The creation of mother and daughter artists, Sam and Denise Allen, to call The Shop Floor Project an online shop would be to under-sell it. Going through its virtual front door (cue the tinkle of a virtual door bell) feels more like entering a gallery or a museum, such is the level of care that's gone into the design of the site itself. It's a beautiful site full of beautiful things – from hand-printed silk scarves to brilliantly quirky ceramics and kitchen linens, plus wallpaper, jewellery and more.
We chatted to Sam and Denise to find out how they did it:
What inspired you to create The Shop Floor Project?
Denise: We've always wanted to create the most exciting online space possible - a site which offers an alternative to the usual. An online treasure trove where customers can browse and have fun finding work by independent designers from around the world.
The site itself is beautiful and feels as much like a trip to a museum as a retail experience. Was that important to you when creating it?
Sam: Thanks - we're really pleased the museum aesthetic comes across. We both have fine art/museum curating backgrounds and we wanted to create a space that was inspired by our favourite places and buildings and that also reflected our tastes. We didn't know if other people would respond well to it as we were deviating away from the tried and tested website formula. But we thought 'if we like it there must be others that will too' and it was great to be awarded Best Site Design last December at the Online Fashion Awards - where over 40,000 people voted for their favourite sites.
How do you decide what products to feature on the site?
Denise: We support and collaborate with independent designers from all over the world, but we tend to concentrate our support on home grown designers that use British manufacturers to produce their collections, which helps maintain the few factories and workshops we still have left in this country.
Sam: One of our main aims is to select collections that we'd be happy to sell for a long period of time rather than just for one season. This has proven a really successful concept - our best seller is the Erica Weiner Bumble Bee Necklace that we have sold again and again for three years and which we constantly sell out of.
Do you have a favourite product at the moment?
Sam: My favourite piece at the moment is the Lion Porcelain Sculpture by artist Sophie Woodrow - I have never seen anything like Sophie's work - I want to buy a piece now before they're impossible to get hold of!
Denise: On my wish list is Clara Francis' Red Merian Butterfly necklace which she created exclusivity for the shop. It is so beautiful and needs to be seen to be believed. The intricate beading with subtle shades creates an amazing affect - it's like something from the 1920's.
Tell us about the Menagerie Exhibition currently featured on the site
Sam: The Menagerie exhibition is part of our online exhibition programme. The Menagerie brings together independent designers from around the globe who use the natural world as a source of inspiration for their designs. The exhibition is set within a virtual natural history museum and there are a series of atmospheric, dark rooms with illuminated exhibits from knitted sculptures of coral and squid to the minuscule silver cast of the pelvis of a mouse. It's our favourite exhibition so far - Denise is currently developing the next exhibition which explores the world of the miniature which will launch in 2011.
Which other design sites and shops do you admire?
Sam: Willow and Stone is a fantastic online shop especially if you are decorating or renovating - I love the handmade blacksmith nails. They also support British manufacturing.
Denise: For quirky children's decorations I love French site Appoline - a fantastic website and beautifully made objects.
Do you have a favourite homeware designer?
Sam: I used to work for the designer Neisha Crosland and it was such a wonderful time - full of textiles, prints and wallpapers - I just love the unusual colours she uses in her work.
Denise: I really love post-war utility design, in particular the designer Gordon Russell - it's the combination of economy of material and craftsmanship that is really appealing.
Is your home a shrine to all things sold on the site?
Sam: Oh yes! From chairs stacked with cushions to our jewellery boxes stuffed with our collections. Friends often leave with a little treat under their arm. We both have our eyes on one of Alice Pattullo's prints that we've just launched.