Claire Nurden opened Piquant in Tottenham five months ago, selling vintage and contemporary furniture, homeware and gifts. The shop is open Wednesday to Sunday and can be found behind Craving Coffee in Gaunson House, Markfield Road. Amy Bush visited Piquant to have a chat with Claire about her exciting new venture.
Photo supplied: Claire Nurden, Founder of Piquant
Where are you from and what’s your background?
I’m from Gloucestershire originally, in the countryside - which is very different from London! I moved away from there when I was quite young because I’m a city girl at heart, and I’ve lived in London for about eleven years now. I worked in an office for ten years, working for different charities as a lobbyist which was something I felt really passionate about. But I’ve always had this yearning to do something creative so after ten years of working for charities I decided to take a six month sabbatical.
My plan was always to go back to work afterwards but then my partner suggested that I start a market stall to give me a bit of a creative outlet and I’d always wanted to do that, and so I did! I started a little market stall in Brick Lane and it grew very quickly from there - once I started I couldn’t stop. It’s gone from a market stall to a shop in quite a short space of time. I love doing this, I really really enjoy it and I couldn’t stop now.
Photo supplied: In the Piquant studio
How would you describe your shop, Piquant? What do you sell?
Piquant is about accessible design. Everything I have in this store is united by the fact that it’s got a clean line to it or an interesting shape or form; something with a bit of an edge. I like to call it hard-edged beauty because it’s something which is potentially beautiful but with a bit of difference to it.
Crucially, Piquant is a mixture of vintage and contemporary pieces; I love the way the contemporary items freshen up the vintage ones and show off the design elements really well, I find it an exciting mixture. One of my main aims is to make excellent design much more accessible to people. Everything I sell in the shop I sell for under market prices; because I’m quite literally not on the high street it means I’m able to offer better prices to my customers, so if they’re prepared to come and find me I can give them a great deal on some lovely things!
I sell a range of things in the shop: vintage pieces, vintage coffee tables, side tables, West-German ceramics, and new things made from old materials such as industrial style dining tables that can be designed to order and made to fit your space. We also sell gifts like handmade leather bags, handmade jewellery and cards. Piquant is a nice mixture of furniture, home accessories and gifts.
Why did you decide to open in Tottenham?
I have a number of different connections with the area. I’ve known Matt and Rachel Ho who run Craving Coffee for years which is how I discovered this place. I’ve watched their business grow since they opened in 2014 and I’ve seen that there’s such a lovely, diverse and passionate community here, so I knew it would be a really interesting place to open my first shop. There’s also a developing creative scene here so that, for me, felt like the right fit and I’m so excited to be part of that.
Also, my partner grew up around this area and his father used to be the head teacher at Northumberland Park School (now Duke’s Aldridge Academy) so there are family links with the area too. Ultimately, it’s a really unique and interesting part of London and it’s got such a strong community feel, people have been so welcoming since I got here!
What are your favourite things in the shop? Has there ever been anything you’ve really struggled to part with?
So many things! My rule for buying stock is that I choose things that I would love in my own home, which essentially means it’s pretty painful every time I sell something!
But it also means that everything in the shop has a unifying look about it. A couple of weeks back I had a vintage Dutch coffee table which had a monochrome mosaic on the top. I’ve never seen anything like it and I doubt I’ll ever see anything like it again, so that was pretty special and I definitely wanted to take that home.
Where do you source your items from?
All over the place. I have a van so I drive around the country visiting different markets and antique fairs and just try and find the most interesting things that I can. I also take trips to Europe when I am able to see what I can pick up so there’s a really interesting variety of items in Piquant. The contemporary items are usually found going to design fairs or through social media. Instagram in particular has been a really helpful source for finding people that make some of the jewellery, bags and gifts that I stock. I have some beautiful handmade Japanese kimonos in the shop at the moment, made using vintage fabrics, and I met the person making those at an antiques fair I went to recently. I’m also trying to find more local creatives to get involved as I’d love to have as many locally made things in the shop as possible.
What advice would you give to someone starting a business on their own like you have?
Well I get a lot of help from my partner so I should definitely give some credit to him. But it is primarily me who runs the business and it can be quite terrifying sometimes!
I would say be prepared to learn as you go because there is no way I could have envisaged how things would turn out with Piquant right from the start. I’ve had to fail at some points of it as well, I mean there’s things that I’ve got wrong and you have to be prepared to problem solve and look for solutions.
But fundamentally I think hold your nerve, remember your confidence and stick to your guns about what your vision is; you don’t want to start watering things down as you risk losing what’s at the heart of your business.
It’s been frightening at times, financially and personally, and you have to realise that it’s a big risk taking on a business and running it yourself. With a project like this it can feel quite personal because essentially I’m taking all of the things I like and then showing them to the world and saying “do you like them too?” - I think you just have to be thick skinned about it and be willing to accept that sometimes things don’t work and if they don’t you adapt, as long as you keep that core vision in the centre of your decision making then hopefully things will work out!
Favourite places in Tottenham?
I’ve got to say Craving Coffee. I’m working my way through the whole menu, and there have been a few boozy nights there - they do some fabulous cocktails which I very much enjoy!
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