We met Angela Constantinou, the owner of Cocoon Home, based in a live/work studio on Laurence Road, N15. Angela told us about how she started her soft furnishings business, her love of Tottenham and her plans to launch a new business in 2017. Angela was one of 6 children born into a Greek Cypriot family and grew up on a council estate in Enfield. Her father was a chef and her mother was a seamstress. She worked her way up from washing dishes at the restaurant her father worked at, studied music at Leeds University, briefly worked in theatre and was a researcher in TV. It was then she found a love of sewing, textiles and home furnishings which led her to start Cocoon Home. Angela currently runs Cocoon Home and teaches training courses in lampshade making alongside working at a nearby hospital.
DT: How long have you been in Tottenham?
A: Eight years.
DT: What bought you to Tottenham?
A: I needed a live/work and… one of my good friends moved in on the ground floor [when this place] was still a Textile factory. I moved to Tottenham because I needed somewhere I could afford.
DT: How did you find it when you moved here?
A: In London sometimes you tend not to hang out much in your own area, especially when all your friends aren’t around, and I didn’t have any friends at that point in Tottenham apart from [my friend on the ground floor]. But that’s gradually changed with being in the building. When I moved in, two tenants had already set up a Facebook group and periodically they’d put notes under people’s doors to advise people. I decided to start doing socials so I could get to know people and then get to know the area. I thought it was a good way to meet people. It’s always really simple, it’s just going out to eat and having a drink and that’s it. People are really proactive around here so we do have a good community within the building. It was exploring… and getting to know people as well.
I love it here. I really do. You move to an area you think nothing of and then suddenly it just becomes this wonderful place, it’s home. It really is. That’s happened with a lot of people here.
DT: So you’ve worked in theatre and TV?
A: I worked for an opera company so it married music and theatre – I ended up at Opera North… up in Leeds. I did that for a couple of years… I worked in the marketing department… They had a costume department there and that peaked my interest. I remember going over and just being fascinated and talking to the guy who was just this really flamboyant fashion director who’s slightly off with everybody. I’d be like, ‘I want to watch’, and he’d be like, ‘get out! You’re marketing!’ Not quite like that but, it was very much like, no you’ve never even picked up a needle get out of my face kind of thing… Because it was opera there’d always be fantastic costumes.
Then I went into TV and it [Cocoon Home] was all after that.
DT: Tell me about your business! How did that start?
A: I just love… I just got into sewing. It started off at uni; I just got into knitting. I love knitting. I just got obsessed. My friends would go out and I’d be like nah I’m just staying in to knit and they’d come back and I’d still be on the sofa knitting.
Then I worked in the theatre up in Leeds, I stayed there for a couple of years, and then I moved back to London to work in TV. I lived at home and I thought you know what: I’m really short [on money] and I really like knitting, I might as well get mum to teach me how to sew. Just so I can make a few skirts and stuff and got totally obsessed. Because working in TV was really quite long hours I’d be sewing again all weekend. I’d be going along moving mum’s sewing machine up to my bedroom and I just got obsessed. It was about three years into TV that I was in the kitchen with someone I was working with and I was telling her just how much I love sewing. She just said to me in no other way, just really simply, she just said: ‘well if you love doing it, why don’t you just do it for a living?’ She didn’t say it in any manner that was profound but for some reason something twigged in my head so then I started thinking about it. I thought well I do love it.
Because mum was high-end I started reading lots on Haute Couture. A lot of it is hand done and there’s lots of other things that you don’t see – it’s completely out of this world!
I really like interiors so I thought well I’ll [study] upholstery. I found this course at the London Met Uni which used to be, when the polytechnics existed, The London Furniture College. There was a week before they started up and they were like: ‘no we’re full up why don’t you try soft furnishings?’ In my head I just thought that is gonna be a piece of p*ss. Then I saw the portfolios of what you had to do. They were City & Guilds at that point and there were loads of techniques that you had to learn. What I didn’t realise is that it was all hand sewing. There’s all this stitching that goes on inside for curtains and blinds. It’s not machine done, there’s barely any [machine stitching]. The lampshades I make, there’s no glue on those lampshades in the slightest. There’s not one drop of glue – it’s all hand stitched. There’s literally two rows of machine stitching that’s it. I loved it. I loved going in every Monday for three years and doing that.
I opened my business around that time just taking on little bits of work. It’s just grown word of mouth and I’ve been working 4 days [a week] at the hospital. I work full time but it’s over 4 days so it actually works nicely with the business because I can swap days if I need to go to a client.
DT: So your business is making lampshades, blinds, soft furnishings…
A: Yeah anything that’s not upholstered and it’s all bespoke. All handmade.
DT: Have you ever had massive orders of stuff?
A: I do get occasional clients where I do a lot of their home. But I have to say all of my clients have been amazing. I did a big house in Richmond. She was a client I did things for years ago and she moved and she had the whole house done. I’ve been lucky in the sense that when… a client comes I do a job and then just as that’s finishing something else comes along and I get another job.
DT: OK so it’s all based on recommendations?
A: Yeah so far, it’s all been word of mouth. There’s been a couple of people who’ve contacted me through Twitter. It’s been nice and fluid. There are times when I’ve had to be at my day job and I’ve had to wake up early in the morning to get a couple of hours in, of work, then go to work and then come back and then work again. So there have been a few times that I’ve been like I don’t want to do this. I’m not going to pretend it’s always ‘I’ve got my own business it’s great’. Sometimes I want to work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, and that is it.
DT: So you’re moving into interior fabrics (for soft furnishings and home ware) in 2017?
A: There’s going to be a range of interior fabrics by the metre, there’s going to be a range of home accessories to be made. The usual kind of curtains and lampshades. There will probably be a bespoke side to the business if you wanted bespoke curtains in our fabric, but obviously people are free to find their own makers and buy the fabric by the metre.
The idea of the business is a collaborative one, it’s centred around good artists from various mediums. They’re all very different styles. I’ll hopefully launch with 10 fabrics. 10 designs in various colourways in June. In the long term… there will be a social enterprise element. It will be focused on people from disadvantaged areas and backgrounds. I’ll be looking at workshops, sewing workshops, I’ll be looking at hopefully getting the designers in to be doing design workshops in their mediums… Then I can have these free workshops for kids and teenagers.
DT: What are your inspirations and where do they come from?
A: Do you know what, just people. Just looking. Everything and everyone and good things [that are] nice to look at. People’s attitudes, people’s enthusiasms. I don’t have a set taste. There’s too much for me to say there’s only one inspiration. The good side of life is my inspiration…and people and friends. Always coming back round, actually, to the community and people around you aspect.
DT: I wanted to ask you about some of the workshops that you run – do they link with London Met?
A: At the moment I just teach lampshades. So traditional lampshades again where it’s all hand stitched. It’s a lot like dress making you have to stretch and pin in place and mark, take it off and sew. I teach at the London Met. It’s all ad hoc… And then I teach in Hertfordshire in a sewing school there so I teach several times a year. I started to do a few workshops here in my own workroom. It’s quite nice because I can have quite small numbers so I won’t teach more than four at any one time.
DT: Have you got any advice for people who might want to get into crafts or start making their own home ware or clothes?
A: The biggest lesson is don’t get annoyed when you make mistakes. I can always stop students before they’re gonna make a mistake ‘cause I’ve done it. I’ve cut things wrong before. One year I cut a blind completely wrong and… the fabric had gone out of print. I found it on like the 50th page of Google eventually, someone making caravan curtains, and persuaded them to send me a couple of metres so I could remake this blind. Even the company were like we discontinued that a year ago, they found the fabric in a discount store.
I think the thing with creativity is people quite often, especially when they’re making something, they often want it to be perfect straight away and it’s not going to happen. They are not going to end up perfect either and especially with fabrics because it’s a fluid thing. So I’m like, when you make a mistake, just say it’s a learning curve. Repeat, say to yourself, it’s a learning curve. And they [mistakes] can be really beneficial. The coat I’ve made recently has a wonderful velvet trim on the lining inside because I accidentally cut the lining a bit wrong… so it looks even better now!
DT: How do you find working in Tottenham?
A: Love it! When there are a few people about always lunch at Big Bowl Noodle.
DT: So your favourite place in Tottenham?
A: Big Bowl Noodle!
Cocoon Home make bespoke soft furnishings including blinds, curtains, cushions and lampshades. You can find out more on Angela’s website: http://cocoonhome.co.uk/
If you’re interested in one of Angela’s lampshade making courses you can keep a look out here for upcoming events: http://cocoonhome.co.uk/sewing-courses-in-london/