My sofa? That'll be pounds 1,000

The new home shopping has nothing to do with trash TV. It's about seeing furniture in the right setting - somebody else's house. DOMINIC LUTYENS reports

High street retailers have brought design into the homes of millions, but their success has come at a price - originality. Save up for a settee from Heals and chances are that when you show it off, your friends will say "I know someone who's got one of those", or worse, "That's from Ikea, isn't it?". And buying is no picnic - have you ever dared the madness that is Habitat on a Sunday morning?

"We're witnessing a massive reaction against the bland, sanitised high street," says Jinanne Abou-Seoud, a half-Saudi, half-American interior designer. Her response has been to open her peaceful Notting Hill home as a showroom/design consultancy called Jinan, and other designers are following suit.

Jinan is a serious selling space for contemporary design with soaring ceilings, a magnificent Victorian fireplace and a modern chandelier that doesn't hang from the ceiling but hugs it. Much of the furniture and accessories are in fashionably dark wood or cream. Parchment lampshades contrast with mirrors framed with freeze-dried, black magnolia leaves.

In addition to Jinan's own range of furniture, Dialogica, there are stools made from reclaimed wood by Anthony Evans and lamps by Mark Brazier-Jones. Abou-Seoud sums up her style as "Fifties chic".

"What we're doing is selfish," she says. "We're all mothers." Business partner Maggie Greening is pregnant, colleague Lorraine da Costa has two young children and Abou-Seoud a baby girl, Talitha. "Sometimes, she sits in the middle of the floor, which our clients like. Many have children and appreciate a child-friendly environment."

Abou-Seoud used to run Jinan Furniture Gallery in Golden Square, London, but, heavily pregnant, couldn't hack the daily hassle of "noise, traffic, transport". "I needed a break from the chaos that is the West End. It suits our customers, too. In Soho, they suffered from the parking metres: pounds 1 for 15 minutes.

"I've lived in my basement flat for five years, and when the floor above became vacant, I thought why not sell our stuff from here. It makes sense to sell furniture in a domestic context. People can visualise how it will look in their own home. This kind of space gives a better idea of human scale. In the Soho gallery, people bought things on approval to check they weren't too big. Here, that's not so necessary."

Jinan's intimate atmosphere is also conducive to throwing parties so clients and designers can meet. This is important because the biggest danger with a project of this sort is that Jinan will get forgotten when people are shopping for furniture. "Being remembered is a hurdle which you have to address constantly. It's important to keep in contact with clients through invitations, events and exhibitions."

Jinan is part of a growing trend. Julie Thorne and retail veteran Sue Tahran, director of American Retro, are the brains behind Suite 3, subtitled "a different shop". A quarterly shopping event - the first takes place from 30 September to 3 October - it will sell funky contemporary design, clothing and art from Tahran's home in Canonbury, north London.

Suite 3 is an abbreviation of Suite 303 - a room at New York's Chelsea Hotel and now a showroom for up-and-coming designers. Suite 3 mark one will sell furniture by Jane Atfield, Shin and Tomoko Azumi and El Ultimo Grito, as well as soft furnishings by budding brands twinset and Claire O'Hea. "The goods will be more individual - there won't be any Alessi kitchen accessories. They'll more expensive, but we're sure our clients will be willing to pay more for something they can't get elsewhere."

Goods will be distributed around the house logically: kitchen things will be found in the kitchen, bathroom bits in the bathroom, etc. "In shops, the stock always looks static and artificial," says Thorne. "This way you can see things how you'd live with them at home."

Does she see it as the way forward in retail? "Very possibly. People are looking for a more personal shopping experience. We're all being sold this idea of buying on the internet but to me that seems very cold. You can't touch and smell things on the net. This approach is far more sensual."

Visits to Jinan (tel: 0171 229 9006) and Suite 3 (tel: 0181 546 6680) are by invitation only.

MORE THAN A PEEK THROUGH THE KEYHOLE

You can't buy the furniture in these homes, but they're a source of inspiration for designers.

SIR JOHN SOANE MUSEUM

13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2 (tel: 0171 430 0175).

Soane (early 19th century) used convex mirrors to enhance space. Colours are bright: the upstairs Yellow Drawing Room inspired Papers And Paints to manufacture a paint called Soane Yellow.

ELTHAM PALACE

off Court Road, Eltham, London SE9 (tel: 0181 294 2548).

This sumptuous Art Deco house was built in 1936 by millionaire Stephen Courtauld. Both ocean liner and Hollywood in feel. Look out for the black and silver dining room and onyx bathroom with gold mosaic tiles.

WIGHTWICK MANOR

Wightwick Bank, Wolverhampton (01902 761400).

A fine example of the Arts and Crafts style (built 1887). It has many Morris wallpapers and fabrics and tiles by

Kampe and de Morgan.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

    £30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

    Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

    £34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

    Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

    Developer - WinForms, C#

    £280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game