kate chetwood

Shop owner shares the spirit of Cocktail.

Interviewed by Jo Reynolds

How long have you lived in the area?

Since 1999 when my husband and I moved here.

What led you here?

I was born in New York but moved to London as a baby. My brother had a flat in the area.

Where do you hang out locally?

Mostly the Princess Vic. We can see it from our bedroom window. It's very dog-friendly and my dog Panda now leads us to the door because I once gave her a piece of leftover steak so she keeps wanting to go back for more. We also like Caco, which is very kid-friendly, and Lavelli for coffee, and my neighbours do amazing kebabs.

I don't want to be predictable.

Not every high street has a gift shop that sells furniture. What gave you the idea?

My passion is furniture but people don't buy furniture every day so I had to expand my range.

Why Cocktail?

Because it's exactly what we are, a delicious mixture. Anything goes. I don't want to be predictable. This shop is a minimalist's nightmare. Everyone's welcome, especially kids and dogs. It can be difficult when you go shopping with kids, but the layout here works for prams and there's a play area at the back.

Do you have experience as a retailer?

Not really. I did a pop-up in 1999 in an empty record store and knew that one day I would like to have my own shop. Before setting up this shop I worked for an MP and the FA. I was a sports' researcher for Ming Campbell, the Liberal Democrat. Then I worked for the FA on the campaign for England to host World Cup 2006. I had a great job flying around the world with Bobby Charlton but my boss was truly horrible, which was a shame. After that I specialised in event organisation for years. And now this shop is my own event.

Is your family's background in retail?

I had two very glamorous grannies, both of whom loved beautiful things and had great style. One of them married Condé Nast, the founder of Vogue.

Retail is risky. Did your family advise against it?

I didn't tell anyone, just my husband. He was, and is, brilliantly supportive.

When did you open?

July 2015. You can only do these things when you feel confident. I waited till my children were a bit older. They're 9, 11 and 14 now and they were settled at school and happy. The time felt right. Most of my customers are mums with kids. As a mum I know where they are in that cycle. We all need more storage. And cards. We still want to write to people but use cards instead of letters. We want to find the right present for the right person and we want to be able to shop with our children.

What were you like at school?

I toed the line. Or rather, I didn't get caught. I was probably the rebellious one in my family. I was the youngest (of three) and got away with quite a lot.

Has your mother been in?

Yes, but she is a farmer. She's not really into things. She looked around and said: There's so much stuff. She prefers giving book tokens.

Where do you get the furniture that you renovate?

Auctions and markets, not London, which is too expensive. I try to be reasonable. I want people to look at the price tag and be pleasantly surprised. I sell beautiful bargains. I buy solid, well-made pieces with working drawers and doors and then we customize them with paint and new handles. The shop's full of one-offs. I'm always getting in new stuff. I want the shop to feel alive, worth popping into regularly.

Do you customize the furniture yourself?

Yes. With Jo, who's from Portugal and does the painting. She's incredibly talented and creative. She is an essential ingredient of Cocktail.

What's your favourite furniture period?

The Fifties and Art Deco.

Do you have a favourite furniture designer?

No, but my favourite items are brightly coloured 1950s kitchen dressers – chrome handles and beautifully-made, with amazing storage. They remind me of Cadillacs.

Is your home decorated like the shop?

It is quite quirky and funky. It's also colourful. I'm a great believer in colour therapy. Everyone responds to colour. It's a great antidote to winter.

What's the funniest card you sell?

One of my favourites at the moment says: I'm sorry for what I said when I was hungry. So true. And the Jacky Fleming cartoon books, such as The Trouble With Women, are hilarious. My shop definitely has a sense of humour.

What's your top seller?

The miracle necklaces (pictured) are popular as they give an extraordinary glow. And the Thinking Putty is a brilliant toy. My kids help me choose.

What's your most frantic time of year?

Christmas. Christmas can make or break a shop.

Do you ever wish you had a boss to pass the buck to?

I love being my own boss but sometimes, when I'm doing all the paperwork at 2am, I wish I had a business partner to share the load.

Do you plan to have a chain of shops?

No. I am far too tired.

Have you any famous customers?

The most famous is Salma Hayek, who's absolutely lovely. And there are quite a few good-looking actors who live around here, which is always nice.

Is the area becoming too gentrified?

Not in a negative way. It's not Notting Hill. I'm very Shepherd's Bush, not Notting Hill.

Are you worried about business rates?

I'm very worried about business rates, which threaten all independents. I already pay seven grand a year for rates and they don't even collect my rubbish. I also have to pay per rubbish bag. It is simply not fair and, to me, it seems obvious: tax the huge supermarket chains and give small independents a helping hand.

What's the best advice you'd give someone thinking of opening a shop?

Do a pop-up shop at Christmas when you'll learn if you like serving people and if people want what you're selling. It's harder work than you think.

How and with whom do you relax?

If I had a couple of hours, I'd walk the dog with the family or sit on the sofa watching the rugby, with a large glass of wine. I don't really watch telly any more but I used to watch EastEnders and I always wondered how everyone knew each other. Well, now I know. It's a bit like a village post office in here, with the same faces popping in every week. I have a community notice board and I employ lots of local girls. We chat to most people who come in. It's a very friendly shop. It's a fun place to work.

Thank you, Kate, it's been a real pleasure to meet you.

Interviewed Feb 2017

to top | home