“Yes, I did that.” How winning a store opened new doors for Grain & Knot.

6 Feb 2020

This time last year, woodworker Sophie Sellu made the decision to enter her brand, Grain & Knot, into Space for Ideas. Having left her career in trend forecasting, she’d spent the last four years honing her craft and building her brand, but knew that Grain & Knot was ready for something bigger. From over 3,000 entries, Sophie’s idea was selected by our panel of judges as our London winner; and she won a free two-week store in London to bring her idea to life.

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A month later, Grain & Knot opened its doors for the first time on Ledbury Road in the heart of Notting Hill. Working with Fred Rigby Studio, one of our Additions design partners, she created a beautifully curated space that not only displayed her work to the world but also seamlessly blurred the lines between store and workshop. Now with plans for more pop-ups, partnerships and even a book deal on the horizon, we caught up with Sophie to find out how Space for Ideas helped her push her business to the next stage.

What made you decide it was the right time to enter for the chance to have your very own physical space?

I’d been in group pop-ups and markets before as part of a group collective, but I really wanted a chance to showcase my own work, by myself. It was almost wanting to be really selfish but I wanted to push my work in a direction I never had before.

So how did you feel when you found out you’d won?

It was quite surreal; I had convinced myself I hadn’t won, so it was a really nice surprise! I phoned my parents and told them first. I hadn't told them that I had applied so it was a really funny call!

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The store you created with Appear Here was beautifully curated, despite the fact you’d never run your own store before. How did you realise your vision with the team?

So I knew that I wanted to create a working studio alongside a shop to showcase my work; a space to let customers see how it’s done and also create items of their own. The materials I use are very tactile, so it’s important to get a feel for them before buying.

I wanted the Grain & Knot space to be very simple, clean and white to allow the products to become part of the display and to not overcomplicate the design. We had the idea of using the workbenches to double up as display tables, so there was a real utilitarian feel. We used natural materials and a neutral colour palette to create the beautiful shop; we even used wood chips in the window display!

What was your opening night like in your Notting Hill store?

Opening night was really fun, it was great to host family and friends in the space that I could call my own. We had a fantastic food spread from Grape & Fig, but I was too busy making sure everyone was ok to eat any of it! It was so wonderful and was also a really great opportunity for me to invite other makers into the shop and speak to them about my processes and materials.

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Did having that face-to-face dialogue with shopper help you develop your brand, What was interesting about their reactions?

Yes, I found it really interesting. I get a lot of sales from abroad so it was difficult to say if a shop in future was the way forward for me, but I have a big London following too, so it was really nice to meet customers and see what items they responded to. For instance, there were some items I thought wouldn't sell very well that just flew off the shelves, so it was a nice surprise to see how different people reacted to Grain & Knot.

What was your favourite part of running the Grain & Knot store day-to-day?

I loved hosting the workshops and letting others get stuck in with making their own products! For me, it’s really important to pass on skills to others.

How did the whole experience position you and your brand for the future?

It was really great on a personal level to see that I could pull off making such a huge body of work in such a small amount of time, to be able to look back and say: ‘Yes, I did that!’ The whole experience allowed me to think about working with other companies and brands that I may not have thought about before.

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Let’s move onto where Grain & Knot is one-year on! How has your brand developed?

It’s been a really good year for me since winning Space For Ideas, I've worked on lots of things that have been planned for a while, so it was nice to finally get them out into the world. I was in talks with Chef Tom Aikens about tableware for his new Belgravia restaurant, Muse, which finally opened at the beginning of this year. It has been amazing to see a Chef of such high calibre using my items!

I was also asked by the Canadian Tourist board to be the subject of three short films, going on an inspirational trip of the Canadian East Coast. It was a great opportunity to meet some really great makers and explore a country I’ve never visited before. The landscape gave me lots of ideas for new work.

I’m currently in the researching stages to start work on a book! Getting something on paper has been a plan of mine for a good few years now and I’m in talks with a fantastic publisher. Like I say, I’m still in the very early stages and it may not be out for a while but it’s a project that really excites me!

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Do you think that Grain & Knot will be opening another store in the future?

I would absolutely love to have a physical space again in the future, I think I would do more of an installation space this time around. I’d love to create an experience, similar to the concept of my shop where you can come and see how things are made, but with creative sculptural work as well. It would be good to test the water with new products. I’ve actually got something in the pipeline for later this year...

Can you describe how it felt to create your dream store in three words?

This is a hard one, I don't know if three words could sum up the experience! The whole process really made me look deeper into my brand and its core values, so if I had to sum it up in three words I would say: “Opportunity to learn.” I feel like I learnt more about myself, my customers, my brand and the products that I make in a way I hadn't ever done before.

Finally, what’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone who wants to enter Space For Ideas, but doesn’t know where to start?

Get your idea down on paper and talk about it to as many people as possible. Just get on with it!