What do you like to explore on your travels?
When you're on a city break, what's on your hit list?
Cool architecture? Top parks and open spaces? Great restaurants?
For me it would have to be home decor stores of course!
I love to check out the home decor stores I don't have in my home city, searching for that elusive 'something different.' I'm always inspired by the displays, how they pull all the elements together - colour and textures I might not have considered before.
I recently spent a few days in London and got the chance to swing by three of my favourites. Here's why I think they're worth checking out next time you're in the big smoke.
There are a couple of branches of this luxury retailer in London. The original store is in Chelsea (where they were instrumental in restoring the stunning store site - The Michelin House) but this time my visit was to their Marylebone store.
'The Conran Shop aims to inspire and excite through collections that reflect the way we live. Simple functionality, considered design and the latest innovation are the foundation of our philosophy.' ...and that it does. In bucket loads.
This place oozes style and contemporary design. While there's a definite 70's vibe going on - low coffee tables, low slung chairs and sofas, cork and raffia - it's not difficult to see why the Conran brand and the designers whose collections grace the floors of this iconic homewares emporium, maintain a timeless and always in demand appeal.
As I wandered (drooling!) I couldn't help but overhear a conversation between a customer and member of staff. Together they weaved their way in and out of the displays, collaborating thoughtfully as they planned out the customer's home. Consulting a floor plan and photos on a phone, they picked out pieces they felt would work here or there. Colours they felt would work with this or that. Man, I longed to see the finished result. 'Send me pictures!' I wanted to interject.
On the ground floor there's a great cafe. It's genius really. Not only do you want your home to look good but the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting through it just cements your vision of that home you're mentally creating as you wander round. It's also the perfect spot to mull over your sofa selection - solid or sectional?
On the top floor there's an innovative outdoor rooftop walk through greenhouse display. Who says you need to pick your plant pots from a boring indoor table or shelf?
In between lies design heaven.
It's not all super weighty price tag products either. I picked up some really stylish, very reasonably priced clear glass tea light holders. Well who doesn't love a souvenir?
Go here for -
Related Content: Looking for discount decor? 5 things to consider before buying.
West Elm originated in Brooklyn, New York back in 2002 as part of Williams-Sonoma (another 'must visit' kitchenware store in the USA).
They now have 3 UK stores - 2 in London and 1 in Kingston-on Thames. Their first London store is at the homeware heavy end of Tottenham Court Road (where you'll also find the likes of Heals, Habitat, Lombok and many more similar stores) but I visited the brand new one in the recently extended section of Europe's largest shopping mall - Westfield London.
'we're focused on the intersection of modern design, affordability and community. Everything we sell is made with one goal in mind: to help our customers express their personal style at home and in the world' .....and they do all this with a huge emphasis on handcrafted, organic, sustainably sourced and fair trade products.
They also put a lot of importance on in-house design (a whopping 90%) and strive for a strong sense of neighbourhood and local community within their stores.
Due perhaps to having been born in Brooklyn, West Elm do loft living at it's very best.
If Monica, Chandler and their upper floor living friends had been shopping for more grown-up furniture these days, this would be their 'go to' place.
I just wanted to move right in and live in this store. Mixed metal elements, vibrant colour accents mixed with the on-trend pales and pastels, beautiful symmetry everywhere you looked but with a very relaxed, casual vibe. I wanted to pop my feet up right there with a cafetiere of steaming hot coffee, my favourite (stylish!) mug and spread out the Sunday papers.
That's a great trick isn't it? When your customers can really imagine themselves living right there in one of your room sets.
Bravo West Elm.
Go here for -
Related Content: 5 Top tips for a quick and easy home decor update.
John Lewis needs no introduction. It's become synonymous these days within UK retail as the big daddy of that much sought after combination - quality, reliability and competitive pricing - 'never knowingly undersold' and all that.
And yes, I know. There's a John Lewis in my home city.
But I was here to check out their latest offering. Their brand new, £33 million flagship store, which just opened as part of Westfield London's recently completed £600 million extension. Clearly there's still an appetite out there for bricks and mortar shopping.
This store epitomises the leisure aspect of shopping these days - that we're now happy to spend an entire morning or afternoon in one store if it has enough to entertain us while we're there.
I was here to check out the frankly enormous homeware floors of course but my first stop was at the concierge style 'experience desk'. Here I could find out what was going on in store that day and plan my visit. I could also book anything from a manicure to a consultation with one of their in-store home stylists.
From there it was a quick wander over to the kitchenware department. Equally solid and reliable brand Pyrex were about to showcase their products while teaching us how to make the perfect fruit crumble. This would all happen in the demo-kitchen with free take-away recipe cards on hand. Perfect!
Next stop was a visit to 'The Sleep Room' to try to find my perfect night's sleep then on to the 'Apple Smart Home' area. Here I could learn how to connect and control various bits of home tech, from my lighting to my thermostats, all from my trusty phone.
There's a vast selection of room and garden sets in this store, a mammoth collection of soft furnishings and a gargantuan choice in the lighting department. I'd defy anyone to come out of this place without finding something they love and desperately want to take home.
It's John Lewis as we know and love it, but on steroids.
Go here for -
It used to be known as 'window shopping'. The activity of looking at goods on display, in the 'shop window' where there's no real intention of buying anything.
Maybe those participating would like to buy but there's the small issue of funds to consider.
Maybe they're surveying their options for a future purchase.
For me, it's all about inspiration. Now don't laugh but if you love art you browse art galleries right? Whether it's a national gallery full of priceless masterpieces or a retail gallery full of art you could actually own, a wander round a gallery can inspire you.
That's how I am with homeware stores. I get to plan houses I'll probably never own and decorate rooms I'll likely never live in but that creative process is a lot of fun nonetheless.
And there's always a chance I might just buy something. There's always room for that one perfect piece, right?
Now just the small matter of getting it past the Easyjet hand baggage police.
Big or small what's your 'go to' home store? I'd love to know.
Why do you love it so much? Please feel free to add your comments below.