The founder of F&P Interiors, Emma Vans Agnew, on working at Althorp House, finding a gap in the market and the joy of driving into work in Sussex
When did your journey in interiors begin?
I began my career at Colefax & Fowler in London, an international designer and distributor of luxury furnishing fabrics and wallpapers, working on some of the most prestigious houses in England and mainland Europe. It was a great place to train as the partners were some of the most celebrated interior designers in the business.
How different was the industry when you first started out?
Working at Colefax you were very much at the luxury end of the market. Our clients wanted the ‘Colefax’ look and were prepared to pay. The biggest change since I started my career is the sheer the number of design companies offering a portfolio of fabrics and wallpapers. Digital printing has reduced the barriers to entry for emerging design houses and hence the number of start-ups. The other big change is the growth of ecommerce retailers such as ourselves, which make it so much easier for customers to view and purchase a huge range of interiors products without having to leave their homes.
You worked on some prestigious projects at Colefax and Fowler. What can you tell us about them.
I worked on such a variety of projects from London apartments, hotels, restaurants and stately homes. My first ever site visit was to a stunning apartment in Cadogan Square, I assumed I was just being shown the project, but I was given a vacuum cleaner and told to get hoovering! I worked on Wiltons Restaurant in St James’s, we had to recreate the whole restaurant in a new location on Jermyn Street, making sure all the pictures within each seating area remained the same – they had clients who had been dining with them for years and always had the same seats, so it was important that they thought nothing had changed. Althorp House was very much in the press as Prince Charles had just announced his engagement to Lady Diana Spencer. We were working with The Countess Spencer on updating a number of rooms in the house, and eventually even the nursery. Although I am not sure baby William ever slept there!
When did you launch fabricsandpapers.com and what inspired it?
We founded fabricsandpapers.com in 2000 in a converted stable at home when the vast majority of internet retailers were offering only books, music and holidays. We wanted to fill a gap in the market by becoming one of the first ecommerce companies to sell designer fabrics, wallpaper and lighting to consumers. We wanted to make it easier for customers to find beautiful designs as the existing distribution of these products was extremely patchy.
What did you offer from the start?
From the outset we offered designer wallpaper, curtain and upholstery fabrics, although our choice of products was quite limited in those early years – we now offer thousands of different wallpaper and fabric styles from over 120 different designers. It was quite a jump for many of our suppliers to embrace the internet, but thankfully now we receive their whole hearted support.
Why did you rebrand as F&P Interiors in 2016?
By 2016 the business had grown significantly and we needed to register a business name which reflected both our retail website and our bespoke interior design service.
Today, what do you offer?
We continue to offer designer wallpaper, curtain and upholstery fabrics, but have added lighting, rugs, paint, furniture (both bespoke and our own collection) and a bespoke curtain making service. We also provide an upholstery service for customers’ own furniture that is in need of an overhaul, together with an interior design service.
Are there particular parts of your business that are in demand?
Our interior design service is proving very popular and we have a range of small and large projects on the go at the moment. As people have become used to video calls, so we are able to manage projects overseas with consultations on Zoom and have projects on the go here in the UK and further afield in the US, Kenya and Switzerland.
As we head into AW22, are there particular trends to look out for?
I think we will continue to see an extension of the trend to bring the outdoors inside with warm earthy colours and hues such as mustard yellow and deep greens. Deep textures will be popular for this time of year such as velvet, tweeds and tartans and thick linens.
How would you define your own home style Emma?
We live in an 18th century Sussex farmhouse and when we moved in over 25 years ago I was keen to use many beautiful traditional designs as part of the redecoration process. But now there are lots of beautiful traditional designs with a contemporary twist, and so in recent years I have been exploring some of these options to add a contemporary vibrancy alongside many of the traditional features.
Why is Woodmancote perfect for your showroom?
We now have our own large showroom in a converted barn in a rural location near Woodmancote so we have a great space to show customers our range of furniture as well as our wallpaper, fabrics, furniture and soft furnishings. Our staff live in a 20 mile radius from Lewes to Lancing and Woodmancote is an ideal place to be based.
What do you love about the area?
Every morning when I arrive at work I have a wonderful view of unbroken countryside to the South Downs. Whatever your mood, it is totally uplifting and inspiring for the day ahead. We are very fortunate to live and work in such a beautiful county.