Sibella Court has carved out a very successful career for herself for over 20 years, which has seen her traversing the globe and undertaking a variety of roles, such as interior stylist, creative director, product designer and author. She continues to turn everything she touches into something beautiful and dramatic, and always with a cool bohemian vibe to it, which is her signature style. It was a natural transition that saw her opening a bricks and mortar shop, after working as a prop stylist to showcase all the amazing makers and products she had discovered whilst sourcing for photo shoots. We are delighted to share Sibella’s shopkeeping journey.
Opening its doors back in 2009, and resembling an imaginarium, The Society Inc in Sydney, Australia, is housed in the old Taubmans paint factory. Built in 1901, it is a glorious 300m2 warehouse, with brick and mortar and herringbone joists, and an interior designed by Sibella using a reclaimed timber floor, and her signature layering in with sign-writing, furniture placement and lighting. Stocked beautifully with oddities and curiosities, furniture, homewares, and art, Sibella seeks her treasure locally and across the globe whenever she travels on her adventures. “I like to think of my store as a sort of hardware and haberdashery. I am completely caught up in the romance of an old-fashioned general store where you could buy the latest French silk by the yard, ribbon and needles alongside grain, flour and other dry goods. In fact the shop is akin to taking a journey through the pages of one of Sibella’s beautiful books: part magic and part installation, in a retail setting.
Her loyal customers (she sells both wholesale and retail) are an array of detail-orientated and design focused makers, crafters, architects, designers, and publicans, as well as curious retail customers who are seeking inspiration, a sense of the unusual and an experience, rather than a quick retail hit. Since her collaboration with Anthropologie, back in 2010, her hardware collection is one of the shop’s best sellers and is available now for wholesale. Sibella designed the range and had it handcrafted in India, where she has a long family history and admires that craft is an underlying and vibrant current to their daily culture. “I have used inspiration from my own collection of ageing wood and tarnished metal to create my functional hardware range – to bring back the time when the pieces you bought felt like someone had whittled them, or sharpened them to imperfection with their own hands. We’ve lost so much knowledge and understanding of the techniques and skills of old trades, as handmade becomes machine made and mass-produced, that I wanted to pay homage to them. If you can’t afford to renovate, or don’t want to, it is with these small details that you can easily transform a space.” Her collection is a tribute to honest materials: metals, rope, wood, tiny little tacks etc. fusing beauty and functionality, and using materials that are lovely to look at and inspire the curiosity to reach out and touch them.
With shelves stacked with Sibella’s own product lines, global souvenirs, handcrafted and hand-tooled treasures from local artists, furniture, soft furnishings, vintage finds, lighting, and all the other oddities and curiosities found along the way in her globetrotting adventures, The Society Inc is an interactive sensory space. According to Sibella it will never be finished and is forever changing. “It invites conversation, an exchange of ideas, and fun, as it constantly journeys from retail space to design studio.
Who or what inspires you? Travel, stories, nature, luminaries, Faye Toogood, Ilsa Crawford, artists, museums, art, makers, my blacksmith, blogs, social media, movies, books, magazines, colour and everything else in between! Life is a daily dose of inspiration!
Before I was a shopkeeper, I was…An interior stylist.
The hardest lesson learned in starting a business? How many hats you need to wear!
What tasks do you like to delegate? I like to delegate accounting, Tradegecko, Shopify, warehousing and shipping.
The best lesson you have learned opening a shop? That people like coming, and like me, will travel half way around the world to visit a shop.
What would be your advice for anyone wanting to open a shop? Buy lots of hats!
Which famous person would you like to visit your shop? Martha Stewart visited my Paddington store a few years ago, which I loved, and Terence Conran would be fun as a design guru and retail visionary.
If you weren’t a shopkeeper you would be… A Pirate!
What is your perfect day off? Surfing and rock pooling at Wategos Beach.
Can you share your five favourite shops? Can I have seven please?! Merci and Astier de Villaatte, Paris, France; Tarlo and Graham, Melbourne, Australia; Paula Rubinstein and John Derian, New York, NY; and in California Tail of the Yak, Berkeley, and Bell’occhio, San Francisco.
What is your favourite neighbourhood coffee shop? I love The Cook and Baker.
I wish I could…Fly on a magic carpet and time travel!
On the Future of Retail
As a stylist I have shopped daily for the last 25 years and I’ve found watching the shifts in retail fascinating and very exciting. These are my thoughts on the future of retail:
1.Online will never replace bricks and mortar.
2.Build it and they will come.
3.More importance will be put on bespoke and the story of the maker, a sort of anti-mass produced movement.
4.Small businesses are unique and an inspiration.
5.Social media directs inspirational purchases – Pinterest and Instagram are our great friends!
• By Stephanie Bateman Sweet The Lifestyle Editor
Warehouse 3.02 75 Mary Street, St Peters, NSW, Australia