I love to shop. Not fashion and fripperies; it’s food and homeware that excites. I feel the same magnetic draw to a furniture showroom or antique shop as I do to an artisan bakery – you know broadly what you’re going to find, yet there’s opportunity for surprise. A simple pleasure like handmade bread is taken to another level with good quality ingredients and a baker passionate about the end result. For me, that’s Neptune’s secret: they care, elevating ordinary things we use every day in a gentle, attainable way.
I’ve made planned jaunts to Neptune for large purchases (Cheltenham metal outdoor furniture going strong after eight summers) and I can never resist popping into a store if I’m passing. Each has its own character, like Neptune Chester for example, once The Nag’s Head, and Neptune Hailsham, a terminal for the Cuckoo Railway line in a former life. There’s always a story behind the façade, and when you enter, light, bright, welcoming interiors with vignettes arranged as room sets.
Wandering around a store is like walking through a friend’s home – tables laid for entertaining, beds made, and goody-stocked larders. Furniture shopping is more than just seeing. Yes, you can do it online but, for me, it’s about smell, touch and conversation. I need to sit in a chair to check comfort, flop on a bed to test bounce-ability, poke a nose inside a kitchen cabinet (that woody twang), and, joy of joys, talk to someone who can explain why a mix of horsehair, wool and cotton is optimal for a mattress, or which kitchen worktop won’t stain with lemon juice and wine.
Lately, we’ve all been on the receiving end of, ‘You are number 432 in the queue, please hold,’ phone calls. Hurrah to real people, engaging staff who know their stuff. On a recent visit to the Farnham branch, I learnt about textile designer Beki Bright, whose Odette patterned fabric decorates this season’s cushion covers. Beki’s picture and short bio are framed on a shelf to discover while you browse. So too the work of Jane McCall, whose Charleston-inspired artworks adorn lampshades.
Consumers need more than just beautiful objects, we need to know provenance, just as with the food we eat. If thought and love and care are put into what you’re buying, you treasure it. I just wish Neptune made bread.