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August 12, 2022 —

Love What You Do: Leila Touwen of Pluck

Following a career as a BBC broadcast journalist, Leila Touwen’s strong creative and visual skills led her in a different direction, co-founding Pluck - a company designing pared-back kitchen furniture to fit modern living and tastes...
Leila Touwen of independent kitchen designers Pluck in her antique filled home
Sine Fleet - contributingeditor of 91 Magazine
Sine Fleet
91 Magazine contributing editor,
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Hi Leila, how would you describe Pluck?

Pluck create distinctive kitchens with a modern aesthetic and a refined palette of colours and woods.

How did Pluck come to be?

We had been making furniture, kitchens and exhibition pieces (as 2MZ Ltd) for other people for many years and felt that we had the creativity, knowledge, inspiration and energy to start our own brand, so in 2016 that’s what we did! We had an inkling there was a gap in the market for what we could offer, our style, aesthetic and ethos.

We used to have intense meetings at our local coffee shop, F Monday’s, brainstorming ideas – the company name, what we would offer, how we would launch… it was so exciting. We knew we were taking a big risk but had a feeling that it was now or never in terms of taking that jump. We got a bank loan to cover the cost of setting up the first website and to pay for our first trade show at Clerkenwell Design Week, which is where we launched Pluck.

Because it was so intuitive, it’s quite hard to analyse the process. Pluck’s co-founders, Lloyd (my husband) and George (our friend), each bring very different qualities to the creative process, there is something about our energy together that works very well.

Leila Touwen and husband Lloyd of independent kitchen designers Pluck

7 Pluck Manor Lane Terrace 12 scaled

How did your career begin?

Before Pluck I was a journalist at the BBC. I had an incredible career there, loved every minute of it, and met some brilliant people. I worked in radio and started as a broadcast assistant at Radio 5 Live, with my final role being an assistant editor at the World Service.

The knowledge and experience I gained at the BBC has been invaluable at Pluck, working under extreme pressure in some crazy situations made me realise that I thrive in seemingly stressful scenarios. I learned the art of communication – how to write, tell a story, analyse words, and think about how to express myself engagingly and clearly.

How would you describe Pluck’s style?

Our cabinetry and furniture has a modern, pared back style which celebrates beautiful woods, materials and colours. I’m someone who errs towards the antique side of furniture – there are very few new pieces in our house and I love Pluck’s aesthetic, which can be combined with any era.

 

Pastel colourful pantry by independent kitchen designers Pluck

4 Pluck Court Lane 01 scaled e1660203153441Is there a story behind the name?

We bounced several ideas around but once Pluck was suggested (by Lloyd) it felt right. We liked all the meanings including courage, to take hold of something… plus there’s some grittier ones about offal, which may not appeal to everyone but are to do with cooking!

How did you first discover your love for what you do?

I’ve always loved making my home feel comfortable and beautiful, going to galleries, visiting historic houses, browsing antique shops and flea markets (ergo collecting my finds!), working with colours – whether through the clothes I wear or the interiors I inhabit. Basically, I’ve learnt that I’m very visual and Pluck has enabled me to express this part of myself, which I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to do. I also enjoy growing a company that has integrity and a culture with values I think are important.

What alternative career would you pursue?

Having already enjoyed two distinct careers which allow me to explore different facets of myself, I feel very satisfied. I have one small regret about stopping art in school before GCSEs (as it was then). I was 14, and was advised to go for computer studies instead as it would be better for my career. Part of me has an unfulfilled yearning to be an artist… but who doesn’t?!

Minimal yellow wooden kitchen by independent kitchen designers Pluck

Pink, yellow and green kitchen by independent kitchen designers Pluck

Could you describe a typical working day?

Part of what I love about running a business is that there is no typical day. I check-in with my colleague for a marketing update and we will put our heads together to think creatively about telling Pluck’s story. I may be styling on a photoshoot, looking at the financial side of things, thinking about colours, getting inspiration from likely and unlikely places, strategising with Lloyd and George, or getting confused by SEO… what I find exciting is that it’s a constant learning process. I also genuinely enjoy being in work, we have an amazing team of people who it’s a joy to be around!

Whats the ethos behind your business?

Beautiful kitchen cabinetry and furniture made and designed in Britain. Our work environment is important, so though we are busy and deadline driven, we nurture a friendly and welcoming environment.

Sustainability is important to us, and I guess ultimately, just through the choices we’ve made, it comes before profits. However, I’m constantly aware that we could do more.

Minimal mustard, green and pink kitchen in production at independent kitchen designers Pluck's warehouse

Pluck HQ 91 Mag 6 scaled e1660203032987Tell us about your business’s location

We are based in Brixton, South West London. It’s a really vibrant, multicultural area that we love and as a homage to our ‘hood we’ve named our colours after places in the borough.

…and the space you work in?

Pluck occupies two large Victorian warehouses, which are interconnected. The workshop is on the ground floor and the design studio is on the first floor. The close link between the two parts of business is great. It means design development can be instant, we get to see the beautiful kitchens as they are made and generally there is a great energy to the place.

It’s a location that has been used for specialist manufacture for over a century, so it feels like we are continuing a lineage of British skilled work on this spot.

Pastel pink and green minimal kitchen independent kitchen designers Pluck

Minimal mustard and pink kitchen by independent kitchen designers Pluck

Is there an element of your work that you love the most?

I genuinely enjoy all aspects of my job. More abstractly, I enjoy the decision making process, we can make choices quickly and efficiently without being beholden to anyone but ourselves.

How valuable is the online community to your work?

So important, we have a loyal following on Instagram in particular. We love chatting and interacting with people there. Getting feedback, hearing their thoughts on designs is great – it’s instant. Knowing that we are providing inspiration for people is very gratifying.

Our old dog Stanley died recently, and he had been an unofficial Pluck mascot of sorts – he has a big presence in our IG stories – the response we got from our followers when we announced the news was so moving.

Green and pink minimal kitchen by independent kitchen designers Pluck

Minimal pink and mint kitchen created by independent kitchen designers PluckWhat’s been the biggest eye-opener for you in running your business?

It’s pretty obvious now, but it’s how much external events impact day-to-day business, things you didn’t ask for, for example, Brexit and the pandemic. It can render you feeling out of control with time being occupied doing tasks you hadn’t anticipated.

Working as an independent – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?

I absolutely love it, the joys are creating your business baby which reflects you.

The challenge is how relentless it is. I had three weeks maternity leave and then had to work, the great thing is that it was on my terms, i.e. strange hours and mostly at home, but still no one else is going to do the work I do. Also, I’ve worked on every holiday since Pluck launched.

Pink kitchen with green and mustard accents by independent kitchen designers Pluck

Stylish contemporary kitchen by independent kitchen designers Pluck with scallop tiles, marble tops and green kitchen unitsWhat have been your business highlights so far?

So many! Interiors opinion formers I admire saying we are creating beautiful furniture and cabinetry and that what we offer is different to anything out there. Featuring in interior magazines that I’ve been subscribed to for decades – I still get thrilled by this!

Meeting our clients (on photoshoots) and hearing how much they love their kitchens and how great our service is – this makes me brim with pride, like a parent reading an amazing school report!

What’s one thing people would be surprised you do in your job?

Tend to every single indoor plant in our building!

Do you have any creative pastimes or hobbies?

I like to paint and draw, but I have very little time for this currently.

QUICK-FIRE QUESTIONS

Books I loveSo many, including: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, by Elif Shafak, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments, The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, Shuggy Baine by Douglas Stuart and The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge (my childhood favourite). 

Creative Heroes: For interiors; Charleston House, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Sir John Soane and William Morris. For art; Marianne North, Bridget Riley, Banksy and David Hockney and for gardening; Beth Chatto. 

Shops I love: A New Tribe, Mother of Pearl and Brixton Village – so many creative independents, the place is full of character, and I always come back with something I did not set out to buy. I also love any antique shop, anywhere!

Inspirational places: We have an off-grid cliffside hut in Cornwall with no wifi. It is bliss. Lloyd is from Cape Town and so we’re lucky enough to visit family and friends annually, currently Churchhaven is a favourite, as is La Cotte farm designed by my brother-in-law.

Instagrammers I love: @abeodedina an incredible Brixton based artist, @reubarchi I enjoy his eye for architectural detail, particularly Georgian vernacular, @chriradl Creative Director at Cabana Magazine, @katrinmoye for the love of ceramics, @markmckaydesign an interior designer (and dear friend) and @soanemuseum, one of my favourite museums. 

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