March 30 2011
The concept behind the Winchester retail gem that is The Hambledon is simple: owner Victoria Suffield simply wanted to sell things she loved. The fact that this eclectic emporium, tucked away in an English shire town, has not only been trading under this philosophy for more than a decade but has also become a destination store for such discerning consumers as fashion and textile designer Pearl Lowe and actor Richard E Grant is a sign of Suffield’s unerring good taste.
“I like to think that we are the Winchester equivalent of [British department store] Liberty,” says Suffield. The scale is rather different, of course – The Hambledon occupies a four-storey, Georgian-fronted building in the town’s cathedral square, rather than a sizable chunk of London’s Regent Street – but the treasure-trove aesthetic is similar.
The product range covers everything from vintage furniture (on the day I visited, the staff were busy unloading cherry-picking ladders, leather armchairs and a rather fine sideboard) and home accessories, such as the intricate Etoile Patch cushion by Les Habits Neufs (£195) and Branksome’s classic china plates (from £8), to baby’s books (Coq en Pâte cloth books, £19.95), beautiful beauty bits and clothes for high-style, rather than high-fashion, grown-ups. Think classic cotton rain macs for men by urban-chic brand APC (£355) and printed womenswear by New York-based label Tucker (£365 for a short-sleeved dress).
The stock is certainly diverse, but The Hambledon still has a real sense of coherence. This is partly due to meticulous editing – the buying team may travel across Europe in search of goodies but there’s nothing here that Suffield wouldn’t have in her own home – and partly to the design of the store itself. While the exterior is old and a hotchpotch of architectural styles (Georgian façade, Tudor back, Norman basement), the interior with its stripped wooden floors and white and grey paintwork is a lesson in contemporary simplicity. “When we first opened,” Suffield recalls, “we were so pared back that some people thought we were closing down, so now we fill the shelves a little more generously; but the mood is still very much ‘luxe plain’.”
In a small book produced to mark the shop’s 10th birthday, Suffield writes that “one of the great joys of retail is the thrill of finding beautiful things and then creating a beautiful space in which to sell them; and one of the great privileges of retail is the opportunity it offers to meet and know interesting people”. You can sense that enthusiasm for the whole process of retail as soon as you step through The Hambledon’s elegant grey door – and it makes it a joy to shop there.