This Modern Life’s Suzanne Harmer shares her love of finding new designer-makers to create the ideal contemporary home
Instagram is bursting with home inspiration and gorgeous makes to inspire your interior design dreams, but one company that has us double clicking their perfectly curated selection of modern, and vintage-inspired items is This Modern Life.
Suzanne Harmer set up the website in 2011 after looking for inspiration for her little one’s room. Seven years on, Suzanne, her partner Danny and their three children Sammuel, Dixie and Bibi, champion indie designers, emerging makers and general Scandi-inspired loveliness for your home.
We caught up with Suzanne to get her tips on how to approach businesses about stocking your makes and what keeps her inspired.
Hi Suzanne! We love your shop. Can you tell us how This Modern Life began?
I couldn’t find the things I wanted for Sammuel’s nursery in one place online. We’d been thinking about starting a business so Danny said, ‘Why don’t you start an online shop?’, and I did! I thought I’d be able to run the business from home and play with my son, but that wasn’t really the reality when the business grew much quicker than I expected.
How do you find the designer-makers you stock?
I have found lots of suppliers via Instagram. I often see a business or maker tagged in a post and I go off to find them and see more of their work. I then approach them if it seems like it could be a good fit. We also get contacted by a lot of suppliers via email. We’re currently working on making our whole range ethical and more environmentally conscious at the moment.
Who are your favourite makers and why?
Coral from Velveteen Babies is amazing, she makes felt garlands. We used to stock her work but she’s too busy with direct orders now. I still buy from her though. We’ve recently started stocking Up! Warsaw and when they sent me a shelf for my kids’ room I was blown away by the quality. I also adore the ceramic pots by Pot Yer Tits Away Luv and Pony People.
What’s the best way for a designer-maker to approach an online shop to get stocked?
I love this question because it’s so important to get this right! We get so many emails and sadly I don’t have time to reply to everyone. Sending me all of the information is vital and can often make the difference between me ordering or not. Ideally, I like to have all of the information together, or in two attachments at most. A look book is lovely, with some info about the brand and your values, as well as some lovely images. The most important bit for me is the product info – a photo, brief description, colour or size options, product code, cost price and retail price. Make it easy for your buyer!
Can you describe your workspace and why it works for you?
We have a unit of around 1,600 square feet, which isn’t the nicest to look at but it works for us. The downstairs is used for storage, with racking for our products and a couple of computers for scanning orders. Upstairs we have a mezzanine with a photography area, kitchen and a packing area, as well as desks and sofas for lunch breaks and occasional napping!
What does your average working day look like?
I arrive at work around 10am, because I like to take the kids to school first. Firstly, I attempt to tackle a few emails and then I start working through my to-do list. The issue with me knowing everything about the business is that I’m often the only one who can do all the little bits, like fixing website glitches and dealing with stock problems. I spend a fair bit of time running up and down stairs between the office and warehouse. I have to eat at 12 or I get hanger! I deal with new products daily and I also do quite a bit of tidying on our stock and accounts system. I have a love hate relationship with accounts. I love it when everything adds up and I can close the accounting period.
How do you combine having a young family with running your own business?
It can be quite hard to get the balance right and I definitely don’t always achieve it. When I had my second child I was leaning out of the birthing pool replying to emails – I kid you not! The best thing I did for our family was getting the business out of our house. After a year and a half it had begun to take over so we moved it to a barn down the road. We have some help now, so it’s a bit different, but even when I had my third child I was interviewing people while she slept on me at two-weeks old.
I’m quite strict with my working hours. I work Monday – Wednesday and I leave work at 4pm, so I’m home for dinner and my partner can work. I do work all of those evenings though, which is usually my most productive time.
Where do you go to find inspiration?
I used to love reading interiors magazines but these days I don’t seem to have the time. Now I mainly look at Instagram and I like Pinterest, too. So many of our suppliers have amazing homes and such creative ideas, so they’re very inspiring as well.
What are your three favourite things that you stock and why?
Probably the Sebra cot / bed because it’s just a timeless classic and so beautiful. I love the Luggy by Olli Ella, a pull along basket for toddlers. It’s so nice to see pictures of happy kids moving their favourite things around. Our Noodoll soft toys also make me smile whenever I see them too.
What’s been your proudest project?
I’m really proud of setting up our website and developing the business to where it is now. Recently, I redecorated my kids’ room which I’m proud of too. I did it all myself, which was really hard work, but I loved coming up with the ideas and then making them a reality.
Name three things you can’t live without?
My phone, blankets and dark chocolate.
Who would your dream collaboration be with?
I am hoping to collaborate with Suzy Ultman soon, she’s a brilliant illustrator and I love her work.
Where are you happiest?
In bed, I love my sleep! We have a huge bed that we share with our youngest, and every morning the two older ones come and get in for a cuddle. At the weekend we stay there for a while.
What does making mean to you?
I love being creative. When I redecorated my kids’ room I made them some desks, a shelf, and a little cupboard with sliding doors. It was really simple and I enjoyed working out the measurements for everything and putting it together. I also love to bullet journal, which gives me a bit of down time. At the moment I don’t really have time for it, so I’m going to create some printable pages to use instead, which means teaching myself basic Illustrator. I’m looking forward to learning something new and making something that’s just right for me.