Muddy meets Ali Reid-Davies
Everyone loves H&C!
Ali Reid-Davies is one of the founders of the wonderful Home & Colonial that’s bang in the middle of Berkhamsted High Street. It was such a treat to talk to her – and over a delicious lunch. It goes without saying that she’s got great taste and style, and she’s also great fun. If you don’t know Home & Colonial (H&C) I suggest that you make a date to go to Berko and do it quickly. There are five floors showcasing 35 specialist businesses, from clocks and jewellery to vintage clothing and furniture and all beautifully presented with stories galore. And that’s before you get to the top floor where you will find the yummiest of cafés with a view over the rooftops of Berkhamsted, Black Goo. What are you waiting for?!
How did you come to be one of the owners of Home & Colonial? I sense there’s a bit of a story there.
Home & Colonial was conceived on a trip to Poland with our friends Lizzi and Tony Stanton-Kipping. My husband Graeme and I met them in the early 90s when they were converting a stable which we bought from them. We had a common interest in antiques and went on a trip together to the middle of Poland to buy and ship back continental pine furniture. Back at our hotel in Warsaw, over a few vodkas, we talked about starting an antiques business together….a month later we were buying the building that is now H&C! At the time I was working as health education advisor and expecting our daughter Carys!
Home & Colonial has been described as ‘the Liberty of Berkhamsted’. Do you think of it as a department store? Would you describe what you sell as antique, retro, vintage…?
The building definitely gives the feeling of a department store as it is on five floors. We predominately sell antiques but also have a range of retro and vintage items.
The word ‘eclectic’ is over-used. Is there another word you might choose to describe the aesthetic of your shop?
This year is your 20th anniversary. How has Berkhamsted – and particularly the high street – changed?
Berkhamsted high street has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. When H&C first opened, many shops were boarded up, as was The Rex cinema. The town felt very down at heel and Waitrose was moving from the centre of the high street to the outskirts. Many independent shops have followed in the footsteps of H&C and numerous restaurants and cafes have opened. It’s now a very vibrant and attractive place to shop.
Is there a typical H&C customer?
Not really, we have customers of all ages and backgrounds and a number of regular celebrities!
How far do people travel to visit you?
Our main customers travel within a 30 mile radius, including many from London. However, we often have visitors to Berkhamsted from all over the country, and indeed the world…..people visiting family and friends.
You have a new cafe, Black Goo, on the top floor. What do you think of the cakes? And do you think new and different people will come in to H&C now?
The cakes look and taste fantastic! Since Black Goo opened on the 1 February we’ve had hundreds of new and different people coming to H&C.
Was the building created for the original grocery store? Do you know much about the kinds of businesses that were in the building after that and before you?
In the 1920s a tea merchant called Julius Drew opened shops known as Home & Colonial which were the forerunner to today’s supermarket. There was one in Berkhamsted and a sign still remains at the side of the row of buildings where Home & Colonial is situated. Before we bought H&C, our building had been empty for 5 years and boarded up! Prior to that it was Neals Furnishings and sold upholstered sofas and chairs like Parker Knoll.
You also have your own business within the store. Can you tell us a bit about it?
I specialise in English and French Painted Antique Furniture. The pieces are chosen for their quality and are painted professionally. They work beautifully in both antique and contemporary settings and are complimented with lovely interiors such as cushions and ceramics.
What is the style of your own home?
I live in a 300-year-old farmhouse and the style is mainly English & French country antiques…a lot of my furniture is similar to what I sell in H&C.
I imagine you like France, but is there another country that you love to visit?
Italy is my favourite country.
If you weren’t the owner of H&C, is there something else you could imagine yourself doing?
I would love to have been a racehorse trainer!
Have you got any plans for a party for your 20th birthday or is it business as usual?
We’re planning a celebration with everyone in Black Goo on the top floor of H&C.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do?
I really enjoy looking after my horses, dogs, cats, sheep, chickens and ducks! Riding, walking my dogs, reading, watching films, skiing (once a year) and travelling.