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Always happy to support British designed and made, Heart Home talks to John Darling, founder of Darlings of Chelsea to find out more about his company and what exactly he means by the 'Darling detail'.
What inspired you to start Darlings of Chelsea?
I have always been interested in business and was on the lookout for something to get involved in when I ordered some leather sofas from a well-known sofa retailer. The sofas took 16 weeks to arrive; came from China and were damaged when they finally did arrive. I had a very difficult time with customer service and the whole process was a bit of a nightmare. It got me thinking that there must be an easier way to buy a sofa and so I decided to start a company selling British made sofas, with a huge focus on customer service.
I need a new sofa bed for when guests come to stay. Where do I start and how much should I spend?
The age old saying 'Buy cheap, buy twice' is something that definitely applies to sofa beds! Most customers we speak to are coming to us for their second sofa bed, as they went cheap on their first one. We always advise our customers to be wary of cheap sofa beds on the market. By the very nature of a sofa bed, it needs to be robust enough to cope with the action of setting it up and sleeping on it, as well as comfortable enough to serve as a sofa. This is not an easy balance for manufacturers to achieve, especially not at a cheap price point. We would recommend paying anything from £1100 up for a sofa bed that is going to last. Make sure that your sofa bed has a solid wood frame and always check out the mattress before buying.
Can you talk me through the process from paper to product?
We are constantly assessing our ranges to see what we are missing, or to try to keep up with developing trends. We often take inspiration from many areas such as furniture shows, interiors magazine and Pinterest. We then come up with a design ourselves based on what we know our customer wants. It doesn't matter how nice a new design looks though- it's all about comfort, so we end up testing many prototypes until we are happy with the comfort, depth, proportions etc. We always consider the Darling Detail too- what little features make this piece stand out from others on the market?
Once the finished product is ready, we make it in a fabric or leather that we know will photograph well and try to choose a photo location where that product looks at home in. Once the shots are ready, it goes online and in store. We often feature new products in email newsletters and on our social media accounts too.
With a vast collection of sofas and fabrics, how do you choose which designs to modernise and create new ranges for?
We have really learned to listen to our customers on this one and to act upon their feedback. We have amended ranges in the past to ensure they are more comfortable, or deeper or changed the legs to keep up with trends. Occasionally, we realise some detail is putting people off an otherwise amazing sofa- if you just change the legs, then suddenly appeals to people all over again!
Saying this though, I think it's important to note that we don't chase every single trend. We are confident that we have timeless sofas in our range that never need to be touched. We want our sofas to last you for years without going out of style and think it's sometimes better to modernise your accessories or cushions instead.
What is your favourite Darlings of Chelsea design?
There are so many to choose from but I think one that sticks out in my mind is the Darwin - and not just because it's one of our bestsellers! We love it for its clean lines and neat appearance, but at the same time it is incredibly comfortable. It holds in shape so even though you sink into it, as soon as you get up it looks impeccable. The contrast piping along its cushions adds that Darling Detail and really makes it stand out from the crowd- we always encourage our customers to get contrast piping on this sofa! It's also incredibly versatile depending on what fabric you order it in. There's a dark velvet chaise version of in our Surrey showroom which looks seriously luxurious, decadent and almost feminine; while there is a grey sofa version of it in our Fulham showroom which looks so fresh and really nods to the mid-century modern trend. We have just ordered a Darwin snuggler chair for our own house which we can't wait to see!
What's your style?
I think it changes all the time depending on your surroundings or stage of life. We lived in Switzerland for 6months when we had a pop up shop in Verbier and our style then was quite rustic Scandinavian, which obviously complemented the surroundings and lifestyle there.
We now live in a Victorian house in London now though and there are a lot of mid-century influences as well as some luxurious velvets. But since starting a family, our style is changing and we are beginning to lean more towards larger, comfier sofas accessorised with lots of cosy textiles and a softer look in general.
Leather or fabric?
The age old debate! This is such a tricky one. I would always have said fabric as you can have such fun with different textures and colours. There is something wonderful about unwrapping a new fabric sofa and seeing how the velvet looks in the light, or how perfect a linen chesterfield looks- they are often works of art.
However, since starting a family, we can now totally appreciate why people prefer leather. It is so durable and there is a lot to be said for being able to wipe it clean! I think you can soften a leather look with carefully chosen blankets and cushions, giving you the best of both worlds.
Alternatively you can always choose a stain resistant fabric too! I think a mix of both throughout your home is a good balance.
What's the best practice for choosing a sofa?
Choosing a new sofa can be so much fun and a really exciting experience. It's important to remember there is a practical side to it too though. Make sure you have measured up before you visit the store- this way our staff are much better equipped to help you. Measure the space where you want your sofa to go, as well as all doorways or hall spaces that it will need to pass through. Our staff are really helpful and experienced and lots of them have interior design qualifications too, so bringing a photo of your room is a recommended as they might be able to make suggestions.
Be open minded- try lots of different sofas and not just the one you think you want. You would be surprised at how many of our customers leave having bought a totally different sofa to the one they came in for!
You don't have to visit a store to buy your sofa, many of customers buy online without ever visiting a showroom. They rely heavily on great reviews about comfort, as well as the confidence they take from our awards for customer service.
Take advantage of ordering free swatch samples on line and examine them in the room they will be in- in daylight, electric light and side lighting. Fabrics and leathers can look totally different from one room to the next.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
We are currently trying to update our leather range. We have noticed a trend for fixed cushions on leather sofas and thick natural leathers so we would like to update our ranges to include this element. We are also hoping to improve our offering of upholstered items such as benches, stools. The most exciting thing though is finally launching a sofa bed that has a mattress as comfortable as a normal bed – it’s called Alexi and is in most of our shops now.
What colours and patterns do you see trending next?
Shades of yellow velvets are becoming increasingly popular. Statement mid-century velvet chairs in mustard and turmeric shades are in demand. We have also noticed a huge increase in free swatch sample requests for olive green velvets. Larger products are still purchased in more neutral shades, but often with a statement chair to complement them, often in an eye catching velvet or linen.