Q&A with Ben Olins, co-founder of Herb Lester

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This way if you please. Herb Lester have just delivered new additions to their fantastic range of "witty, pretty, curious and opinionated" guides. We're working our way through London: A World of Eating and heading off into space with Out There, a guide to the solar system for tourists. High time we thought to talk to co-founder Ben Olins and find out a bit more about the wonderful world of Herb Lester. 

Tell us a bit about the original inspiration behind Herb Lester?

We wanted to try to get back a sense of discovery for ourselves and for others. To find interesting places in the real world rather than just online, and then to share them.

We love the name, but who is Herb Lester?

You'd really need to ask him, but he just stepped out of the office.

Describe your typical working day?

Planning, writing, researching, emailing stockists, sending orders, making lists, talking about food. Fact-checking, sending invoices, paying bills, gazing out of the window at all the empty offices and new buildings going up.

Who or what couldn't you work without?

Pencil, paper, computers.

What do you like most about what you do?

Research – finding new places to visit. Working with talented, interesting people.

Tell us a bit more about the map-making process and how it's evolved since your first map?

The process is the same as it always was: it’s about a lot of research and then making
choices so that we end up with a list that feels representative of the city and that’s a good mixture of all the different aspects we enjoy. That's the hardest thing to get right. Then we work with a designer to make it look great and be usable.

What has been your proudest Herb Lester moment to date?

Any time someone tells us they used one of our guides and had a great time thanks to our recommendations feels fantastic.

What has been the most important lesson learned?

There’s always something else that can go wrong. Pubs are at their best at 4pm.

Who or what inspires you?

Margaret Howell. Bon Appetit magazine. The New Yorker. Garden & Gun magazine. Marimekko. Vitsoe. Osbert Lancaster. Kate Simon. Betty James. The A-Z.

Do you have a favourite Herb Lester map?

Maybe our first New York guide, How To Find Old New York – it was fun working with
Jim Datz and it felt like a huge step for us at the time. It's stood up well too, so far we've only had to replace one entry.

What is the Herb Lester team's guilty pleasure?

Unless it's something terrible like pulling the wings of butterflies, we try not to feel guilty about anything that gives us pleasure. There’s so much to feel bad about, but eating a couple of Jaffa Cakes isn't among them.

And finally, where will Herb Lester be taking us next?

We've already been to outer space, wasn’t that exciting enough?


Image of Ben Olins © Garson Byer


Pharrell: places and spaces i've been

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We are all a little bit in love with the creative force that is Pharrell Williams, so we were rather excited when our Rizzoli New York project came about and we realised it meant we could stock his book; an opulent, oversized volume documenting his world and his work. 

The books walks us through his music career; his many projects from his production team The Neptunes, N.E.R.D., and his collaborations with friends Kanye West, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, and other hip-hop royalty. We also take a look at his extensive creative pursuits, including clothing lines, jewellery, and accessories designs for Louis Vuitton, furniture and other product design, limited-edition toys, graphic designs, skate graphics, and collaborations with Moncler and Marc Jacobs.

Amid the glossy photoreel we also encounter the "wonderfully vivid folks" he refers to, a starry list of collaborators with whom Williams conducts informal conversations. Among them, Jay-Z, Buzz Aldrin, Anna Wintour, Hans Zimmer and Zaha Hadid. We especially love his conversation with Jay Z about the grunge music era, and his proposal of doing "really fun and really next level" prefab housing with Zaha Hadid.  

Our coffee table says yes please. 

© 'Pharrell: Places and Spaces I've Been' by Pharrell Williams, published by Rizzoli international Publications, Inc. RRP £35.

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Rabens Saloner SS14

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Rabens Saloner has arrived and once again has us lusting after distant shores. That place where we float around in cheesecloth and cotton voile; loose tunic tops and strappy sun dresses; slightly crumpled because we don't have a care. That place where cream, carbon, soft grey and peach complement sunkissed skin and tie-dye, lace and sequins are best accompanied by a sundowner. All together now *sigh*.

Rabens Saloner SS14 is now available in store.

Rabens Saloner SS14 news

Q&A with Jackie of Puckhaber Decorative Antiques

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Puckhaber Decorative Antiques have been supplying us with beautiful vintage furniture for many years now so we knew to expect something pretty special when we invited them to take over our project space. We weren't wrong. Last week, Jackie and her son Martyn transformed the space into the most exquisite reading room. In between hanging paintings and positioning armchairs, we took the opportunity to quizz Jackie about the fascinating antiques trade - and those top secret buying trips! 

How did you get started in the decorative
antiques business?

Around 1984 with two toddlers to look after I decided to do a table top sale in Wivelsfield Green near Haywards Heath to get me out of the house and raise some cash. I had been interested in antiques since I was a teenager and had been collecting a few bits here and there. So with my modest collection we set of for the table top sale and managed to take £80... a lot of money in those days. I was hooked from that moment.

Describe your typical working day?

Everyday is different, that's what's great about the business! But typically we are either on buying trips in France, selling in our shop on Lillie Road in London, driving to our restorer in Hove, or delivering to The Hambledon.

What do you like most about what you do?

Buying furniture / pieces that I love and selling them to customers who appreciate them just as much as I do, if not more. It's very rewarding to see our pieces find good homes.

Are you able to give us the lowdown on your favourite market or destination to go buying?

Strictly top secret I'm afraid! But we generally find our most exciting pieces in Paris
or the South of France. France borders many countries so lots of furniture from
all over Europe turns up there. As a result we have an eclectic mix of French, Swedish, English, Italian and other European pieces.

It's a family business and you work with your son Martyn, tell us about working together and how you make your buying decisions?

Martyn and I always go buying together and we will only buy something if we both love it. It's important for us to have someone to bounce ideas off, I've got over 30 years experience in the trade and he brings a fresh eye to it. It seems to be working and although we don't agree on everything our tastes seem to compliment each other.

What has been your most exciting find to date?

There has been too many to mention but from a girly perspective it was a genuine Hermes Kelly bag that I found in a French market for 100 euros!

How has the decorative antiques trade changed over the thirty years you've been in business?

Similarly to clothes, antiques go in and out of fashion, certain pieces that I would buy 10 years ago I wouldn't be able to sell now, luckily the decorative market is still strong. We're finding that internet sales are become more prevalent so it is important for us to cover all avenues with a good website, shop space, and exhibiting.

Who or what inspires you?

It might sound like a cliche but everything inspires me. I take inspiration from my
surroundings, magazines, galleries, nature... I have always been drawn to quality whether it's furniture or clothes or anything.

If you could go back in time, when and where would you put yourself?

I don't think I would go back even if I could. I'm a 21st century girl!

What would you like to do in the future?

Simply we want to expand the Puckhaber brand as much as possible.

And finally, what trends can we expect to see coming up in decorative antiques?

A few years ago mid-century was quite hot but in a recession people want to buy investment pieces so we have seen the antiques fighting back. Also smart brown furniture is starting to swing back. We seem to sell a lot of paintings if that means anything?!


The Puckhaber & Rizzoli project runs 4 April - 31 May 2014.


Rizzoli New York & Puckhaber Decorative Antiques Project 4 April - 31 May

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We are absolutely delighted to be working with two of our faves for this month's project. Rizzoli New York, publisher of some of the world's most beautiful illustrated books, will be filling the project space with both new and classic titles (we're particularly loving Pharrell's 'Places and Spaces I've Been', 'Seven Sisters Style' and the Current Elliott girls' 'A Denim Story'). Puckhaber Decorative Antiques, specialists in French and Swedish furniture and accessories, will be furnishing the bookshop with their customary vintage elegance. Think super luxe library (but no stern librarians, and everything for sale).

Puckhaber and Rizzoli Project news

Q&A with Emily Current & Meritt Elliott, authors of A Denim Story

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As part of our project with Rizzoli New York and Puckhaber Decorative Antiques, we've had the chance to get nosy with some of Rizzoli's best-known authors. Here we talk to celebrated LA-based stylists and designers, Emily Current and Meritt Elliott, about their beautiful book, A Denim Story.

So where did the love affair with denim begin for you?

Denim has always been part of our lives - from young girls in overalls in rural Northern California to collegiate comrades in matching denim now!

How did you meet and come to bond over denim?

We met as students at UCLA. We spotted each other in vintage bell bottoms and made plans to head to the local flea market together that very weekend to search for more indigo treasures!

Tell us a bit about the jeans past and present we would find if we were to rifle through your wardrobes.

We both have extensive denim collections personally, and even more in our styling and design studio. We collect everything from deadstock Levis 646s to Wrangler blue bell jackets, and treasure anything thats been mended or personalised by someone else. Every jean has a story!

You've worked together for years, how did A Denim Story come about?

We continued to reference the same imagery for years and years that inspired so many of our creative projects - from art direction to styling and design. We realised that these inspirations, paired with our own work with the amazing Hilary Walsh, defined our aesthetic perfectly. It's our bible and our diary!

We love the themed chapters. Tell us how these themes developed.

Through our collecting of archival imagery and our own styling work, we were continually seeing themes and "strories" emerged. We were constanly running everything through these creative filters, and found that it made for an interseting literary journey.

What was your favourite moment in shooting the book?

We shot a beautiful model in super relaxed vintage denim paired with some irreverent costume pieces that resulted in a perfect juxtaposition. Hilary, Emily and I were drinking iced tea in Hilary's back yard during a lovely sunset, playing dress up, and sharing stories of our favourite pairs of jeans.

The book includes many iconic images of stars in denim. Do you have an all time favourite denim moment?

We all are really smitten with Marilyn Monroe wearing some crisp blue jeans, unapologetically cuffed, lifting weights on set. We also love the androgenous yet remarkable aesthetic and dispotion of Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith.

If you could go back in time, where would you go, and what jeans would you be wearing?

We would be living in the imaginary world of The Boxcar Children, where their sense of imagination and childlike freedom breeded the ultimate creativity. We would most likely be wearing a worn chambray dress or rolled up overalls.

You talk about every pair of jeans telling a story. Can you recall your first denim memory or a pair of jeans that evokes a specific memory for you?

Meritt: I remember taking a train into Berkeley, California as a young girl and buying a pair of men's Levis. I brought them home and mended the holes using old patches my mom had saved from my childhood. I still have these jeans! They remind me of a time when I really discovered the joy of being resourceful.

Emily: I feel like my life is defined by a string of denim moments, from growing up as a scrappy kid in overalls, my first pair of Guess jeans with zippers at the bottom in junior high, stealing my dad's 501s and cutting them into shorts in high school and scouring flea markets for the perfect bellbottom in college.

Finally, if you could live in one pair of jeans for the rest of time, which would they be?

Emily: A pair of vintage 501 button fly jeans that have been altered to be a slouchy skinny - really soft with lots of wear.

Meritt: A vintage high-waist elephant bell that have been hemmed to wear with flats.

win a copy of a denim story

Just in Case

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Our other favourite Belgian brand launches this week. And Just in Case bring a touch of glamour and prettiness to the proceedings with a collection titled 'Take This Longing' (no,we're not sure why either but they obviously had a feeling for Leonard Cohen). The jackets are signature jaquard (tasteful or crazy depending on your mood). The cotton sundresses are perfect holiday wear (elegant stripes or faded chintzy) and the knits are all a little bit glittery and very pretty. Not one single piece to suit the Bard of the Bedsit though.

Just In Case SS14 is now available in store.

Just In Case SS14 news

the new run

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A set of very simple, long, white shelves has been the central focus of our homewares department since The Hambledon's very beginning. Stock comes and goes, but that set of shelves has been a constant. We fondly refer to them as 'the main run'. But now we have a new run, and it's quite a big deal in our world. This new set of shelves is solid and imposing, made of cast iron that's rusted and worn. It already feels perfectly at home, hosting out prettiest, pastilly wares; a huge delivery of pearl glassware, new ceramics from House Doctor, American milk glass, cookery books aplenty and our new range of Italian jam. 

Spring Steel Shelves news

Easter Extravaganza

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We're taking Easter very seriously this year. Forget the chocolate, here's the proper how to: Easter egg hunt kits, bunny cupcake kits, egg decorating kits, bunny dressing up kits, garland kits. Easy peasy Easter. Oh and we had to throw in some fluffy, wind-up bunnies and chicks. Just for fun. 

Easter 2014

a sense of occasion

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This collection is here by pure chance. Victoria and Lucy were at a buying appointment when they caught sight of a crazy colourful rail of clothes in the corner of the room. Turned out to be this season's answer to occasionwear. 

All the way from sunny Spain, Vilagallo delivers great shapes (pencil dresses to a-line tunics), lace and sparkle in showstopper colours; dresses that somehow manage to pull off attention-grabbing and tasteful at once. We think they're equally suited to a glam Ibiza party or English country wedding. One celebration or another, one thing's for sure, we have finally been tempted away from our boyfriend jeans. 

Vilagallo SS14 is now available in store.

Vilagallo SS14 news