We head north east this week to County Durham where sisters Lisa and Julie run their fab shop Oswell's from an 18th century building in the pretty town of Barnard Castle. The town is famous for two things: the castle and The Bowes Museum which looks like a giant French chateau and is home to an impressive collection of decorative arts. With three decades of major league retail experience behind them the sisters initially focused on their online shop, but soon realised they needed a physical presence on the high street. The result is a chic rural indie with a metropolitan edge.
Who are you? We are Oswell's - Lisa, Julie, Mark and Bob (the dog). I [Lisa] do the buying whilst Julie looks after finances and marketing, and Mark takes care of the website.
Where can we find you? 10 The Bank, Barnard Castle, County Durham, DL12 8PQ; www.oswells.co.uk; Facebook; Twitter.
Describe your store in five words: Beautiful, curious, useful, grounded, attentive.
What makes you different? There seems to be a trend at the moment for virtually cloned high street home and gift shops, and we consciously set out to buck this. We have a strict buying policy and spend a great deal of time ensuring that each and every product is different, beautiful, useful and, most importantly, has the right quality and feel to work in our shop. We also pride ourselves on bringing a feel-good factor to shopping and strive to provide top-notch customer service both in-store and online.
How you decide what makes the cut? I decide! (with input from Mark and Julie). We are quite strict and stick to our philosophy when buying: products have to be of great design and quality, useful (the form over function debate is one that Mark and I have frequently), and inspired by nature, either in form or material; you won't find any plastic in Oswell's.
What were you doing before you did this? I have worked in retail for 30 years. I started out at Liberty and went on to Borders and Books etc before completing a stint at Harvey Nichols. Julie has a background in marketing, whilst Mark has 22 years of experience in military intelligence. All in all a useful and eclectic mix of skills.
If you were starting again what advice would you give yourself? Go straight to the high street. When we started out a year ago our emphasis was on the website and so we took premises in a lovely old converted stable block with stunning views across the Tees Valley. But I quickly realised this location was no substitute for face to face customer interaction, and the hustle and bustle of the high street, so within four months we moved to our current location in the heart of Barnard Castle. I believe passionately that it is the small independent retailers that are the lifeblood of our town centres and am very proud of the, albeit small, role we play in making Barnard Castle the lovely shopping destination it is.
What are you most proud of? Standing out in a very crowded market place.
Do you have a favourite thing in the store right now? Hobnail pitcher. Handmade in Bohemia, there is nothing nicer to serve your Pimm's in.
What's hot for 2013? Eleanor Pritchard blankets, handmade in Wales with beautiful, subtle colours and urban, almost architectural, designs. The quality and workmanship shine through.
Every Wednesday 'Indie of the week' celebrates the best independent stores around. These places sell interesting and varied collections of design-related things you don't see everywhere else. They may support young or local designers or be great at finding unique things from around the world. By thinking a little more creatively about what they stock they are fighting the bland homogenisation of so much of the high street. And since I'm down with the realities of modern life, online only stores count too, because a beautiful and easy to use website is just as delightful an encounter in cyberspace.
Do you you have a favourite store? I'd love to hear from you.