Lizzie Evans has every reason to feel smug. At just 27, she presides over three floors of Islington retail that have been breathing fresh air into the area’s interiors offerings for the past two years. In fact, the store’s name alludes to an “old dictionary definition that defines it as smartening up one’s self or a room – basically, interior design”.
Smug came into being after Evans, who studied interior architecture, redesigned the Camden Passage space owned by her family. “I ended up renting it,” she says.
“I didn’t realise I wanted a shop, then it just happened.” Though not without a few detours: struggling to open by Christmas 2008, Smug popped up elsewhere – in the kitchen of Evans’s parents’ nearby home. Apparently, they were thrilled: “We were living out of a little space in the kitchen and had endless microwave meals.”
The store now exudes a similarly homey feel. “I didn’t want it fitted out white with glass shelves,” says Evans. “I wanted the stock on vintage furniture. But I wasn’t planning on selling the furniture… The first weekend we were open, people asked, ‘How much is the table?’ It’s now a big part of what we do.”
On the ground floor are the more quick-fire purchases. A stationery selection includes neat notebooks (from £2.50) and chic laminated wood rulers by Offcut (£11), laid out on the Smug-standard vintage Formica tables (from £90) alongside a selection of cards, such as Stacie Swift’s quirky animal illustrations (£2.75). The counter is filled with crafty jewellery and retro Casio watches (from £28), soft toys made from old jumpers (rabbits £35) spill out of drawers, and there’s a stack of recycled “random wool” picnic blankets (£28), which “sell like hot cakes”.
Downstairs is dedicated to kitchen- and homewares, from the bestselling melamine teaspoons (£6 for six) and vintage Poole teacups (£55 for six) to Lisa Stickley’s printed oven mitts (£14) – and more Formica.
Upstairs, you’ll step onto a reclaimed wood floor that is in fact an artwork by Henry Krokatsis, owned by Evans’ father and brother, who run a contemporary art business one floor further up. Art makes its way onto the walls here too, as with the current exhibition by Argentinian César Paternosto, while lined out on a low sideboard is the Smug Top 10 – a handy barometer for gifts that often features the exclusive rustic bowls of French ceramicist Natalie Colombel (£32).
Exclusives are something Evans is keen to expand on, so there’s a special yellow version of Matt Pugh’s stylised oak and walnut owl ornament (£28) and a Smug-only Bunny cushion from the now-well-known Donna Wilson (£68). After all, “It’s nice to have something other people don’t.”