Pophams Home: At The Table with Lucy McWhirter
Pophams launched their homeware brand in the middle of the pandemic in August 2020. It was one of many pivots the bakery and restaurant made to survive, although they never actually shut their doors once throughout the UK’s three lockdowns. We sat down with Lucy McWhirter, the creative half of Pophams and the founder of Pophams Home, to learn more about the extension of the brand and how it continues their ethos of bringing together food, interiors and design.
Tell us a little bit about the Pophams story — how did it all begin? What’s your role behind-the-scenes?
I’ll always remember the conversation I had with Ollie back in early 2017 when he told me he was going to open a bakery. He had visited many bakeries around the world while working in F1 and he felt London was lacking innovation on the pastry front. After working as a chef in Islington he knew it would be the spot to do it. He soon acquired a derelict chemist just off Essex Road and began work with his friend Fraser. That was that, Ollie was to open a bakery and our lives would change forever!
“The work that goes into producing the croissant is so mega so we felt it was important to incorporate as many artisanal products within the surroundings to do it justice. We take our influences from places like Scandinavia and Japan; keeping things minimal yet soft.”
My first ever job was working in a bakery at the weekends during my later school years so it seemed to make total sense. I was working as an assistant to an Interior Designer at the time but played a big part in the build and making decisions on the design. I guess my role has always been focused on the creative side of the Pophams brand, how we communicate with our customers and the feeling they get when they come in to one of our sites. A few months after opening and things started to pick up, I quit my job and joined full time.
The Pophams brand is so recognisable, from the pastries to the bakery interiors. How did that style come together and develop from your first bakery in Islington to the restaurant Hackney?
A huge influence for us is Yvonna, Ollie’s mum. Yvonna owns a contemporary gallery in West London and introduced us to Jess Joslyn who made all of the beautiful stoneware you see in our bakeries. The work that goes into producing the croissant is so mega so we felt it was important to incorporate as many artisanal products within the surroundings to do it justice. We take our influences from places like Scandinavia and Japan; keeping things minimal yet soft.
You launched Pophams Home in August 2020, and we’re pretty happy we can finally get our hands on those Pophams coffee cups. What was it that made you venture into homeware? Was it something you’d always wanted to do?
It’s definitely always been something we have discussed in the past but things were going 100 miles an hour for us so there was no chance to sit down and work out how we could! When the first lockdown happened, although we were keeping busy with deliveries, it gave us the chance to focus on getting it going.
We felt like homeware was a natural extension of our brand and a nice way to expand Pophams without jeopardising our product. Ceramics have always been such a love of mine so this has been a really enjoyable project for me!
We share the philosophy that the plate you eat on, the mug you drink from and the interiors that surround you can transform the experience of eating. Why do you think those details are so important? What do they bring to that experience?
Yes, totally! Eating is a sensory experience, so there’s something really important about the visual and tactile nature of what you eat from and how it adds to the food and drink itself. It’s something we approach in the bakeries, the restaurant and the Pophams Home range, and every time we source something new it’s important to imagine how it will be used and how it will feel in the home. There’s quite a bit of crossover now – pieces from Pophams Home are influencing our interiors in both bakeries. We love the idea that customers who enjoy themselves with us can take home a little piece of the experience.
How do you source and choose the products that you sell on Pophams Home?
A lot of the makers we work with are those we use in the bakeries. We definitely have some firm customer favourites such as Jess Jos and Skye Corewijn who make up the entire collection we use onsite. However, we’ve really expanded the Home range since launching and sought out some new ceramicists and makers who our customers might not have heard of yet. We do a lot of digging to look for new, exciting names – in lockdown most of our sourcing was online but we’re really excited to get involved with trade shows and visiting studio sales! Often our makers will be local so it feels great to be part of a community of local artisans.
You place a lot of emphasis on individual makers and their stories — what is it that draws you to those people? Why is it important to you to tell those stories?
As a small business we think it’s important that makers are credited for their work – we’re proud to be associated with them and we want our customers to be able to connect with the artists and their products too. We tend to keep the range quite dynamic, often only stocking limited runs of products and working with artisans who really invest in their work. We enjoy giving customers the opportunity to know the story behind their pieces and appreciate the process.
Coming from running a bakery and restaurant, what has it been like launching something completely new? Is homeware and retail a completely different world, and how do you now juggle the two?
The look and feel of the brand, and the aesthetic and design of the bakeries has always been my main focus so I don’t feel as if I’m juggling — I feel so grateful for the chance to work on a side of the business I really enjoy. We have such an amazing team at Pophams, and everyone has been so supportive as we’ve worked to get Pophams Home off the ground. Although I underestimated how much longer it takes to pack a ceramic tea pot vs. packing up a croissant!
Before you go, we have to know… what’s your favourite pastry?
Marmite Schlossberger, I eat at least one a day.
Lucy’s Pophams Pantry
Five items that you always have in your pantry, or couldn’t live without.
2. Asian sauces, soy, sesame, rice wine etc
3. Peanut butter
5. Sriracha Mayo
…Oh dear it doesn’t sound very nutritious!
Shop Pophams Home – a curated selection of homewares, ceramics and pieces for every day life that you will likely have spotted in the bakery but also from artisans and makers all over the world.