Meanderings

S&B is 25!

[S&B is 25!]



[25 Years Today]



Do what you love is a sentiment we hear a lot these days... and one that transformed a friendship into a business partnership 25-years ago today. June and Bernadette loved nothing more than hosting friends and family around their tables, and so it's only fitting their legacy is one that brings people to inviting tables all around the world.

To celebrate our 25th birthday, we asked June to take us back to the beginning. After all, she and Bernadette were pioneers in so many ways. Their entrepreneurial spirit and shared love of authentic interiors (not to mention market shopping) led them to create an entirely new kind of tablescape. First for people who visited their little corner of the world in Notting Hill... and then further afield.  

The two friend's passion for finding and nurturing makers of beautiful things—and then sharing them with customers—was the beginning of a more relaxed and imperfect type of dining. It was one made by surrounding yourself with pieces that are as beautiful as they are useful. Instead, they elevated the everyday... and created a roadmap for people who were tired of formal tables that were too precious to enjoy.

As custodians of their philosophy, this is something we think about everyday at S&B. How can we help you create tables that draw you to them. Encourage community. Entice you to unplug and enjoy one another. Because ultimately, once we get you to the table, nothing else really matters. It's you spending time with people you love. 

To follow, please enjoy these wonderful words from our co-founder, June Summerill. Plus, a treat at the end... we cornered their husbands (Jon & John) for reflections on being the other half of these inspiring women. 


S&B

xx 

 
[In Her Words]
 
A Q&A with our very own June Summerill...
one-half of the creative force that built S&B from a tiny corner shop to a global empire (if we do say so ourselves)
Bernadette Bishop & June Summerill 

Q.
When you started S&B with Bernadette, there were no independent kitchen or homewares shops using heir own ideas & style.
How did you come up with the idea?

A.
It was a look which we always had in our own homes. Items made by hand—boards, spoons, pots and brushes—old tradition with a modern twist. Old and new table linen and tea towels, enamel ware. There were not other shops selling these objects as "a look." Music and scented candles were also part of it, so that people would walk into an inspirational place.

Q.
How long were you talking about it before you opened S&B?  

A.
The moment we decided, we got to work on renovating the shop. Six months later, we opened.

Q.
Were your husbands and families supportive?
A.
Our husbands were supportive, even though it changed our lives quite a bit initially. We spent after-dark hours in the shop, when we should have been cooking dinner.

Q.
What had you both done, in terms of work, before S&B?  

A.
 I had worked in advertising and Bernadette had worked in retail and was obviously a very successful model. 

Q.
Female entrepreneurship is all the rage—you were really ahead of the curve.
Do you feel like you were pioneers? 

A.
 We were doing what we loved, but were not aware that we were setting a trend. It was only when larger shops started to send in their people to photograph and copy our pieces (which is something that still happens - we know who you are!) did we realise that we had started something.

Our shop in the early days
What happens when you do what you love! 

Q.
What was your first big break? 

A.
A very good customer bought an amazing home in the South of France and asked us to furnish the kitchen and dining room. We were so excited.


Q.
What were some of the early lessons you learned about running your own business? 

A.
Don't over buy. You can always re-order... and it's okay to run out of something. 

Q.
We heard about the time our current CEO was helping behind the counter, age 13, and managed to mangle a customers credit card in the slide-thing. What other memories do you have of shop-life?

A.
There was one morning when I was alone in the shop, and the key to the till broke. I could not open it. Suddenly, a customer arrived by taxi and the lovely driver managed to release the drawer by clicking something underneath. We continued to use that same till and the same method of opening it for many years. It quickly became normal. Oh, and the time Bernadette left the hand-brake off her car outside the shop and it rolled down the hill into the bollard! We kept that one from our husbands for years.

Q.
We have a Cavapoo called Maisie and a Mini Maltese called Mini who come to work most days. Your dogs are also part of the S&B story.... 

A.
Moody was Bernadette's Maltese Terrier. She used to sit on the counter looking gorgeous. Lola was my Jack Russell, who would come back from her walk, sleep and then bark at the customers. They immediately made people feel comfortable, which is something that we still aspire too today.

At the heart of everything S&B has become is the creative spirit of these two wonderful women.

Our very first press release

Q.
How did you and Bernadette compliment each other, in terms of your personalities, when it came to running the business? 


A.
In some ways, we had quite different personalities. By that I mean Anglo/French differences. I quieter English ones, and Bernadette the more out-going French ones. We had a fabulous relationship, always considering the other. A very good mix. 


Q.
What is the key to mixing friendship with business?  


A.
Always give priority to the friendship. Keep that going—it's so important. 


Q.
What is your advice to people wanting to create a business with a friend?  


A.
Truth, honesty and respect. We always had that between us and that's why it worked so well.   


Q.
What amazes and surprises the current S&B team is how physical the work is when running a store. There is so much carrying and heaving and storing... how did you both manage that? Where did you find the energy?  


A.
We often commented to each other that neither of us were afraid of hard work. I worked till I was 77, lugging deliveries, stacking shelves, labelling and all the other stuff which it entailed. There were nice things too, like doing the windows. The energy comes from loving what you do.

S&B drew interior-lovers from far and wide to the little square in Notting Hill.
Q.
What was your interior style when you started S&B... and how has it evolved or changed? 


A.
My interior style hasn't changed very much. Perhaps a little more pared-down now, but still shelves full of books, flowers, paintings by my daughter. White walls and pale floors. I don't like clutter. Nothing too decorative. Simplicity. And always a mix of old and modern.


Q.
Did your childhood surrounds influence your style?  


A.
My childhood was in the Lancashire countryside. I think I have carried my mother's feeling for comfort and nature. 


Q.
How did you balance family and business and travel when you were building and running S&B?
Did family holidays double-up as sourcing trips?  


A.
We have a home in France, so often visits to the local brocante would fill our car on the route back to London. The different parts of my life merged very easily. Everywhere we went, we looked for inspiration and new ideas. 

June playing her piano at home in London... with her dog Lola
Q.
You introduced so many interiors ideas, trends and brands to London, including household names like Astier De Villatte, Diptyque, Wonki Ware and Edward Wohl, to name a few. What are you most proud of in terms of the makers you discovered? 


A.
I think the two that please me the most are a glass blower we work with in the South of France who makes the most beautiful jewel-like glassware, and a lovely Italian friend who makes the most sensitive ceramics. Both very small makers who we feel we adopted.

Q.
When you host a dinner party, what are your essentials in terms of setting and food? 


A.
Simplicity, beautiful tablecloth and napkins, plus flowers, herbs and candles. Essentials are some kind of welcoming music and a relaxed hostess, with simple seasonal food. The table should always be laid before friends arrive, as it makes everyone feel more comfortable. 

Q.
How do you relax and wind down? 


A.
Playing piano, reading, gardening and spending time with my little dog, Evie.

Q.
Where do you like to escape to when you leave London?


A.
We go to our other home in St Paul de Vence, which we've had for 35 years.

Q.
Who are the eight people you would love to have dine at your table, dead or alive?


A.
Jacques Henri Lartigue, the photographer
Mary Oliver, American poet
Philip Larkin, the poet
Adam Phillips, psychologist
David Bowie, legend
Marilynne Robinson, novelist
Donna Mclean, my painter daughter
Daniel Barenboim, musician


Q.
What are you favourite pieces in S&B at the moment?


A.
The tablecloth in the palest blue with gold edging.


[JON SUMMERILL & JOHN BISHOP]
You know the saying, behind every great woman, is a great....woman. That was certainly the case for June & Bernadette. But what is also true is that they had the love and support of their families. Here, we talk to their husbands, Jon & John.

Q.
What did you think about the idea of S&B when June and Bernadette first pitched it to you?  


A.
JS: June had written a business plan, which she discussed as a proposal with Bernadette. Informally presented to me, I thought the plan was as capable as anything my ad agency at the time would prepare. 

JB: Bernadette talked of nothing else! I thought it was a great idea, and while I didn't think it would last, I was impressed by their ambition and enthusiasm. 


Q.
How did S&B change your life?


A.
JS: Both ladies were so dedicated and involved that it was a pleasure to be as helpful as possible, even if my dinner was constantly delayed!

JB: I was so happy to see Bernadette doing something she loved. She had very little business experience, but a great eye for interesting and beautiful things (like me!).  


Q.
We've heard that family holidays often became sourcing trips as well....


A.
JS: I remember us abandoning a ski holiday to search the Alps for a local barn that produced hand-kilned Savoyard pottery. And then loading the car up with pottery rather than ski gear. June knew every stall at the markets in Nice and Venice, and I know that Bernadette trawled St Tropez and Var. 

JB: Every trip we made became a relentless chase of local markets. I remember spending days trying to track down a man in Cape Town who carried sacks full of hand-made wooden spoons. We had quite a few arguments over where to find him!


Q.
Did you ever get called in to help? 


A.
JS: "Yes, of course we can deliver to your home!" Then call in Jon to load the car and deliver more efficiently than DHL.

JB: I was never really involved in the running of the shop... I would have scared the customers away!


Q.
Now that S&B is a global brand, how do you feel about what June & Bernadette were able to build? 


A.
JS: I'm genuinely proud of both friends and partners. They created an amazing following from such a small shop and I'm now delighted that the global brand growth is in the capable hands of family and friends.

JB: I'm very sad Bernadette is no longer here to see her legacy. 
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