CEO of Sola Kitchens Sofia Bune Strandh has opened a showroom on Wigmore Street, after an eight year wait, and the company’s third studio is its biggest and best yet
When former city lawyer and Swedish national Sofia Bune Strandh decided to launch her own kitchen retail business, she always had an ambition of owning three London showrooms.
With a vision of bringing premium Scandinavian kitchen design to the UK, she wanted premises on Wigmore Street.
Having already established showrooms in Fulham and Hampstead, and after an eight-year search to secure a lease, Sola Kitchens has now opened a flagship store on the road renowned for kitchen design in London.
She explains: “Over the years, I’ve offered on three different showrooms in Wigmore Street”, adding: “We had an offer accepted before I opened Hampstead in 2016, but then the landlord decided to rent it to a business who also wanted the office space above. Finally, this one came up.”
Flagship luxury store
Having taken 12 months to gain possession of the Wigmore Street premises, an investment of “well over £1million” and 10 months to renovate the space, which was formerly a restaurant, Sofa explains it has a different feel to the other showrooms.
Measuring 1,500sqft, she says the space is “considerably larger” than its studios in Fulham and Hampstead, adding: “We wanted to show as much as possible because we are bespoke and have so many different ranges.
“Trying to incorporate that into one space is difficult, so the whole design process took quite a long time before we landed on something where we felt everything works together.”
Boasting Scandinavian influences, mixing natural materials and textures, the showroom features captivating details such as plinth ladders and cupboard doors cut around appliances.
Its kerbside appeal is heightened by an olive tree and swings in the front window kitchen display, which draws the attention and often photographic interest of passers-by.
Sofia says the company’s design director and a designer were dedicated almost full-time for six months, transforming the shell.
Such has been their strive for perfection, the door colour of one display door was changed 10 times!
“But when it was revealed we all thought ‘this has worked out very well’”, says Sofia, and stated the Wigmore Street location has helped put the company on the luxury kitchen map.
She exclaims it also offers a point of difference to the German, Italian and English kitchen brands on Wigmore Street: “Everyone that walks through these doors says ‘oh this is different’, which is exactly what we wanted to achieve.”
Natural starting point
This point of difference circles back to why the kitchen company was established in the first place.
When Sofia couldn’t find a kitchen she liked for her Marylebone apartment, she opted to import cabinetry from her native Sweden.
Then, when her friends asked if she could help them import a kitchen too, she hit upon the idea of starting a premium Scandinavian kitchen retail business.
Despite no experience, Sofia spent a year sourcing suppliers, learning how to use CAD and designing kitchens. “I thought what’s the worst that could happen? If it doesn’t work, I can always fall back on my legal career again”, says Sofia pragmatically. Her first client was a friend who still has the kitchen.
Sofia opened her first showroom in Fulham in 2010 and employed her first designer a year later. In 2016, Sola Kitchens expanded with its Hampstead studio.
Despite admitting setting up a kitchen retail business had been more difficult than expected, Sofia hasn’t looked back. “It probably took me longer to start it up because I didn’t have any experience or knowledge.
“On the other hand, I didn’t have any preconceived ideas. So I’ve done everything in the way I wanted to do it.
“Would I have done it again, if I knew what is what going to entail? Probably.”
Now the company has three showrooms, employs 24 full-time staff and sells kitchens with an average price tag of £60,000-£65,000.
Sofia exclaims: “We are definitely top-end but it’s value for money because of the design and materials.”
Scandi love affair
The UK has an obsession with all things Scandi from TV dramas to Hygge-inspired interiors, but isn’t Sofia concerned what will happen when fashion changes?
She points out Scandinavian design isn’t a one trick pony: “People talk about Scandinavian design but Danish design is hugely different from Swedish design. So, in Scandinavian design we can move between more modern or more classic.
“Scandinavian design is also very much rooted in practicality and functionality will never go out of fashion.
“We also develop our own ranges. Therefore, I think we are pretty much leading developments in terms of kitchen design.
“We will always be rooted in Scandinavian design, but I think we will be able to adapt, if the styles people want change.”
International sales growth
Certainly, agility has been key to business over the past few years, with COVID enforcing changes to kitchen retail.
Like all showrooms, Sola Kitchens worked remotely during lockdowns and its designers now work a hybrid pattern.
“I think we all learned that we don’t have to be in the office all the time, but I think what we all really missed was the creative atmosphere in the showroom.
“So I also think it’s really important to have designers in the showrooms but you don’t need to be there all the time”, said Sofia.
Interestingly, COVID and perhaps the weak Sterling, also brought a new customer base.
“We got a lot more enquiries and a lot more international sales during COVID. International interest has further increased after opening Wigmore Street, particularly from New York.”
And having recently scooped the SBID International Design Award KBB category, overseas sales are only likely to blossom for the business.
Could this see the business branching out into the States? “Who knows?” replies Sofia, quickly confirming “…not this year!”
But with the UK having just entered a recession, does that cause Sofia any concern?
“I started in a recession and there’s been a second recession while Sola Kitchens has been trading. It’s part of life”, she shrugs.
In fact, the company already has 75 kitchens booked for 2023.
With turnover and staff number doubling in the last 12-14 months, now the business is implementing an online client management system to ensure its three showrooms follow the same procedures. And then?
“I don’t know. But we are not going to do another showroom for at least a year” Sofia laughs, “I’ve promised everyone in the company that.”
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