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September 5, 2023 —

Shopkeeper Spotlight: Norfolk Natural Living

Inspired by a quest to make slow-living more luxurious, we chat with Bella Middleton of Norfolk Natural Living to hear more about her three stores; Utility, Perfumery and Plant & Garden, located in the heart of Holt, Norfolk.
Natural eco-friendly cleaning products in Norfolk Natural Living's Utility shop, Holt, Norfolk
Norfolk Natural Living owner Bella Middleton outside one of her stores in Holt, Norfolk
Shelley Welti
91 Magazine online content editor,

Photography

Clare Naylor
Photographer,
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Hi Bella, when and why did you decide to open Norfolk Natural Living?

After the birth of my first child in 2014, life was fairly hectic, everything I read said to de-stress and improve my life I first needed to find time. Time to do 10 minutes of meditation here or 10 minutes to do some breathing exercises there – all of which are amazingly beneficial but I was struggling to find time to juggle work and family. I was finding life tough enough and time was not something I had a lot of!

It was on one sunny day in June when I was doing the washing up (which I loathe) it suddenly dawned on me, with my aromatherapy knowledge I could make a dish soap that made doing the dishes a joy. There and then the idea for Norfolk Natural Living was born with the simple premise to help bring joy to your everyday. So after lots of trials and errors, endless testing and two more children – in 2019, some five years later – we opened our first Norfolk Natural Living store in Holt, with our holistic toxin free, beautifully scented cleaning and home-care range. 

Natural eco-friendly cleaning products in Norfolk Natural Living's Utility shop, Holt, NorfolkNorfolk Natural Living owner Bella Middleton outside one of her stores in Holt, NorfolkNatural eco-friendly cleaning products in Norfolk Natural Living's Utility shop, Holt, Norfolk

What had you done before? Did any of these skills help?

Yes! I was working for a men’s grooming brand and was an aromatherapist – so it really helped. As I had experience in cosmetics and aromatherapy, but more importantly my values had changed from my early twenties, as I now had a new and growing family – the time I spent away from my children had to mean something. It had to be something I truly believed in, that I would use everyday, that improved my life, my family’s life and didn’t compromise the planet either.

How did you decide on the name?

It was so important right from the start that we make all of the products by hand in small batches in Norfolk – it means we know what ingredients we are using and probably more importantly the ingredients we don’t! We source as much locally as we can, we use British suppliers for almost everything we make. So the name Norfolk Natural Living was the perfect embodiment of that.

British made fragrance inside apothecary cabinets in Norfolk Natural Living's Perfumery shop, Holt, Norfolk Natural eco-friendly cleaning products in Norfolk Natural Living's Utility shop, Holt, NorfolkYellow panelled walls and shelves filled with garden pots, gardening books and garden tools inside Norfolk Natural Living's Gardener's shop, Holt, Norfolk

How would you describe the interior style of the stores?

We have three different stores in Holt, Norfolk. I wanted them to feel like rooms you may find at home – so each store has a different purpose (and sells different things) and they are decorated accordingly.

Our Utility Store (which is light and airy) is perhaps your utility room with a large oversized antique sink and lots of bare wood. I love the mix of white with stainless steel, pale wood and glass. We used cork on the floor to add warmth to the store and it is wonderfully environmentally friendly.

Our Potting Shed is filled with our botanical inspired perfumes and home scents. With terracotta pots, antique stripped pine furniture and dotted with geranium and tomato plants throughout currently, to celebrate our new Geranium and Tomato perfume launch.

Our Perfumery and Wellbeing Pharmacy is inspired very loosely on a country house library – it’s very cocooning and feels like a safe nurturing space to be in. It’s wallpapered in the honeysuckle print by William Morris’s daughter and I have dried flowers hanging from the ceiling. The floor is the original floorboards which we sanded and oiled to leave in their natural state. The furniture is a mix of dark antique pigeon holes we sourced from the British Library, a beautiful Georgian dresser from a nearby country house and we refitted the Edwardian fireplace as we wanted it to have a homely feeling.

British made fragrance inside apothecary cabinets in Norfolk Natural Living's Perfumery shop, Holt, Norfolk
British made fragrance oils inside Norfolk Natural Living's Perfumery shop, Holt, Norfolk British made fragrance inside apothecary cabinets in Norfolk Natural Living's Perfumery shop, Holt, NorfolkYou make your fragrances in house. Can you tell us about your process?

It’s a long, slow process –  we start with the ‘juice’ that is the essence of any perfume. It’s a little like creating a fine wine – once we have selected and blended every oil (it’s different for every scent) – we leave it to ‘age’ sometimes for months, even up to a year. I love to see how the scent develops – as the oils bind together so the flavour enhances. Working with natural oils – the times they are harvested, the weather during the season all affect how the oil will smell and blend – I find it simply magical. Once I think it’s just right – we’ll use that ‘juice’ to create our Eau de Parfum.

What does a normal day look like?
It’s hard to say – I also have a family with three little children – so it’s mostly a juggle! After school drop offs, I’ll be at my desk for about 8.30ish to see the team and check in with production. We make and send all of our products from our HQ in Kings Lynn, so it’s always a hive of activity! If I’m not working on a new scent or product development, I might then pop up to visit the shops (in Wells and Holt) which open at 10am or we might have a content day when I’ll be doing various tips and advice for our Instagram from my home. Then, it’s back to collect the children from school, read stories and cook supper! So it’s relatively hectic!

How do you choose the complementary products you stock? 

As with anything to do with our brand, I believe anything we stock in our stores should bring joy to your everyday. It should be made well, design orientated and environmentally friendly.  I love if they are locally made, we have a few beautiful clothing items made by Hillary Hann – her brand is called Crop. She cuts and sews each piece by hand – they really are a labour of love and so beautifully crafted. I actually discovered her brand when I picked up a little lavender bag when shopping in The Garnet store in Norwich (it’s a lovely store too!) I couldn’t believe how beautifully made it was. So I had to find out more about Crop and hoped she would let us stock her!

Yellow panelled walls and shelves filled with garden pots, gardening books and garden tools inside Norfolk Natural Living's Gardener's shop, Holt, Norfolk Yellow panelled walls and shelves filled with garden pots, gardening books and garden tools inside Norfolk Natural Living's Gardener's shop, Holt, Norfolk Garden pots, garden fragrance products and garden tools inside Norfolk Natural Living's Gardener's shop, Holt, NorfolkWhich item is your bestseller? And why do you think that is?

It’s our Coastal Walks Eau de Parfum. I think because it’s a wonderfully unisex scent – that women can gift to themselves or their husbands or share! It harbours so many memories of holidays spent in Norfolk or simply by the sea. I have received so many emails from some of our lovely customers who have used it for their wedding days too. I just love how much scent can add to your everyday and even super special days too.

What do you enjoy most about running the stores?

I love how connected they are to the towns and the sense of community surrounding them. Both Wells-by-the-sea and Holt are wonderful holiday destinations but both towns also have a bustling life in their own right – so we see so many regular faces of our most loyal customers who come in almost weekly to restock on their favourites – be that dish wash, deodorant or hand wash. Having the stores means we chat to them and truly be a part of their lives. It’s not something I was expecting but it is really rather special.

The exterior of Norfolk Natural Living's Perfumery shop, Holt, Norfolk The white exterior of Norfolk Natural Living's Gardener's shop, Holt, NorfolkHow do you manage running three stores?

I have the most amazing team in the world – every success of Norfolk Natural Living is down to them. We are probably 98% women and we all get on and help each other, we have a lot of mothers and daughters (in fact three sets!) It’s a wonderful nurturing environment, which I am incredibly proud of.

What is the neighbourhood like around the stores?

The neighbourhoods are wonderful. We are lucky to have the stores in two very picturesque towns within vibrant high streets full of independent stores. The variety of stores, from jewellers to fashion boutiques to gorgeous cafes and bakeries – the bustle of people walking past is part of the excitement of having a store. We even have a lovely market in Holt on the first Sunday of the month especially for craft makers. It makes you feel like creativity is alive and breathing!

What has been your career highlight so far?

We started asking our customers for reviews last year – and now we have over a thousand five star reviews, I have read every single one and it is a pinch me moment each and every single time.

What do you wish you’d known before opening the stores? Any advice for those thinking about opening their own stores?

I would say just do it! There are so many things that I didn’t know – as I had never opened a shop before – but you can always find a reason not to do it, I have loved it from day one. If you sell something you love, you will have a store full of people who love your things – could there be anything better?!

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