We spoke to Victoria about what it’s like going from maker to shopkeeper, talk travel inspiration and hear why the trend for house plants looks set to continue…
Hi Victoria. When and why did you decide to open From Victoria?
Having been a ceramicist for many years, I was selling my porcelain pieces wholesale to other shops. I had always loved the idea of having my own shop with a studio but was not sure how to go about it. In Lewes there is a lovely building called The Needlemakers which is full of small units for independent shopkeepers to start a business. An empty unit came available back in 2013 which I jumped at. I had always thought all my experiences would lend well to being a shopkeeper and felt that I had nothing to lose. Seven years on, and now in a bigger premises on the High Street, I have not looked back.
What had you done before? Did any of these skills help?
Since an early age I have been creative and art school was the natural next step. During my studies I was particularly drawn to printmaking, sculpture and installation. Once I graduated, l set up my own ceramics business creating my own unique pieces. Whilst making and selling my porcelain ceramics I also worked as a visual merchandiser for a large retail company. I feel the lateral creative thinking I developed at art school, my visual merchandising background and my experience of working as a maker has given a really interesting combination of skills that has been so helpful in running my own business.
How did you decide on the name?
Since university, I’ve always collected vintage objects and I had a collection of old suitcases at home. One suitcase had a half torn tag on it that said ‘from Victoria ‘ – obviously meaning from Victoria Station in London. However, I really liked the simplicity of it and how it means that what I do is from me and everything is done with care and attention.
How would you describe the interior style of the store?
A lot of my interior style and inspiration comes from my travels – whether it’s a day trip to a National Trust house and garden or a weekend break to Amsterdam. I’m really influenced by Victorian greenhouses and tropical glasshouses- spaces full of plants create an exotic yet homely feel at the same time. I love the bohemian 70’s interiors with rattan furniture and house plants, I am also drawn to mid century style furniture, I particularly love Charles and Ray Eames’ home. I love a mix of natural earthy materials. Some of it is conscious and some of it just happened – but I am naturally drawn to combine all of these elements together. I am not sure if there is an exact style, more a mix of many interiors I am influenced by. Ultimately, I thrive to create a calming oasis.
You’re passionate about plants – why do you think having plants in our homes is so beneficial?
I have always loved plants but, like many of us, I’ve not always lived somewhere where I had a garden. I had to find different ways to bring green into the home, so I began finding, collecting and growing all types of houseplants. It’s not only aesthetic, nurturing and caring for plants, a living thing, is calming and is great for your mental health.
Watching something grow over years, bringing plants back to health – sometimes just the simple act of watering a plant can take your mind off your worries. Now my house is full of over 100 various plants. There’s also the obvious environmental benefits of having plants – for your well-being and air purification. I now can’t imagine a home without plants – they look great and they’re good for you.
How do you source your wares?
This is probably what takes up the most of my time. Sourcing new products is also one of the most enjoyable parts of the job. I love visiting trade shows – one of my favourites that I go to is in Paris. There’s also several in London and more locally, but actually, I find people get in touch with me and Instagram is such a great source for so many independent designers and makers. If I’m looking for something in particular I’ll just research until I find what it is that I’m looking for. This can take months, with my evenings spent researching new and exciting products. I love it when I find that special something that is unique to me.
Do you create anything in-house?
The original shop started with me making my own hand made porcelain ceramics. With the success and growth of the shop I found I was unable to do both and so over the years I have made less of my own work but I am starting to form plans for new ranges. I am enjoying creating dried flower bouquets at the moment but I have loads of new ideas – so watch this space!
Exciting! Which item is your bestseller?
House plants are my best seller and this is partly due to the continued growing trend for house plants. When I began, the trend hadn’t really taken off but over the past seven years I’ve noticed the increase in popularity. Although trends come and go – I believe plants will continue to be popular due to their benefits.
What items are your personal can’t-live-withouts?
Well … plants! My home is full of plants because I am slightly obsessed. So plants are a must have but also candles, hand lotions and planters. To be honest I only sell things I love and, therefore, it’s not unusual for some things to find their way home with me! I love the William Morris quote: ‘have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’. Well, I don’t sell anything that I don’t adore – I try to create an environment in the shop that I want in my own home.
What a great ethos! What do you enjoy most about running From Victoria?
I’ve always been creative and owning my own shop has allowed me to use all my creative skills in one place – from sourcing beautiful items and plants to creating the perfect environment for my customers to enjoy and, hopefully, be inspired by. I also love being part of the local community and feel like I’m making a contribution to the High Street – a vital part of a healthy town.
Tell us more about your local Lewes community…
I am so lucky to have a shop in the lovely town of Lewes, a thriving, creative and inspiring small town only ten minutes drive from Brighton. Although I don’t live in Lewes, the people of Lewes have been so welcoming, I really feel part of the community. Lewes is a great place to go for a day trip in the heart of the Sussex Downs – it mixes the bohemian independent feel of Brighton with the tradition of a historic Sussex village. Lewes is lucky to have so many lovely independent shops. A few of my personal favourites are Paul Clark Clothiers, Closet & Botts, Alexis Dove, Kings Framers, Cheese Please and Carafe Coffee Roasters … to name only a few, there are so many more.
What has been your career highlight (so far!)?
From starting with nothing. Each step has been exciting (and nerve-wracking). Opening my first small store and then going onto two bigger stores. However, my absolute highlight is opening up on the High Street in a central part of Lewes.
Any top tips for those starting their house plant journey?
My personal favourite is the Pilea Peperomioides, more commonly known as ‘Chinese money plant’. They are easy to grow with beautiful dark green leaves which bloom tiny red or white flowers during the summer. It can be easily propagated by cutting the baby stem’s and placing them into water, and within a few weeks you can see the roots. A lovely way of starting to grow your collection and super easy. Every home should have a spot to grow plants – no matter how small. A collection always has to start with one.
Do you have any advice for those thinking of opening their own store?
You need to have a real passion for starting your own business. Think out of the box and introduce something new to your town. It’s a lot of work outside of the shop hours , especially to build your brand, but it is so rewarding when it pays off. I found over the years it is impossible to achieve everything at once. Somebody once said to me ‘little steps’, and it stuck. Prioritise what you want to achieve and do one thing really well before you move on to the next thing. Most of all just go for it – you really can do it.
Find From Victoria at 51 High Street, Lewes.
All photography: Fizzy Robot Photography