Twenty-five years ago, Kally Ellis ploughed her £14,000 pay-off from a short career in merchant banking into a fading flower shop in Shoreditch called McQueens. She kept the name, ditched the shop’s dowdiness and stuck strictly to her mantra — sell simple, stylish flowers, beautifully presented, to the London market.
Now Ellis has a £3 million business with a big new HQ — also in the East End, in Bethnal Green — a shop in Claridge’s and contracts with London’s leading restaurants, stores and hotels. She makes annual trips to LA to dress the Vanity Fair post-Oscars party and to New York for Robert de Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival.
MY LATEST PROJECT
It is our new HQ in Bethnal Green, where our shop, school, warehouse and workshop are all under one roof. The building is an old Victorian factory and took five months to renovate, but it was worth it.
I love the vibrancy of the area — it’s full of creative start-ups, galleries and restaurants, just as Shoreditch was when we started there 25 years ago this week.
WHERE I LIVE
I live in a four-storey Victorian house in Tufnell Park, north London, with my husband Damian Kelleher, the children’s novelist, and our two children, Freddie, 22, and Sophia, 21.
We’ve lived here for 18 years, around the corner from the house I grew up in. Tufnell Park Road is fabulous — we’ve got a butcher, Turkish greengrocer and incredible French eateries. The area is very green. We have three parks, which is a plus for bringing up a family.
I think we all need to shake the London dust off our feet, so we have a country bolt hole in Norfolk that is a great weekend escape.
Just a few flowers and foliage picked from my own garden — hydrangeas, Japanese anemones, olive sprigs — in a jug on my kitchen table make me feel happy. In winter, I love our wood-burning stove. I light Cire Trudon’s scented candles in every room — I’m obsessed with the Ernesto fragrance, which has overtones of Havana, tobacco and wood panelling.
MOST COVETED OBJECT
I’m a fan of the artist Demetrios Psillos. He has a great sense of colour and humour in his work. We both have Greek roots, so I understand his references. His paintings are happy, quirky and bright — just what I want on my walls.
I’ve coveted Pinch’s three-seater Claude sofa ever since I first saw it in Liberty. It was the first thing I bought when I purchased our Norfolk home three years ago. The shape is contemporary, but the fabric is what stole my heart — wild, white anemones scattered over fine grey velvet. It’s in our bedroom. I adore it.
I’m fascinated by the history of British interiors, so I love wandering around Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. He was the first person to play with light in the home, and he was brilliant at creating space. I’ve also just discovered the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, round the corner from our new base.
GREAT INTERIORS STORES
There’s a great little antiques shop in Cross Street, Islington, called Fandango. It’s tiny, but they have real treasures. Columbia Road Market is a huge draw for flower lovers, but there are interesting shops, such as Two Columbia Road, which has beautifully crafted vintage furniture and lighting. Then I always pop into the Rebecca Louise Law gallery at number 100. Rebecca is a talented artist who works with flowers and creates breathtaking installations.
The sublime Persephone Books, in Lamb’s Conduit Street, sells rediscovered classics by female authors, all beautifully designed so they look lovely on your shelves, too.
Round the corner in Rugby Street, Pentreath & Hall has unique ceramics, French glassware and gorgeous table linen. I’m also a huge fan of Labour And Wait in Redchurch Street, Shoreditch, for utilitarian and stylish enamelware, aprons, pots and pans.
There’s a tiny letterpress print firm in Fortess Road, Tufnell Park, called Harrington & Squires, which produces the most exquisite cards, booklets and calendars. The owners, Vicky Fullick and Chrissie Charlton, also run courses in letterpress printing.
FAVOURITE FLOWER FOR DISPLAYING
Garden roses smell divine, look fabulous and, because you pick them, are beautifully fresh. The first flower of the season, such as lily of the valley, always thrills me.
FLOWERY TRICKS TO DECORATE YOUR HOME
- Use lots of little vessels for flowers instead of one huge vase. Recycle glass bottles — jam jars, milk bottles, old perfume bottles or vintage glasses — and create groups across tables and other surfaces.
- For a special event, using a mass of one type of flower or one colour and repeating the look in vases of different shapes and sizes makes a strong statement.
- Don’t relegate pots of herbs to the kitchen. Rosemary and thyme look pretty in the bathroom and add an aromatherapy hit.