Ten years ago Christina Strutt set up a new, femminine cottage business creating floral fabrics, homeware and clothing. Little did she know that a decade later her company, Cabbages and Roses, would be one of Britain’s most coveted, loved and copied brands, with three stand-alone shops and concessions in Jigsaw stores. The tea-towels, aprons, tablecoths and fabrics (as well as all the clothes and accessories) are created upon the same five principles which have guided Christina throughout her career: to produce artisanal, useful products that have beauty, simplicity, longevity, integrity and sustainability. She is also the author of three bestselling books: “The Guide to Natural Housekeeping”, “At Home with Country” and “Homemade Vintage”, all published by CICO.
We at The Foodie Bugle wanted to know more about her homelife, her cooking, her inspirations and above all, her views on British artisanal kitchenware. In this recession, is there a place for the great “Made in Britain” label in our kitchens? Here is what she told us.
When you are at home, Christina, is your kitchen the very heart of your home? Are you a foodie, and if so what are your very favourite recipes and dishes?
My kitchen is the physical and emotional heart of my home. It has a huge open fire and an Aga so it is always warm, which is important in an old house like ours. I used to be a foodie, but now I don’t have so much time and I only tend to cook when I am entertaining.
There are many favourite dishes I love, all of them simple English recipes. Last weekend, for example, I made a delicious beef and Guinness pie with chestnuts. Another favourite and easy dish is slow cooked pork shoulder with lemon and fresh rosemary. In the summer, we grow all our own vegetables and salads and that is what we live on.
When you shop for food, which are your favourite farm shops, farmers’ markets, artisanal food producers and places to eat out? Do you like to stay local? When you travel, where do you like to eat?
My favourite farm shop is a few minutes down the road from me, and it is called Chris Rich’s Farm shop. They grow most of their produce including eggs and honey and often provide recipes for the more unusual vegetables. There is also an Italian delicatessen, called Italodeli, in Bonnington Square, near my London flat, and it sells delicious Italian salamis, Parma ham and fresh vegetables and salads.
What inspires you when you design the kitchen Cabbages and Roses range?
Depending on the season we make tablecloths, napkins and aprons out of our own fabrics. In autumn and winter we use warm colours on natural linens and in summer we use fresh white linens with our beautiful prints. Life and living inspires all our ranges!
Why do you think that the vintage / retro / floral theme is so universally and perpetually popular with people of all ages?
Because I believe nobody can ever tire of flowers. Beautifully designed, floral fabrics always lift the heart and home.
Do you still get excited when you launch a new season’s range of homeware?
I get nervous, working in the little world of Cabbages & Roses, I don’t get out much, and when we have all spent a year creating a range, it might seem divine to us, but there is always that niggling thought that we might all be quite, quite mad and nobody will understand what we consider to be the most beautiful thing ever. Luckily people seem to appreciate what we do, and there are no men in white coats waiting to take us away. Not yet!
Are all your fabrics made in Great Britain? What do you think of the ability of British artisans and textile mills to compete in this day and age, and what do you think are their strengths and their weaknesses?
All our fabrics are printed in London using Atex approved inks, which goes some way to mitigating our carbon footprint. I am an enthusiastic champion of all things British, and when our company has grown a bit more, in an ideal world, all our products will be ethically, locally made, with as small a carbon footprint as possible. All of our clothes, too, are made in London.
British artisans have immense talent and I believe that our time has come – gone are the days of cheap, imported goods. People have become more discerning and are realising that money is short and it is far better to spend precious, hard earned cash on good quality products, but buy less of them.
If young people reading this article wanted to start a career in designing and manufacturing their own kitchen linens and kitchenware ranges, with all your experience, what would you advise them to do and why?
Work experience and internships are a very valuable asset to ascertaining what you want to do in this industry, and learning how to do it properly.
It is said that employers take advantage of cheap labour, but this is absolutely not the case. The best way to learn this trade is to experience the workings of a company, from making the coffee to taking on projects. Real, live work is the best education you can get.
If readers wanted to create a “Cabbages and Roses” vintage style kitchen, other than buy your books and products, what special hints and tips would you give to them to help them achieve this look?
Visit our shops for inspiration and vintage treasures, fabrics and table wear. The Cabbages & Roses style is really based on an “anything goes” vision: mis-matched china from flea markets, mis-matched knives and forks, and a riot of floral tablecloths and napkins. And, of course, fresh flowers and delicious food which can be as beautiful an adornment as any piece of china it sits on.
Website details and further information:
Cabbages and Roses: www.cabbagesandroses.com
Chris Rich’s Farm Shop, Batheaston, Bath BA1 7HJ
Italodeli, 13 Bonnington Square, London SW8 1TE www.italodeli.co.uk