Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Home sweet home


Their passion for the lovely things in life has inspired Cambourne couple Kevin and Jenni Hairsine to launch their own home accessories business EMU. Louise Cummings pays a visit and prepares to shop until she drops . . .

Kevin and Jenni Hairsine have a masterplan – to fill homes across the land with ‘lovely things’. Passionate about upcycled furniture as well as beautiful home accessories and describing their idea of heaven as “drinking tea from china cups, while dipping into a good book”, the husband and wife team are the brains behind stylish homeware company EMU (it has nothing to do with shaggy Australian birds, before you ask. . . explanation later!)

Stepping into their charming shop on the main street of Gamlingay, it’s clear they have achieved their dream, creating a sheer haven of loveliness. Pretty pink polka dot wooden hearts hang next to shaker-style garlands and decorative bird houses in pastel shades. Shabby chic abounds with rustic trugs, shiny tin pails, one-off jelly moulds, occasional tables and old chests. “This cabinet started life in Macy’s in New York,” Kevin smiles, as he points out his latest upcycled pride and joy. “It was shipped over to England, and when it arrived with me it was all warped and in a bit of a state. It took abut eight weeks to bring it back to life,” he explains, giving it a satisfying tap.

Elsewhere there is a simply divine pine dresser which Kevin has transformed using the finest Annie Sloan paint in duck egg blue, an old chest rescued from a house clearance in France, not to mention the charming distressed Gustavian table.

I find myself diving into a box of dainty ladybird motif pegs, and have already selected a Mr & Mrs garland for my impending nuptials, and a clutch of rustic wooden plant signs, before I remember I am here to interview enterprising dad-of-three Kevin, 32.

We sit down to chat over a frothy latte in the gorgeous Crafty Cupcake Café, which is run by vintage-loving Faye Boissieux – from whom Kevin rents the space for EMU.

Surrounded by strings of bunting and home-made corsages, Hull-born Kevin explains that both he and wife Jenni were in completely different careers before their gorgeous homeware brand was born. His background was in catering, with chef stints at top venues in the City and across Essex, including working for the famous Roux Brothers, while Jenni was a freelance editor.

Having met in Jenni’s native Braintree, the couple decided to move to Cambourne in 2003, where they bought their first home. Marrying at Madingley Church in 2005, their first daughter Milena, now 5, was born a couple of years later. Planning for another baby, it was when they were told they were expecting twin girls Zahra and Yasmin that the couple decided it was time to make a work/life change.

The couple had always dreamed of owning their own business, and didn’t take long to decide on their niche market. “People are spending more time at home, they want to beautify their homes, and there are always home improvement programmes on the television so that’s why we chose the world of home accessories and furniture.”

Jenni dreamt up the name Emu, as the couple wanted something short, snappy and slightly ambiguous. “It’s attention grabbing but it’s not related to any emu-related products, which is what we often get asked about!" Kevin smiles. "Our tagline is ’lovely things’ and that describes exactly what we sell.”

Rather than heading straight for the High Street, Kevin decided to take EMU down the concessions route, launching the family brand from a room at The Barn in Kneesworth in February 2011, then following a month later with a room at Swan Antiques, Interiors and Gardens at Hemel Hempstead. The response was heartening, with the home accessories selling well, and steady commissions coming in for upcycled furniture.

“It felt exciting to have something that gave us such flexibility,” Kevin recalls. “Jenni concentrated very much on the twins and that gave me the freedom to put my all into EMU.”

With the business proving popular, EMU’s online shop was launched last July and orders have come in from as far afield as Carlisle and Devon, with the website getting visitors from 50 different countries and receiving its first international order recently from the USA.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Kevin wanted a new challenge for 2012, which is where the Gamlingay shop comes in. Meeting Fay, owner of the Crafty Cupcake, at the Gransden Show, the pair got talking and decided Kevin should rent a room at the shop. EMU had its grand opening on February 23rd this year. “It’s a perfect spot as this is very much the hub of the village,” Kevin smiles, as we hear a group of children downstairs giggling over their waffles and ice cream. “Fay hosts book clubs here, craft evenings and knitting clubs, and has therapy rooms. The great thing is that Fay and her team man the shop for me, so I have time to be restoring furniture at my workshop or hunting for the next bargain which I can turn into an upcycled piece.”

Ultimately, Kevin and Jenni would love to bring Emu to Cambridge, but for now they are happy with the progress of their haven of loveliness. “It’s going brilliantly,” Kevin enthuses. “It has been challenging but it’s very enjoyable and has given us such flexibility as a family, which is exactly what we wanted.”

Visit EMU at www.emuhome.co.uk or at The Crafty Cupcake, 28 Church Street, Gamlingay.