An iconic Norman Shaw-esque building built in the late 1800s is one of the most recognizable buildings in the bustling market town of Wiveliscombe and is home to Courthouse Interiors.
Started by Hoss and Tia Fatemi in 2006, it was initially a space to sell high quality Persian rugs and fabrics. Quickly, the shop became famous for its unique layout displaying a wide range of trinkets and textiles.
Guests were encouraged to browse the dozen rooms spread over three floors, often ending up in a cafe. With people coming from all over the southwest, it has become the perfect place for a “day out”.
READ MORE: Wiveliscombe: the small town nestled in the hills of Somerset
Sadly, senior Mr Fatemi had to step down a few years ago due to health issues, where his 34-year-old son Oliver later took over. It originally continued the lavish business model of yesteryear by pushing brunches and lunches, then introducing events and getting a liquor license.
“Being geographically located in a rural part of the country, we kind of depended on a circular footfall that has kind of a ceiling,” he says, “that’s not exactly hit easily, but for people to come back through the gate all the time is hard. How do you keep up attendance in a small town like this?”
Logically, the next step for the company was to try to sell to people outside of the immediate catchment area by selling online. The basics of e-commerce were already there, but the young Fatemi went further: “One of the first things I did when I took over was to create the social media accounts and then rebuild website to be more e-commerce oriented. -Commerce.”
As with many independent businesses, the pandemic has been a steep learning curve for Courthouse Interiors. Overheads were kept to a minimum in order to keep our heads above water; the staff was reduced from ten to eleven employees to only two.
Courthouse Interiors has gone from strength to strength, but not without massive changes. Mr. Fatemi has brought a fearless embrace of technology into the business, to stunning effect.
While they were still in their infancy in the online world, the pandemic arrived and forced their hand. After the difficult but inevitable closure of the store, another “auxiliary” pandemic had occurred.
“Chances are most people didn’t see it coming, but it was the first time in a long time that everyone had been stuck at home in ages. As a result, there was this huge explosion in interior design, people wanted to redo their offices or redecorate “that room they wanted to do for 10 years but never had,” says Mr Fatemi.
During this first lockdown, their social media accounts exploded, and in less than a year, they reached over 50,000 followers on Instagram alone.
“Once we had a much bigger online presence, then we realized we had diversified who we were selling to. It wasn’t just the wealthiest customers, but also young people who liked what we were doing online.
“A lot of them maybe have less disposable income, so we tried to grow up and down in that direction, and started stocking more stuff – we were maybe down from 30 to 40 products online at the beginning of this year, to 1000 by June, then 2000 by the end of the year.
“We had to adapt very quickly, during this first confinement, we had gone from three to five boxes per day in March 2020, to around 300 boxes per day in September.”
Mr Fatemi had booked many new brands during a trip to Italy just before the pandemic hit, which saw the start of a fruitful relationship between Courthouse Interiors and Seletti, a delightfully unconventional homewares brand based in Milan which “links design to pop art”, and a big name in their field.
As it stands, Courthouse Interiors acts as a warehouse, with thousands of boxes filling all three floors ready to be shipped online. These days, they have employees working remotely all over the world, and keeping the cornerstone of the “family business” in place, Mr. Fatemi’s sister, Sarah Chawla, 37, is back in the company.
Between them, they have a lot of experience in event management and work closely with PR companies, so the next logical step seems to be organizing events.
“I think we’re really resourceful, and it’s a very adaptable business,” Sarah says, “as far as the future goes, who knows? We could end up doing a lot of events. With Oliver’s background in music, that’s something we’re definitely exploring.
“This summer we are doing a pop-up with Sitwell Supper Club with Tim Zekki from Duende [a local award-winning restaurant just a few metres from the store].
Campari and Seletti will also be there,” says Oliver, “I think it’s really cool because we have three local companies then, but we mixed it with the Campari group which is a huge global company and Seletti, Milan too, who are our main partners in this field, and very important in the interior world.
Even Courthouse Interiors is making a name for itself; exclusive products with print designer Karen Mabon are on sale and other collaborations are already underway.
“Hopefully it’ll be really fun, and we’d like to start thinking about doing more things like that in the area as well, which would be really cool.”
“We’ve historically had a lot of amazing events here, like Morris & Co conferences” says Sarah, “I think at this point we’re becoming more and more interested in how we now use this beautiful building and the space we have.”
“We feel really lucky and proud to have been able to keep our parents’ business going throughout the pandemic, rather than just letting it down.”
Clearly the store has changed considerably from being a lovely place to go to browse and have lunch, but that’s not a bad thing. As Seletti puts it: “(r)evolution is the only solution”, it seems like something the ever resourceful sibling duo have taken to heart – and it works – one thing is for sure, exciting times lie ahead for Courthouse Interiors.
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