April 05 2010
“Splendid to be on Primrose Hill/At evening when the world is still!” wrote WH Auden in his school magazine in 1922. And splendid too are the enchantments of PH Factor on London’s Regent’s Park Road, which hugs the eastern contour of the Hill. The shop is a cornucopia of scented candles, bath oils, robes, towels, soaps, slippers and shower-caps, displayed with more-is-more allure on pretty shelving. Faced with this jamboree, the most ascetic soul would struggle not to succumb to the desire for a long, luxurious soak.
Inspired by the Bed, Bath & Beyond stores of New York, PH Factor owner Sheila Brown opened shop in 1999. Formerly a buyer with stores such as Harrods, Selfridges and Mappin & Webb, she’d dreamed of her own business for years. When she met Michael Johnson, who later became her partner in business and life, she knew the moment had come. “Michael [who died three years ago] came from a Staffordshire pottery family and had enormous commercial experience. With my retail knowledge, we made a good team.”
As Johnson already owned a kitchenware shop there, Regent’s Park Road was the obvious location. “At first, Michael kept me on a tight budget so the space was quite empty,” remembers Brown with a smile. “People thought it was a pop-up shop before they existed!”
No one would make that mistake now. Shelves groan with oils, soaps and creams from brands such as L’Occitane, I Coloniali and Cowshed. Candles from Melt (from £15) boast an exquisitely distressed patina and recherché scents such as nutmeg and vetiver. Egyptian cotton towel bales (£60 for six) are framed by Heyland & Whittle soaps adorned with rosebuds (£6) and shea-butter bath melts (£7 for three). Slippers come in satin, wool and faux fur (from £25); bathrobes are liquid-soft waffle and towelling (from £35).
A paradise for the pamper-me generation, PH Factor has become a rendezvous for yummy mummies, stylists and designers plus local notables Helena Bonham Carter, David Miliband and Sam Taylor-Wood. Their interest is piqued not only by bathroom luxuries but also cute children’s T-shirts and rompersuits with legends such as “Sleep Thief” (from £17), Gill de La Mott’s knitted hats for newborns (from £20), and men’s gifts including a handsome, leather-lined valet tray (£44).
Brown has begun to stock vintage furniture. Painted in fresh pastels, the dressing tables, armoires and cabinets (from £75) possess timeless charm. “In this climate, people might not want to move house but they’ll do up a room,” observes Brown, in an attempt to explain the range’s popularity. To dress the furniture, she buys jewellery, stationery and frames, making PH Factor a magnet for gift hunters.
“Compared to corporate life, this is much more satisfying for an independent spirit,” says Brown, grinning.