Home   Homes and Gardens   Article

Interiors: How Nara Cambridge makes a house a home

Alexandra Bishop is founder of new interiors brand Nara Cambridge, fast becoming known for its timeless accessories. Lisa Millard meets her

Alexandra Bishop (58165176)
Alexandra Bishop (58165176)

What’s the Nara story?

Things don’t make a home, but quality homewares can certainly make living in one more enjoyable. In trying to find items for my own home I found the choices were slim and the prices astronomical. It soon became clear from conversations with family and friends that I wasn’t the only one looking to simplify life by investing in fewer, better things, but being put off by the mark up added by some retailers. So, I began to commission pieces for myself direct from producers – objects which were beautifully made using traditional skills and techniques and the rest, as they say, is history.

My first love has always been art and design – I studied art and history of art and spent summers working for the London auction houses. I had my sights set on being a specialist in Asian or 20th Century art and antiques, but a 'Sliding Doors' moment led me down a different path and I built my career in marketing and communications. Nara Cambridge ties the two neatly together as my love and knowledge of different styles and eras of art and architecture helps with product design and online retail is all about marketing.

Where does Cambridge figure in your life?

I’m East Anglian born and bred but, I’m a relative newbie to Cambridge – eight years and counting.

I adore Cambridge. It’s a quintessentially British city bursting with beautiful architecture, art, and culture, but, at the same time, at the cutting edge of science and technology. It’s the perfect fusion. My favourite city location is Kettle’s Yard. I love the quiet surrounds of the house and gallery which are full of beautiful things including the most incredible collection of 20th Century art.

How do you source what you sell?

For us, it’s important that our customers can shop with confidence knowing that our products have been thoughtfully designed and made and will bring them joy for many years to come. So, our journey always starts with finding the right artisans and craftspeople who are exceptional at what they do. This is a lengthy process and can take months to get right. Then we’ll start discussing designs. Sometimes we know exactly what it is we want to be brought to life for us, other times we work with classic designs but add our own twist.

Sadly, the combination of COVID-19 and a disability means I can’t travel to meet most of the craftspeople we work with, but to be honest, as much as it would be wonderful to meet them in person, technology means it’s no longer a necessity. Less travel also means we can keep our carbon footprint down which can only be a good thing.

Is sustainability important to the brand?

Unquestionably. We try to do all we can to reduce our impact on the planet. From the outset, Nara Cambridge has been built on the notion that you buy once and buy well – heirloom pieces which have been made to be loved, last and be handed on. Which is why we are so passionate about the quality and workmanship which goes into our products. We make no bones about working with carefully chosen craftsmen and women who have been hand-picked because they are the very best at what they do and are treated compassionately and fairly by their employers, but this does mean that our products sometimes travel a fair distance to get to us.

So, we’ve tried to find ways to offset this by moving as much of our stock as we can by train instead of planes and boats because we know it is better for the environment. We also reuse and recycle every scrap of packaging. This means that sometimes, the outer box our products arrive in might not look its best, but we believe it’s worth it for the sake of our planet. We are also doing all we can to work with suppliers who care about the planet as much as we do - everyone from the companies which print our labels to our couriers.

How would you describe Nara’s style?

Classic with a twist. It’s about understanding and having an appreciation for heritage, but reinterpreting it for today. It’s very much a product of my upbringing. My maternal grandparents spent much of their early adult lives travelling the world with my mother in tow. Growing up, theirs and our family home were filled with objects from Africa, Asia and the Americas, mixed with classic English antiques and artwork. It’s this fearless combination of different eras and styles which I love because they work in any setting whether it’s a country home or a modern townhouse.

Are you entirely online or do you pop up?

We’re predominantly online, but nothing beats meeting our customers at events so we pop up when we can. We’ve a packed diary of events this winter, including Presents Galore in Newmarket and we’re delighted to be guests of Her Grace, Louise Duchess of Bedford who is hosting the Woburn Luxury Gift Fair in aid of the NSPCC. The best way to find out where we are popping up is by following us on Instagram or visit the events section of our website.

Any challenges?

Everything about setting up your own business is a challenge, but in a good way. Life is a constant juggle with Nara Cambridge, children, and my disability, but I have the most amazing husband and without his support none of this would be possible.

What can we look forward to?

We’ve been working on some beautiful calabash-shaped lamp bases which we’ll be adding to our collection shortly. Lighting is such an important aspect of any interior space – helping to create rooms which feel welcoming and homely - so this is a big moment for us.

Alexandra shares her favourite Nara Cambridge things:

Nara Xian Barrel Seat (58165164)
Nara Xian Barrel Seat (58165164)

Xian Barrel Seat

These barrel or drum-shaped ceramic seats are perfect places to perch, but work equally well as end tables, as a footrest or display space. I love them because of their versatility – they’re the Swiss army knife of the interior’s world. Price: £245

Nara Salander Ceramic Jar (58165158)
Nara Salander Ceramic Jar (58165158)

Salander Ceramic Jar

One of my favourite products, these are hand-painted for us with confident brush strokes by an amazing group of artists in the Jiangxi Province of China. Price: £46.

Nara Plume Feather Napkin (58165140)
Nara Plume Feather Napkin (58165140)

Plume Feather Napkin

Our hand-stitched linen napkins are a best seller and make a great gift. They wash well too! Price: £12.

Nara Faux Artichoke (58165079)
Nara Faux Artichoke (58165079)

Faux Artichoke

Nobody can resist a squeeze of these faux artichokes when we pop up at events. Hyper-realistic but, unfortunately, they don’t count towards your five a day. Price: large £6, small £4

Nara Jiangxi Bowl (58165087)
Nara Jiangxi Bowl (58165087)

Jiangxi Bowl

Our Jiangxi bowl features traditional blue and white motifs of dreamy landscapes in far-off lands making it magnificent as a centrepiece or for serving up salads. Price: £135

Nara Saru Napkin Rings (set of 6) (58165162)
Nara Saru Napkin Rings (set of 6) (58165162)

Saru Napkin Rings (set of 6)

I have a bit of a weakness for monkeys and these mischievous chaps add a playful touch to table settings. Price: £32

See nara-cambridge.com for more and to shop

Read more

More by this author