Independent Store Icons: Let's Talk To The Curious Department
I've always had a bit of an obsession with insects, particularly butterflies. We lived in Hong Kong when we were small where every variety was in abundance, so I like to think that I'm a bit of an expert. My parents had a huge box of butterflies up on the wall for years, their beauty preserved in Lysol. My brother James used to go butterfly hunting at the weekend with a net (he's going to totally kill me for this). This came in super handy one day when we visited the New Territories for a hike/walk with lots of whinging. We were never an outdoorsy family. The closest we'd ever got to outdoorsy was barbecuing on the balcony. During our walk, we heard a woman screaming - she'd unknowingly walked into a hornets nest and was covered from head to toe. It was as if the Candyman himself had teleported to Sai Kung.
My brave Dad didn't think twice - he whipped the net from my brother, put it over his head and rushed in to save her, whereby the hornets immediately switched their attentions. Ironically, the screaming woman received not a single sting but my Dad was covered to the point where he had palpitations and had to be given anti histamine. However, thanks to the butterfly net his face was totally clear so things could have been much worse. During the panic, my Dad had dropped his top of the range camera and cracked it. Once home, he chucked it down the stairs to ensure it was broken sufficiently for the insurance company and immediately claimed for a new one. Every cloud and all that. I blame this incident entirely for my aversion to hiking and inability to undertake anything vaguely rural.
So when I happened upon The Curious Department via Instagram, I was immediately obsessed. An independent online store run by Chris and Ross, they launched their first collection of homewares in 2016, Metamorphosis, which explores the under appreciated aesthetics found in the insect world. They take butterflies and insects and merge design and nature to create fabulous fine bone china, cushions and prints.
Their website is a joy to peruse. Black, gold and white feature heavily in their designs and there is an overall feel of serious luxury within their brand, but at a price that is affordable and achievable. They use handmade and locally produced materials such as vegan suede wherever possible and I am slightly obsessed with the boxed ethical butterflies which are totally stunning. In a world of mass production and flatpack, they embrace eccentricity, clutter, clashes and the uncommon and bring it to us with opulence and a definite feel of art deco.
Ross and Chris are also busy running The Curious Apartment, a haven of curiosities featuring all of their latest designs plus inspiration for their work. Located in Central London close to Borough Market, it's totally stunning and available to rent through their website via AirBNB. After checking it out online, I have realised this could be VERY bad for my bank balance since all of the items within this stunning apartment are available for sale.
Since their launch last year and the production of their Mandala fine bone china range via the Kickstarter project, they've gone from strength to strength and have recently been named in the Top 10 Brands To Watch by the Evening Standard. I was super happy when they agreed to answer my six questions and tell me a little bit more about themselves and how they got to the point they are now.
We need to know more about you! Please tell us :)
Hello! I’m Chris and along with my partner Ross we are The Curious Department. We’ve been together for a couple of years and at present we share our home with Yoshi, the inquisitive and demanding Russian Blue, although there’s a very real threat that a pug might join the family AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT.
Your store is absolutely beautiful in an OMG way. Tell me why you decided to open your shop.
The idea of The Curious Department started with Ross a couple of years ago when he bought his first property, which has since become known as The Curious Apartment. He had collected lots of treasures, unique gifts and antiques over the years and finally had a place to store and display them, in his modern day “cabinet of curiosities”. What dawned on him was that there was just such a gap in the market in interesting and “curious” homewares that were affordable and not mass produced beyond any semblance of it being “special”. That’s when The Curious Department was born really- that moment when he sought to design and produce homewares that reflected his passions and personality, but could also be appreciated by budget-conscious new homebuyers and interior instagrammers alike. As you can tell, Ross is the creative force behind the business!!
Fast forward a few years and there we were clicking “go live” on our online shop in August 2016, with our first collection “Metamorphosis” designed in London and produced in the UK, using local expertise and partnering with great craftspeople.
What is your own personal style?
Thing is our style is both defined and evolving; a constant juxtaposition, but parallel! We both bring completely different views and perspectives to our vision of The Curious Department, yet there’s a great sweet spot in the middle where we agree on eclectic curated clutter, affordable luxury, small doses of high drama, and have a mutual aversion for “trends”.
Ross’ personal style careers more towards the defined, in a space occupied by Victorian and Art Deco treasures, where everything is gold and black, patterns are clashing, and styles collide. Take one step inside The Curious Apartment and you’ll see what I mean…. it’s a vision of lacquered teal walls, brass antiqued lamps, 1970s gold mirrors, Ikea geometric textiles, Faberge eggs, geode skulls and a mounted dinosaur head!
My style is a little more scatterbrained, picking up influences from all over the place with a less obvious point of reference, but definitely leaning towards pop culture and mid century aesthetics. I’ve recently bought a Victorian terraced house in East London, and trying to stay true to the period charm and features whilst injecting some of my own quirky tastes is proving a challenge- but a fun one!
You know your stuff - what are your top design tips?
The best way to add “affordable luxury” is to add reflective surfaces, like gold, metallics and glass! Historically humans have placed high value on gold/metallic surfaces in the home- apparently it links back to a Neolithic desire, want and need for water! When we see reflective surfaces a subconscious part of our brain rewards us, in the same way that it used to when we discovered water by spotting it’s shiny and reflective qualities… so in a way it’s in our nature to place high value on highly reflective materials. And there are so many great metallics in the high street at the moment, and great ways to fake marble in the home, so there’s just no excuse! Go for it!
Oh and have lots of plants in your home… LOTS of plants! Although we’re slowly phasing our real ones out (because I keep killing them!) and phasing in the great faux products out there!
Who would you consider to be your design idol? Where do you get your inspiration from?
Ooh… this is a tough one! Our references vary so much it’s really difficult to pinpoint just one person, or even just one for our current mood!! OK, if you held a gun to my head right now I’d say either Jeff Koons or David LaChapelle, and Ross would probably choose Willy Rizzo or Renato Zevi. An eclectic bunch for sure!
So I've picked my five top lovelies from The Curious Department's website but it was a hard one! So many beautiful things to choose from. There's a gifting edit on their site currently that is super useful for picking something special. Here goes.
Tea Cup & Saucer £28
Part of the Insect Mandala collection dinner set, this set will make any cup of tea so much better.
Ethically made in vegan suede, this design showcases The Curious Department's favourite butterflies, from the Ulysses to the Chinese Peacock.
Real ethical taxidermy, this custom mounted butterfly is on a gold limited edition geometric print. Each butterfly is unique.