HOUSE OF ORANGE INTERVIEW WITH URSULA
Started just on a decade ago in a back laneway of High Street Armadale’s shopping precinct, House of Orange has grown into a leading Australian lifestyle brand, producing a stunningly simple collection of furniture with an unmistakable Dutch aesthetic.
Owned and run by husband and wife duo, Ursula and Hans van Schoonhoven, House of Orange strive to deliver all the best qualities of authentic Dutch design to Australian shores at prices that wont break the bank.
Having recently featured there practical, versatile and oh-so stylish Frankie Bunk in our Liberty Belle campaign, we caught up with owner Ursula and found out a little bit more about her beautiful, Melbourne based brand, House of Orange.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND THE STORY BEHIND YOUR BRAND, HOUSE OF ORANGE.
It is ten years old. It started about a decade ago in a back laneway of Armadale together with my husband – so we are a husband and wife team. We very quickly realised that we were not going to be just a shop and shopkeepers par se – we knew we had a brand to nurture and bring up into the world. We decided to take a very clear, clean line with Dutch design only. That was our umbrella - We knew that anything that we were going to do was only going to be related to Dutch. And that was really nice as we had an authentic story to tell about that – we had literally only come out of a decade in Amsterdam. We used to run an auction house together and I had a shop of my own in De Negen, which is the nine streets in Amsterdam, so we thought we would keep that story going. We also felt that Australia needed a middle ground market for homewares - There wasn’t enough available at an affordable price point. And basic – a lot of it was import, a lot of it was over the top or really awful and cheap. So that is where we started and to this day we have honed in on that.
House of Orange now comprises of a furniture range which we make in Melbourne – we still manufacture here in Melbourne. We have a five colour palette, very simple – Stonewash, New Dutch Blonde, Charcoal, Limewash and Deep Domino – So it is very neutral, neuted tones. Very, very beautiful, simple pieces that are hard to find elsewhere – consoles, storage, beds, we do a lot of bench seating, tables and shelving – all those sort of pieces that kind of make up a staple within any room is where we thrive. Then it is married together with the brand which we now import and are the distributors for South-East Asia, and that’s HK Living which is the Dutch homewares label. We have become their biggest market in the world. Australia have the biggest warehouse of HK outside of Holland. Our hub is in Richmond. Armadale and Richmond are our two retail outlets but Richmond is also a warehouse and we distribute around Australia. So those two brands have really set each other off and it adds another layer to the House of Orange which is very staple, basic and then the HK on top of that – perfect!
YOU CURRENTLY HAVE TWO BEAUTIFUL MELBOURNE BASED RETAIL SHOWROOMS. WHAT CAN CUSTOMERS EXPECT TO FIND WHEN VISITING?
The Armadale store is like our baby – it is our flagship store. It is the edit of the two brands so it is a beautiful, clean, peaceful palette of black, white and grey with a bit of natural woven through. Then our Richmond store is a massive warehouse of lighting and a really lovely, eclectic feel – so it’s a little bit more industrial. So really when they come in they are going to get a lovely, informal atmosphere of a mix of old and new with a really Nordic sensibility – really simple.
EVERY PIECE OF HOUSE OF ORANGE FURNITURE IS MADE-TO-ORDER. OBVIOUSLY IT WOULD BE A LOT CHEAPER AND EASIER FOR YOU AS A BRAND TO MASS PRODUCE – WHY DO YOU BELIEVE IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO CONTINUE TO OFFER YOUR CUSTOMERS CUSTOM MADE FURNITURE?
Because where we thrive is not the cookie cutter model, [custom made furniture] is where our strength is. We don’t want to overwhelm them with too many possibilities, so we do obviously help and dictate a certain aesthetic and we are very strong in that. But we give them options like where the ladder is going to be placed on a bunk bed or whether they want storage. Sometimes we can do a bunk bed exactly to a measurement. It is a little bit about finding that niche in the market where it does require a custom piece without necessarily a high price tag. So that is the beauty of us as sometimes with custom you find it leaves that comfortable, moderate price point and we stick with that. I think that is part of the honesty of the brand - It is really important that they exercise and embrace that lovely honesty. And I think you can feel that when you buy the piece – it is not generic, it has some feelings in it and you can see that.
ONE ASPECT OF YOUR COLLECTION IS YOUR KID’S FURNITURE RANGE. HOW DOES YOUR APPROACH TO DESIGNING KID’S FURNITURE DIFFER FROM OTHER COLLECTIONS?
To be honest, interestingly it doesn’t. That is the beauty of it! We feel that the aesthetic that we put forward for kids celebrates the intelligence of the rest of the architecture of the house rather than bringing it down. We advocate for that ourselves – we just really like quite design. We think that kids are allowed to be kids but we offer them a really nice, basic kind of palette that gives them an opportunity for to then add their personality without the furniture being too loud. We have kids of our own and we have them at good ages – we have one 10 year old daughter and one 15 year old daughter, so we can see what happens between the ages of 10 and 15. They have progressed through the evolution of our brand, so they have been fantastic guinea pigs of our products for kids, and we can see that they do change in their taste but the furniture stays timeless, so it has had longevity for us within our house and there are pieces that they still use that they were using five years ago! So if anything that is what we pride ourselves on – that we have that quite palette that is quite timeless and hardy. It is just sensible! A lot of the kid’s furniture out there is a bit ridiculous really! Our beds are all 100% certified which is important to mention as that was a really big process for us to go through to be sure that we met all of the safety standards for our bunks.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE UP AND COMING TRENDS YOU ARE SEEING IN THE KID’S INTERIOR FIELD AT THE MOMENT?
There is definitely a leaning towards what you would call a unisex, democratic kind of palette. Dutch design and kid’s bedrooms is so unbelievably democratic and unisex. It uses colours of soft, muted pastels mixed with brown – people uses brown over there which you wouldn’t dare to see but it works beautifully. Then there is black timbre even which normally for kids room you would think “really?” but it actually works beautifully. I would say rope, trunk stalls, industrial pendants, linen and bed linen has become really strong, things with tree motives, canvas – a lot of stonewash canvas – that kind of tough aesthetic almost. Harry Potter – there is a lot of that Harry Potter vibe coming in which in translating into the botanical and the jungle.
YOUR AMAZING FRANKIE BUNK BED WAS RECENTLY FEATURED IN TINITRADER’S LITTLE LIBERTY CAMPAIGN – WHAT INSPIRED THE DESIGN?
The name is named after our dog, Frankie, who has become a little bit of an icon within the shop in Armadale and now she has migrated across to Richmond. She basically slept on that bed, which used to be in the window so we decided on the Frankie Bunk. We shot it all with Frankie on it. She actually still sleeps on it in Richmond. But the bed itself, we did actually say “oh my god, there just nothing in the market with bunk beds that is attractive!” and that was probably five or six years ago. Even still till this day, that is probably why it is one of our best selling pieces because people just go “it is so simple and lovely and affordable”. There was just nothing – either they were really flimsy, hideous looking bunks or really, really over the top designer that were unaffordable really. So the design was really just a flow through from that lovely, basic robust look of our dining table and benches, with the same colour palette – it just mirrors that really.
YOU OWN AND RUN HOUSE OF ORANGE ALONGSIDE YOUR HUSBAND, HANS. WHAT SECRETS DO YOU HAVE FOR WORKING SUCCESSFULLY AS A HUSBAND AND WIFE TEAM?
In some ways I think it’s the best combination because there is an honest there that is rather unconditional. The secret though is to hone in on what the strengths are of each individual. So if you are working together as a husband and wife team it can get really tricky if you are trying to be the same thing as your partner and trying to work as one. Whereas as time progressed for us we could finally realise and accept that there were really big things that I had and he didn’t, and vice versa, so then we started to focus on what they were and then specialise on them. We kind of compliment each other but we are not trying to be the same person. So without me, I dare to say, he couldn’t cope and vice versa. So its that really nice, complimentary set of attributes.
AS A FAMILY RUN BUSINESS, HOW DO YOU JUGGLE THAT WORK-LIFE BALANCE?
Interestingly, as we are a family business in that way the girls have grown up being around the showroom, particularly the one in Armadale. We live close by the the showroom and the school is at the end of the street so a lot of the friends would come there and congregate after school. The kids have grown up having friends around in there so when people walk into our showroom it is always family friendly, there is always some food, there is always the dog – it is a really nice environment. To be honest, even though our work pretty much leads into our home life and vice versa, it kind of given us a certain freedom with our kids. We are able to take them overseas with us on trips to visit our supplier for example. Even in the mornings we don’t have that frenzy of getting them into the car, into peak traffic – that sort of lifestyle, so it has actually been pretty good. Really family friendly! And we have prioritised that as well, otherwise we would have 15 shops! But we have tried to contain it to an organic growth.
AND FINALLY, WHAT’S NEXT FOR HOUSE OF ORANGE? ANY NEW AND EXCITING THINGS PLANNED FOR 2017 OR BEYOND?
We certainly do. We are always trying to keep evolving and we are always responding to the market and to what our customers want. I think this year will be about perhaps opening a third showroom – I don’t know if I want to make that huge a statement – but we will definitely be looking at opening another retail outlet. So harnessing what we’ve got going in Armadale and Richmond, but maybe keeping it to Melbourne, then waiting a little bit longer for interstate. We do ship interstate anyway but we are thinking the mix of what we’ve got going now will work beautifully in another store. I think we are also branching out into more experiential retail. So we are trying to bring in the opportunity for people to host events within our Richmond warehouse, in the House of Orange atmosphere. We recently had a Bar Mitzvah here for a 13 year old girl and there was about 80 kids. They hired out the space and we furnished it for them and created a marquee – we actually work with a tent company now from Holland so we are offering “Glamping”. So there is quite a bit going on there! And the next biggest thing for us will be kitchens! So we are doing a whole zone on to itself which is House of Orange Kitchens, a follow on from bunks.
If you haven’t checked out either one of House of Orange’s amazing stores just yet – do yourself a favour! You can visit the House of Orange Armadale showroom at 917 High Street, Armadale or pop in to their Cremorne Warehouse which is located at 33 Cremorne Street, Cremorne. Alternatively, you can shop the easy-to-live-with House of Orange range online here