January 14 2012
Its stock might look very grown-up, but the blueprint for furniture and homeware shop Oscars Interiors was an antique that graced owner Richard Morris’s bedroom at his parents’ Derbyshire home. “I had a Victorian cheese press, used as a shelving unit,” he recalls. “I was 17, and my friends thought I was crazy.”
Morris’s passion for mainly 19th-century, beautifully engineered, functional British items, as well as architectural salvage pieces, was instilled in him by his father, who “loves superb craftsmanship”.
Satisfyingly, Morris was able to find a professional outlet for his rarefied taste. He worked as a visual merchandiser in a homeware shop in Sydney. “I learnt a lot from a colleague who’d been at Fortnum & Mason and Liberty in London.” The store offered a service whereby clients chose pieces that the shop then styled in their homes. “Clients bought most of the pieces afterwards,” says Morris, who helped style Nicole Kidman’s house – “She bought Grecian urns for her pool.”
Oscars Interiors, a cosy shop on London’s hip Cheshire Street (off Brick Lane), took on the idea when it opened last June. “I lend clients pieces for 24 hours so they can see if they like them,” says Morris. “Nine times out of 10, they buy them.” Some items are also hired out as props.
The shop – whose name is derived from combining “sc”, short for science, with “ars”, the Latin for art – stocks the same kind of cast-iron cheese press Morris once owned (£750). It makes a good shelving unit, since its three tiers are adjustable. “I like Victorian furniture but avoid typical pieces,” says Morris. You won’t find button-backed chaise longues here; instead, expect furniture from factories or offices, such as an oak filing cabinet (£825).
For Morris, it’s all about finding new contexts for his pieces. These include cylindrical navigation lights from a tugboat adapted as bedside lamps (£560 each), Victorian encaustic floor tiles sold as placemats (£80 for four), irons dating from 1850, popular as bookends (£180 each) and gym boxes converted into benches (£650 each). Quirkier still are terracotta heads and torsos of Jesus and his apostles (from £380 each) – part of a relief depicting Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper from a church façade.
Morris also sells some soft furnishings that create a more homely aesthetic. He is particularly proud of his Victorian deck lounger (from £2,400), the metal frame of which can be padded with cushions.
Morris attributes his success to a willingness to go the extra mile: “One client liked some ship lights, but wanted them to look ancient, so I gave them a series of ageing treatments to achieve the desired look. Really listening to what my customers want makes all the difference.”