pulled the whole thing together. The design brief was fairly simple once we hit upon the idea of selling where in London to have a picnic and the maps inside were well created by the team. But the specification of the cardboard itself proved to be the challenge. The general shape was dictated by the inner boxes, but the handle and its ability to hold all the contents without ripping was more about engineering and I have to say this is not my forte.

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Many a trial of swinging the contents back and forth in the office resulted in packets of smoked salmon and pots of desserts tumbling all over the floor. It was all too easy to just walk away but that’s just not in my nature. We asked advice of the printer, of qualified specialists and in the end my colleague’s hubby, who proved the most helpful and a week before launch, a day before the team were going to tell me to give it all up, and on our fifth attempt we quietly, tentatively built our picnic, lifted it carefully off the desk, gave it a small swing, then a larger one and finally a swing that was more appropriate to engaging a child at play and hallelujah. The cardboard held.

Over the Summer we had some great press pick up from Harpers Bazaar and Wallpaper to Grazia and Stylenest for our new picnic and it was satisfying to see our customers respond so well to the offer even though the weather didn’t exactly play its part. By the end of September we had seen good sales growth and it was a campaign success for us.

The icing on the cake came this weekend with the news that Wallpaper had recognised the design as award winning. As someone who loves design and creativity I am very proud to have the work we all contributed to getting this made given such a prominent accolade. Now all I have to do is think of something to move it on for next year!WinnerBadge_2016

I love Pinterest.

It is such a great way to log ideas, build a briefing note and remember great things you have seen online. And what I like best is that such a visual representation can at one click take you to the website that you originally saw it, keeping track of everything in one funky mood board.


My first foray was when I was trying to find some wallpaper for a cafe I was working on at Silverstone and whilst I didn’t think the examples I picked were very useful to many other people, I still see these images re-pinned all the time. Funny really how quirky orange papers with whisks on or red icons of pots & pans could be desired for anything other than a race track cafe, but there you go! Still, the board I created was sent to my team at Silverstone and my vision was then dutifully executed.

An easy table centrepiece

An easy table centrepiece

After that, I created boards to demonstrate other things that I was progressing. One for the Queen’s jubilee so I could keep track of what I had seen for a report I was compiling, and another for an event I was arranging, trying to DIY on a shoestring so contemplating good, cheap, easy to make table centrepieces. The event was rained off in the end, but the board of ideas remains if and when I ever need to resurrect it.


After that, came the design of a new ice cream offer for a stately home and an ongoing project over a couple of years designing my own new house. There is so much online to disseminate when doing that from scratch and just keeping track of what you have seen where would be a nightmare were it not for this technology. Instead, I crafted mood boards for each thing, whether lighting, or fireplaces, gardens or kitchens. And by picking bits from different pictures and piecing it all together I could create something that was never done before. An idea from outside became an internal wall of herbs, a fireplace concept became a feature wall….and so on.

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Then came the biggest work project of all, designing a brand new restaurant/cafe and retail concept for Laverstoke Park Farm. And as ever with me, I didn’t want it to be like anything else that existed, rather a place that others would visit to see the next big thing in the food arena. My head was full of ideas. My pinterest board was loaded with snippets. From clever ways to display wines, to unique storage for bread, counter designs to flooring, menus to meat this board was packed full of great ideas which I was formulating into a new concept of my own. Sadly, what seems so clear in my mind was almost lunacy to others, who didn’t have the vision to see that I was thinking laterally not literally. It made me realise that my way of thinking was not the same as others and that people really struggle to get past what is in front of them and to open up their imaginations. But nevertheless, my vision would have been fab!

In the end the project didn’t go ahead, but my ideas remain for another day.

Nowadays, my focus has moved onto innovative packaging and some of that was used to create the picnic concept I mentioned last week. Again, my mind moved towards adapting what I saw into something new. And despite our trials and tribulations, these picnics are thankfully getting good support from customers since their launch. We also use shared boards to log recipes or product ideas and that allows the team to all post different perspectives into one place that can be referred to at any one time.


In August, I am heading off to Denmark and believe it or not, Pinterest is great for planning holiday trips too. I can see all the great food places to go, link to some good sites with ideas on what to do and piece together the places that I want to see. I always like an element of research when travelling as I worry that I am going to miss something and what has been great is that once the Denmark board was created, I was getting new ideas via pins sent back to me from other people who have pinned the same things as me. This push back is a clever tool in the same vein as the Amazon: people who bought that also bought…. but without the hard sell.

And the latest news is that Pinterest, along with other sites such as Google, Twitter and Instagram, are developing the ‘buy button’ so that now it will be easier than ever to shop online. This Harvard Business School article is an interesting read on the subject and I will watch this space on that one.

Meanwhile, my holiday plans progress and any new project ideas will be brought to life on my profile. If you are interested in keeping an eye, then I am here.

Sofabrother and I had a day out today in London.

It’s always difficult to know where to take someone who is already knowledgable not only about London but also the food world. He always has things to show me in Cape Town and so I needed to reciprocate. We both observed just how over populated the food ‘scene’ is in London. Everywhere you go there is some new place opening, and shutting, so what is worth seeing and knowing?

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Our day started at the Tower of London. Not for its food offering, but because I really wanted to see the evolving art installation that is there. Those of you who know me well understand the relevance of poppies and this really is an incredibly moving, innovative, thought provoking artwork. Over 800,000 poppies fill the Tower’s moat representing the lost lives of the British military who died in the First World War. You can read more about it here and like me, buy one of those poppies here.

Onward to our food day. We decided to explore areas that Sofabro hadn’t already done on his trip and that took us first to Marylebone High Street. Honestly there was not a huge amount that was different there. La Fromagerie is as lovely as ever and Ginger Pig as impressive. Patisserie de Reves had the now famous Kouign Amann in a long oblong form rather than the traditional round and whichever way you look at it, layered buttery pastry with sugar can only be yum. Probably the most surprising moment was to see the old home of Divertimenti now under construction to be replaced by Anthropologie. Such a sign of the times. We grabbed a coffee at Nordic Bakery so that we could see the Swedish influence and then moved onwards to Selfridges.

There we were able to see some products that I wanted to show him. The Pressery almond milk is pure and wonderful, pressing (sorry – bad pun!) all the fashionable buttons that Roots and Bulbs also did on the way down to Oxford Street. The raw health market is one that is gaining coverage for the right reasons and cold pressing seems to be the thing to do lately whether with nuts, fruit, veg or coffee…or any combination of the above. These are quality drinks with nothing added. Pure goodness. They sat alongside Mr Sherick’s milkshakes, created by an old colleague of ours. This is the other extreme in terms of health, but certainly a wonderful product in its own right. The eponymous Mr Sherick used to work in the meat department at M&S and now he is the proud winner of the Grocer’s New Product of the Year 2014. Quite a feat.


We also had a nose at The Meringue Girls, Daylesford’s new buttermilk, Selfridge’s new range of Christmas products, a try of hot cordial and tasters at St John’s Bakery. Finally we passed Boomf magical mallows. This pod promoted a new service that allows you to print any picture you have onto a box of nine square marshmallows. White fluffy instagram pics. I don’t know if I was impressed or appalled at the thought that you could print a pic of your loved one, or favourite scene and then eat your way through the whole thing. What will they think of next?

Onwards through St Christopher’s place, Bond Street, South Molton Street and Regent Street until we arrived at Pitt Cue Co. Sofabro hadn’t eaten there yet, so we shared a couple of things and whilst the menu is not as exciting as previously and the prices not as keen, I was relieved to find that the food itself was as yummy as ever. Smoked kimchi, Mangalitsa pork shoulder, beans & red chard….all as rich, dense, smoky and meaty as ever. We needed to walk it off, so made our way back up Kingley Street, Great Portland Street and wended our way towards Tottenham Court Road.

We spotted the new Boopshi’s schnitzel & spritz offering which carried on the theme of so many of these places specialising in one thing. Like the Greek, Opso, that we saw earlier on, they are all offering a select menu, an industrial look & feel, metal, wood and the obligatory pendant lights made from something relevant: a whisk, a pot, a bottle….you name it. Continuing the design theme, we wandered along Tottenham Court Road through Heals, Habitat and West Elm before pondering the offer at Planet Organic and Paul A. Young for a chocolate fix.

HCo table


Finally, we ended up at Honey & Co. It felt right that we went there as it has received so much coverage. It’s such an unassuming place but has received great publicity because of its food offer and also its book. I kind of wanted to find it pretentious so that I could snub it but the truth is that it is as good, if not better than people say. We perched outside on a little table, had mint tea made with handfuls of fresh mint and shared a warm chestnut cake with salted caramel. The chef/owner, Itamar Srulovich welcomed us personally as if we were old friends and took us through the impressive afternoon cake offering. He charmed us with observations about his lovely wife and served us himself the most delicate cake. I was touched by the tiny vase of flowers on the table. Plucked daisies and cornflowers just showed me how much they cared, and it reflected in their food. We browsed the book, pondered our day and shared our thoughts before Sofabro went South and I went North to our respective homes. Next time, Cape Town but for now, a great day in London.