On an unassuming road in north London sits a small warehouse to which the capital’s food stylists owe a debt and about which they maintain a certain secrecy. “We have about 500,000 items in stock, from a 1950s Formica kitchen table to handmade French ceramics,” says Piers Herron, co-owner of Backgrounds Prop Hire.
His wife, Rachael Chmielewski, joined the food-styling prop specialist in 1997 and took over its management two years later. In 2008, Chmielewski and Herron snapped up the business themselves. The space is piled with colourful paper handkerchiefs and drawers of cutlery, cocktail sticks and disposable drink umbrellas. “And who doesn’t need a spurtle,” says Herron, referring to a wood-hewn stick used to stir soup, porridge and broths.
When we visit, food stylists are measuring the lips of bowls and ogling hand-sculpted plastic ice cubes. “Tastes and styles are more adventurous now,” says Herron. “People want to recreate restaurant meals or what they’ve seen travelling. We always need to keep our stock ahead of our clients’ needs. But if they don’t like what we do have they’ll often just spray it the colour they want.”
Five years ago Darren Chew, creative director of Ho Chi Minh-based furniture-design firm District Eight, built a solid-oak fussball table for a friend. “It was a novelty,” he says. “It had such a good reception that we built another for a trade show and it grew from that.”
Alongside furniture, the eight-year-old business makes more than 1,000 ping-pong, fussball and shuffleboard tables per year. Each is made from oak or reclaimed wood and adorned with cast iron and hand-stitched leather details. The range is available in some 200 shops in 18 countries and is particularly popular with hotels and office spaces, including WeWork.
Portuguese smartphone brand Iki Mobile is proving that technology isn’t just about futuristic gadgets: sometimes it’s about going back to the basics. “We wanted to build the frame of our product out of cork, not just for aesthetic reasons but because it’s more sustainable,” says ceo Tito Cardoso.
The product is assembled in a factory outside Lisbon. “We repurpose cork that’s discarded by bringing it to our specialised laboratory and transforming it,” says Cardoso. About 95 per cent of Iki’s products are exported, with Europe and the lusophone nations of Angola, Mozambique and Brazil some of its biggest markets.
When Sam Leetham and Saasha Burns walked into a chemist to buy vitamins they were overwhelmed by choice and underwhelmed by the packaging. So it was that they created Bear vitamins, a wellness-supplement range, with the help of a team of researchers in northern Queensland. Made with plant-based ingredients, Bear offers just four products: Protect (to boost immunity); Perform (to aid clarity); Explore (for balance); and Restore (for energy).
The design of Bear’s packaging means its little brown jars are fit to adorn office desks and bedside tables. “Sam and Saasha wanted to shake up the market by offering something pared-back and premium when everything was so saturated and in your face,” says Dylan McDonough, who designed the packaging.
In it together
Co-working spaces are flourishing; with a combined total of 59 per cent of the global market, the UK (32 per cent) and the US (27 per cent) lead the way. In London, shared workplaces have almost tripled since 2007.