Oliver Bonas founder, Oliver Tress: 21 quick-fire questions

Homewares and fashion store Oliver Bonas has become a familiar and much-loved high-street presence during the last two decades. As the store celebrates 21 years in the business, we ask founder Oliver Tress 21 quick-fire questions.

Oliver Bonas stores sell everything from colour-popping velvet tub chairs and home accessories, to fashion, jewellery and quirky gifts. Entrepreneur and founder Oliver Tress has previously been named as one of London's most influential tycoons and retailers, after his first "lifestyle" store on the Fulham Road in 1993 launched a chain of 42 stores that are soon to feature in every major city from Brighton to Edinburgh.

We headed to Olly's House, where the store's birthday celebrations were being hosted, to find out how the brand started, why it has become so popular, and what's next...

1. Firstly, happy 21st! How are the celebrations going so far?
Oliver Tress: It's been quite emotional - and a real focus point, it really brings home all the things we're doing and all the things we have done.

2. Is this where you thought you would be, when you opened your first shop on Fulham Road?
I was very ambitious but I didn’t have a vision as such, then. It was a case of getting the the ball rolling and seeing where it went.

3. What did you add to Fulham high-street?
The mix of products we sold was a magpie collection of seemingly random lifestyle 'things' including furniture, gifts, jewellery, bags, accessories and homeware. That was pretty unusual for a shop at the time, some people were confused by it, others loved it. 


4. Where did you source your wares?
I couldn't have been more naive - I bought everything from the Far East until, a few months in, I discovered the existence of these magical things called 'trade shows' and the doors to British products were opened.

5. And where do you buy from now?
Now, we've come full circle and are buying from overseas as well as the UK. Thailand have an amazing handcrafted silver industry.

6. What is your favourite object from the current range?
I've had a fixation on a pre-retro drinks trolley for a while, and found it on a recent buying trip to India. It was a real eureka moment. It's says: "lets take this party seriously." It's been very popular and received a lot of press, so I feel vindicated in my pursuit.


Let's take this party seriously: with a Malibu drinks trolley

7. What criteria does a design have to meet to be sold by Oliver Bonas?
"Do you love it?" is the question we ask all our designers and buyers. We're in the retail and curiousity business - you've got to be passionate about the product.

8. When did you start designing for yourselves?
Strictly speaking, I was designing furniture almost from day one. I knew a blacksmith who had a foundary in Fulham and a guy who importanted French oak floorboards, and I sketched the designs. It was very time-consuimg, we didn't make many and we probably didn't sell many either! We've brought real designers into the business in the last couple of years.

9. What are the latest trends in furniture and interiors?
The vibe I get is that it's all about personal expression. There's a sense of cleanliness coming through - vintage and 'shabby chic' have passed their sell by date. 

10. And with customer behaviour?
People are buying less, but they're buying well. 

11. How can design enhance city living?
Humans need a rounded existence, and amazing design, such as the Thomas Heatherwick garden bridge - championed by Joanna Lumley - helps to create that. £150 million on a bridge sounds frivilous, but it's part of helping a city to look, feel and operate brilliantly - and Londoners seem to understand that.

12. And our home lives?
In London we're so space poor, thinking about storage has to take priority. Then it comes back to buying less, and buying well.

13. What are your top tips for buying interiors?
Always back your personal taste and don’t compromise on the special pieces - if you need to economise be clever about where you spend your money. Put photographs on the walls and make your own art. Aim to wake up in the morning and think 'it cheers me up to live here'.


It cheers me up to live here: Olly's house in Soho showcases Oliver Tress' interiors ethos

14. What brands do you love?
There's so much humility, integrity and confidence in what Paul Smith does, I think he's great. I also like Prada for their boldness - I don’t always like their designs but I like that about them.

15. Is it a good time to get into design?
I feel the creative industries are absolutely flourishing and there has never been such a rich amount of resources to stimulate you. Creativity is no longer just a bit on the side, it's becoming embedded in the way we think and solve every day problems.

16. What are your favourite design websites?
The Jealous Curator has an amazing resource of artists, and online magazines such as Design Milk really broaden the offering. Pinterest is fascinating - I have to be careful not to get too distracted by it. 

17. What are your favourite design haunts in London?
I'm on design duty 24/7, so I'm taking pictures all the time - the latest was a poster that caught my eye yesterday in Bodega Negra.

18. How does your design ethos work its way into yours stores?
With the people that work in them, we recruit on a personality-first basis - they have to be hospitable and friendly, people who like people.

19. What are the current Oliver Bonas best sellers?
Some of my favourite items - the Malibu drinks trolley and velvet tub chairs - are selling really well. As is the Padstow print prom dress and the Rosalie tea range.

20. Do you have a vision for Oliver Bonas now?
To have design at the core of the business – it's where everything eminates from. Our design is not too formulaic, we follow our instincts and it doesn’t matter if something doesn’t fit the theme, because customers don't respond to 'themes', they respond to exciting products. 

21. Where do you live, and how would you describe your home style?
I live in Clapham Junction with my wife and three children aged four, three and one. There was a time when our house was full of the prototypes that didn't make it to the shop. But now we have modern pieces, including art we've been given or collected, and lots of photographs. The childrens' rooms are fun and playful and our bedroom is - necessarily - restful.

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