Business inspired by a Thai holiday

2011-07-29 00:00

IN 2001, a holiday to Thailand finally galvanised Tracey Beaumont to start a venture that had been simmering at the back of her mind. Although working as a medical rep at the time, Beaumont had been taking an interest in what décor shops around KwaZulu-Natal were stocking. Beaumont could not quite put her finger on it, but she had a sense that something was missing. She found that something in Thailand, where huge markets of local arts and crafts provided her with just the items she was looking for. Inspired, she started shopping in earnest, thinking that if she could not find a market for her purchases in South Africa she would use them to decorate her own home.

Beaumont clearly remembers that first consignment. “We took our purchases back to our hotel, wrapped them in bubble wrap and packed them into those plastic stripey bags that you see the informal traders using. We put the bags onto a ship and hoped for the best,” Beaumont said.

Once she got back to South Africa, Beaumont’s medical repping changed to décor repping. She had a catalogue made up and travelled from Ballito to Port Edward and all over the midlands. A small décor shop in Scottborough became her first regular costumer and the shipment that started it all went quickly. Saturdays were spent manning a stall at the Essenwood Market in Durban. “I had a good response at Essenwood, but it was hard work and because I had to pay for the stall whether I was there or not, going away became impossible.”

So, too, began her regular travels to the Far East. She continued to travel to Thailand, but started looking further afield, away from the markets in Bangkok to where the crafters lived in Chiang Mai, north of Bangkok. “The arts and crafts in Bangkok were sold by agents for the crafters so it was more expensive to buy from the agents than it was to buy directly from the crafters in Chiang Mai,” said Beaumont.

Tired of constantly being in her car and with an advancing pregnancy making manning the stall at the Essenwood Market exhausting, Beaumont finally opened her own shop in 2002 in a wooden Wendy house on the premises of a local nursery. She called her shop Touchwood Interiors.

Beaumont’s quest for beautiful items with a difference extended to Indonesia. Much of the stock had a similar look to the items purchased in Thailand, although, Beaumont admits, they tended to be a little more mass-produced. Shopping was done at markets and at factories where she was able to design her own furniture which would be made there and shipped back to South Africa for her.

“It was in Indonesia that I filled my first 20-foot container,” Beaumont said. “I found Indonesia a more viable shopping destination and eventually gave up Thailand and focused exclusively on the markets and factories in Indonesia. The prices were better and the shipping costs were lower.”

Beaumont travels to Indonesia about twice a year where she has an agent who collects her at the airport and takes her shopping. “We travel by motorbike to the villages where the crafters live. Wio has been my agent for five years and is my eyes and ears. He is constantly on the lookout for new suppliers, follows up on orders and makes sure that everything is shipped. When he finds new stock that he thinks I would be interested in, he e-mails me the pictures,” Beaumont says.

Beaumont has now settled in her new, bigger premises inside the nursery. The shop is a delight to visit and a cursory glance around reveals a French colonial style interspersed with Eastern smalls. “I’m moving away from Eastern-influenced items and will be concentrating on the French look,” Beaumont says. “I tend to follow the trends in Europe which are very French-influenced at the moment.”

Touchwood Interiors has a distinctly feminine feel about it — the lines are rounded and soft, the small details are intricate and ornate, and the colours range from gentle pastels to darker, bolder colours that draw the eye as you walk through the glass doors. White and silver frames encrusted with ceramic roses jostle for space with pretty cushions, while delicate bamboo bird cages add a touch of whimsy.

Beaumont says: “I choose every item myself. I look for unusual pieces, mixing old with modern.” By modern Beaumont refers to some exquisite silver-plated vases, bowls and jugs that would look equally at home on a tea tray or filled with blowsy roses on a dining-room table. An old-fashioned chaise is upholstered in a trendy, modern fabric, while a pair of bright-pink chairs are a must-have for that dramatic boudoir.

If you want to create some French flair in your home or simply wish to have something beautiful to look at, pay Touchwood Interiors a visit. I guarantee that you will not leave empty-handed.

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