Lovely things inspired by lovely places, made by lovely people.
Based in rural Northumberland, ibbi is an online store that will bring your home interiors to life in more ways than one. Whether it’s a throw, ceramics, tableware or embroideries, the uniqueness of an ibbi piece is sure to start a conversation – but the real story is in its origin.
ibbi is all about the journey. All products have a story to tell. Hand-painted ceramics come from Potterswork – hidden away in the quiet suburb of Muizenberg, Cape Town; tableware is inspired by the pristine blue waters of Southern India; and bespoke basketry makes its way over from Collaborative Craft Projects, Zimbabwe.
The journey is vast; and for founders, Eliza Browne-Swinburne, Anna Kirkup and Claire McAlpine, it’s important to go straight to the source, working closely with designers and producers from start to finish.
“We work with small cooperatives and family businesses; people who are creating their products in safe, secure environments in India and Africa,” explains Claire.
“The artisans we work with use traditional skills passed down from generation to generation, and their designs are often deeply rooted in their country’s traditions,” she adds.
From the initial designs and the love and dedication that goes into producing these quaint pieces overseas, to the running of the business back home in rural Northumberland, care and consideration is key – every step of the way.
It’s a real passion for everyone involved. A dream turned into reality…
“Claire, Anna and I all had children at the same school,” explains Eliza.
“We rowed together at Hexham Boat Club too – so we were all great friends.
“We often talked of our desire to run our own business selling carefully-sourced ‘good things’ for the home. There were many plans and discussions, and when the opportunity to travel to India together to meet artisans arose, we grabbed it!”
The idea was born in Northumberland and inspired by the wonders of the world, but the rolling, North East countryside was always going to be ibbi’s home.
“Eliza and Anna’s families have lived in Northumberland for a long time,” says Claire.
“I came here as my husband was working in the North East, but how lucky we are to live in such a wonderful part of the world, and to have found each other and share our passions,” she adds.
“The huge skies, the deserted beaches, and the rugged, rural landscape. What’s not to love?”
The trio travel far and wide in search of creative ideas and to meet suppliers, but home is a constant source of inspiration, too.
“We take huge inspiration from the wild Cheviots, the stunning coastline and the winding rivers this beautiful county has to offer,” says Anna.
“We can often be found photographing our vintage throws in the sand dunes of Embleton Bay, where the light can be so dramatic – just perfect for our lifestyle imagery.”
Three is definitely not a crowd when it comes to combining the creative minds of Eliza, Anna and Claire.
Every source, item and campaign is born out of an idea bounced between the three artistic ladies. ibbi was brought to life because of a shared interest, but unique style and personality is also evident and reflected in the collection.
“We all love colour. We are very anti-dull, drab beige,” says Claire.
“You can see this in all of our collections; vibrant ceramics from South Africa, pretty block-printed tableware from Jaipur, richly-glazed Tamegroute pottery from Morocco and beautifully bold kantha throws from West Bengal. There’s something for all tastes, but we understand that everyone has a different style, so we’re extremely practical with what we supply.
“We’re not about entire makeovers. That’s why we love mixing the old with the new. We love the power of colour, and how a few, carefully-sourced pieces can add so much personality to a space.
“Vibrancy and authenticity brings happiness to any home.”
The ladies’ love of all things cool, colourful and crafty has opened up opportunities and has allowed them to make creative connections across the globe.
An artistic journey that has taken them on a worldwide journey, collecting as they go. “We first started travelling to India back in 2012 and were instantly struck by the vibrant and beautiful colours everywhere,” says Eliza.
“We now travel to where our suppliers are; namely Jaipur and Jodhpur where there is tons of inspiration for every collection,” she adds.
“In India, we draw on traditional designs to inspire our block print collection, which includes tablecloths and napkins. The Indians are incredibly skilled artisans and the best creatives, so encouraging our team in India to be a part of the design process is really important and helps us when choosing block designs and colours as they really do know what works well.”
Checking in with suppliers is all part of the day job at ibbi, but in the current climate, environmental sustainability is just as important.
“Initially, we were travelling to India once or twice a year, and to Africa once a year,” says Anna.
“Now we make sure we get the balance right. It’s important to travel, to source new products and to make sure we tell the stories behind our products, but it’s equally as important – from an environmental point of view – that we don’t travel unnecessarily.
“We work closely with our suppliers, who know us well now, so a lot of our work can be done via email and Skype. Just checking in as much as we can.
“We do, however, always try to meet our suppliers face-to-face before we place an order with them; that way we can introduce ourselves and they can get an idea of what we’re about.”
Travel is a fundamental part of what makes ibbi so unique. Not only does it allow the team to pick up inspiration from some of the most spectacular creatives across the globe, but it allows them to help bring business to life in smaller communities – uncovering some fascinating stories along the way.
“Chris, who runs Potterswork in Cape Town is a real character,” Claire smiles.
“She’s larger than life and determined to give dignity, creative skills and a sense of self-worth to others. She adores her craft and has transformed the lives of all who work for her, by giving them the skills to create their bold, beautiful ceramics in such a safe and secure environment.
“Deepti, based in India, is a spectacular designer with an eye for detail and an amazing skill with colour.
“She sources our kantha throws – and always makes us the most delicious veggie curry for lunch when we visit!
“Rahul and his small family business in Jaipur introduced us to the wonderful world of intricate block print, which still, to this day, uses the same traditional skills passed down through the generations.
“Visiting Jaipur and seeing the vast swathes of gloriously-printed cotton blowing in the hot Indian sunshine is very special indeed.” Much of ibbi’s inspiration may come from warmer climates, but there’s a year-round source feeding into the online store – and the autumn/winter collection is just as wonderful as the rest.
“Morocco delivers more earthy tones, and our trip to Tamegroute, on the edge of the Sahara Desert, fulfilled its promise,” says Anna.
“This is where we found inspiration for the deep rich green tableware from the clay of the Draa riverbed.
“These pieces are rustic and unique, so a perfect complement to the rest of our autumn/winter collection. You can just imagine steaming butternut squash soup being served out of one of our bowls.” Sustainable interiors are oh-so important in the current design market – something evident in this year’s autumn/ winter collection.
“We have so many beautiful new collections for the cooler months,” says Eliza.
“For years, our customers have been asking for baskets. With that in mind, we now have our first collection of rattan furniture from skilled artisans in Zimbabwe.
“The organisation we are working with only uses the very finest, locally sourced and renewable resources and expert weavers from local communities, to produce the highest quality goods.
“We also have gorgeous block-printed tableware from India in the prettiest festive colours – and lots of stunning ceramics to brighten the home over the winter months.”
The festive season is always a time for creatives to flourish, bringing a bit of artistic flair to the home as well as the studio.
“We don’t have much time to worry too much about huge decorative displays at home over Christmas,” says Anna.
“But I tend to go for lots of warm white fairy lights inside and out, and always have a locally sourced Norway Spruce (it reminds me of my childhood).
“A beautiful wreath is also a must – Flowers Unlimited in Northumberland have some fabulous arrangements.”
When they’re not travelling, checking in with creative companions overseas, or keeping up with ibbi’s inspiring new collections, Eliza, Anna and Claire like to be reminded why they chose Northumberland as the business’s – and their own – home. Why the North East is a source of inspiration, a beautiful base and an ever-evolving place to explore…
“We always like a quick bite to eat at our locals, The Beaumont and Bouchon Bistrot in Hexham, as well as a trip to Cook House in Ouseburn with the family,” says Claire.
“A fireside perch at The Rat Inn in Anick is always good,” adds Eliza.
“And the panto at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle is an absolute Christmas must!” she adds.
“If the Royal Northern Sinfonia are playing at the Sage in Gateshead, we wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Anna jumps in.
“But best of all,” says Claire.
“We’ve got beautiful beach walks on our doorstep, whatever the weather. It doesn’t get much better than Embleton and Bamburgh! How lucky we are…”
The ibbi team and their collection highlights
The vintage charpoys or Indian day beds. We source the original carved frames in Jodhpur and we have them re-strung there too. Charpoys are like hammocks on legs and they are not only incredibly beautiful, but they’re amazingly comfortable too – this is probably the reason why mine always has a dog asleep on it!
The Margo Platter – one of our best-selling ceramics created for us in South Africa. They’re so pretty and great for serving cakes or canapés. The best thing, however, is the people who create them for us. At Potterswork in South Africa, there are 25 talented artisans who have been carefully trained by the business’s owner, and they’re able to support their extended families though their work. Their colour palettes burst with strong reds and yellows, deep earthy oranges and all manner of uplifting blues and greens – all reflective of the flora of the Cape. They’re just stunning.
Our vintage kantha throws. I’ve bought them for all of my children and they absolutely love them. The throws are hand stitched by talented ladies in West Bengal. The throws are created by layering vintage saris, which are then hand stitched together with a kantha stitch. They are bold and beautiful and they’re incredibly soft to touch. The artisans who make the throws work in their local villages and don’t have to travel to big cities to find employment. The ladies get to live and work locally, meaning they can take their children to school each day – it’s very important to us.