An Aladdin’s Cave where Frida Kahlo sits next to beautiful vintage kimonos while Tintin and Buddha look on. Jed Novick goes in search of the Objet D’ials
I want people to feel that they’ve disconnected with the outside world and engaged with the shop when they’ve walked through the door.”
Karin Pratt is putting the finishing touches to Objet D’ials, her new art emporium. She’s at that lovely point – halfway between excited and exhausted, and I just asked her the stupidest question. What are you selling here? It all looks like Aladdin’s Cave here. Look around and… there’s Mexican the window, a row of beautiful Japanese kimonos, a Buddha, a bit of Frida Kahlo, vintage books, art, Tintin, a red velvet sofa… Everywhere your eye lands, there’s something for it to feast on.
“When people walk in and look around, I want them to feel like they’ve gone on a journey,” says Karin. “I want people to engage with the shop. You know how many shops you walk in and then walk out, as an experience it leaves you empty. I want people to come in here – even if they don’t buy anything – I want them to feel they’ve disconnected with the outside world.”
Pushed for a description, Karin says “I want it to be an all-encompassing Biba-esque experience.” And if you’re going to have an aspiration, that’s not a bad one.
“You just browse. There’s a café – but only a small percentage of our life is as a café. We’re going down the cafetiere or pot of tea route. We’re not doing takeaway or trying to be a café. The shop is artisan and in the summer there’ll be tables and chairs outside.”
So let’s go back to the beginning. Who are you and how did you get here? “We live next door and this shop used to be the garage for the house. My husband has looked into the history of the house and has always wanted to put it back together, to bring it back. I’ve worked in shops (and the oil industry, and tourism and hotels…) but I’d never had a shop. I had a feeling it was going to come on the market and one day we were sitting in the garden and a friend said ‘Come here, there’s a guy in the street with a clipboard outside the shop.’
And you ran outside and said “Stop!”?
“More or less.”
To anyone opening a shop in 2020, it’s the obvious question to ask, so let’s just ask it. You’re setting up a new shop from scratch, how much of a nuisance has lockdown been? “Not really that much of a problem because I knew it was coming. We’ve had a four-week turnaround – we bought it at the end of November and…”
Hang about. Stop. You only got hold of this at the end of October?
“Yes, the 23rd. We came straight in after getting the key and started with the paint…”
That’s just… That’s amazing.
“Was it longer? I’m so tired… It’s gone really quickly, I know that.”
While it’s Karin’s shop, Karin’s idea, Karin’s dream, she’s very keen to support Sussex based suppliers for my local goods. “The idea of helping and promoting local produce and business is really important. We’re very lucky to have a shop and while it’s OK to be online, if you can have somewhere to show your goods, that can make all the difference.”
So you’ve got?
“Well, we sell Craft House Coffee, which is based in Wivelsfield. There’s Katie’s Nuttery, who do all sorts of organic nut butters and they’re based in Henfield. We’ve got Park Farm honey, from just up the road. J.Cocoa, the chocolatier from Hassocks, and Slice, the local Seven Dials bakery and sweetmaker.”
And it’s not just about the small producers; there’s a place at the table for shops, too. “We’ve got stuff from ‘And More Again’ in Upper Gardener Street because they – Penny –goes to India a lot and she’s going to have a permanent feature in the shop because she fits what I like, the vibe.”
So are you going to expand into things like local cheeses? “My core is art, that’s what the vibe is. The heart of the shop is community, but my core is art. If we can bring those things together…”
We hear so much about the death of the high street, about big stores closing, about how people only shop online. But maybe this is what the future will look like, post-Covid when big high street shopping has recalibrated. Community-based shops that work together, that help each other, that support other local businesses.
“There are so many lovely people here and if we can all work together we can only make everyone stronger, and have more fun while we’re doing it”