It’s easy to think that Summerill & Bishop, creators of such lovely tableware and settings, are having a moment, particularly with the current enthusiasm for tablescaping. Actually, though, it’s been having a moment since 1994 when two friends June Summerill and Bernadette Bishop first opened a shop on a picturesque street in Notting Hill to celebrate dining at home. After the death of his mother, Seb Bishop (whom we first met 10 years ago when he was working as the CEO of GOOP) came on board as CEO and Creative Director in 2015. He tells us below about why he made the move to work at Summerill and Bishop, his favourite products and the best business advice for those just starting out.
At first glance, working at RED and GOOP seem worlds apart from S&B (especially as you were involved in the early stages of RED and GOOP whilst at S&B, the company was first set up in 1994 and you joined in 2015). How did your experience in the first two help you with the business you’re working in now?
I like to be able to define the purpose of any business I am running into a single sentence. Purpose is what drives every business forward and purpose is what gets you up at four in the morning to go the extra mile. At my first business, Espotting, where we were the first to introduce pay per click advertising in Europe, our purpose was to change the way advertising worked. At (RED), it was to save lives. At GOOP, it was to bring together the worlds of publishing and ecommerce and at S&B, it’s to change the way people eat. We do this by designing beautiful tablecloths. A beautifully laid table encourages people to stay at the table for longer, to tell stories, share their anxieties, to be present and to disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with the real one.
What is your favourite item at S&B?
Our very first tablecloth design, ‘Bernadette’s Falling Flowers’ – inspired by a floral motif which my mother would sign off all her notes and letters with. We trademarked her design and created this beautiful first collection, to honour Mum and to commemorate her passing and her love of being surrounded by family and friends at the table. So, although Mum might not be physically with us, her presence is always felt at the table. The collection first launched in 2015 and it’s what inspired me to take S&B in a new direction. It prompted me to think, what if we made tablecloths cool and relevant again? Up until then, they were seen as an old-fashioned heirloom, something that you kept closed away in a cupboard and so this collection really was the catalyst for the beautiful statement pieces we create today.
What advice would you give to somebody thinking about starting their own business?
Consider your purpose and make it the solution to a problem. Work harder than your competitors. Make sure you have a brilliant partner in the business or a good support system – whilst the highs are incredibly high, the lows can be incredibly low and so it’s not always fun. There’s inevitably going to be lots of dark days and it’s the people around you on your team that are going to pick you up.
Who are your top 3 accounts that you follow on IG?
@summerillandbishop (who else?!)
@heidibishopceramics (my wife is a ceramicist who handcrafts the most beautiful pieces)
@skyebishopofficial (sorry I’m a family man)
Where do you live in London and which are your favourite restaurants/bars/shops?
My family and I live in Notting Hill. In all honesty, you’re much more likely to find me either at the Linford Christie running track with my kids, who are both keen athletes or being my daughter’s roadie when she goes busking on the streets of Notting Hill. Halepi, is a great Greek taverna in Bayswater – that’s probably my one of my favourite restaurants in London. However sometimes, there’s nothing nicer than sitting on the terrace at Julie’s in Clarendon Cross and popping into Summerill & Bishop afterwards!
Illustration of Julie’s by www.carolynkingart.com
Is there anybody that you would love to work with/collaborate, that you haven’t yet?
The list goes on and on but perhaps we have things in motion with one or two of them already. You’ll have to watch this space…
Astier de Villatte are very particular about who they are stocked by. How did S&B come to stock them?
I think they recognised in us, a kindred spirit. Everything we stock at S&B is chosen with a specific question in mind, will it keep us at the table for longer? Is it a conversation piece? Astier de Villatte tick both of those boxes with aplomb.
What are your plans for S&B for the next 5 years? Are you going to expand?
Back in 2015, we set out to reposition the tablecloth as a relevant and aspirational item that feels current, covetable and most importantly, cool – descriptive words that people hadn’t previously used in the same sentence as tablecloths before. I think we’re at that place now. Our end goal is to become the single destination for tablecloths, to truly own that product as our own and for people to recognise the S&B name and immediately link it to beautiful table linens.
If you could have a dream tablescape with your ideal guests, where would it be and who would join you?
Oh, that’s easy, it would be dinner with my mum and my grandparents, together again with my immediate family, at one of S&B’s signature tables. I’d love for my mum to see the legacy we’ve created for her.
What do you think is the secret to the success of S&B?
Authenticity. The brand was founded by two best friends, June Summerill and Bernadette Bishop – inspired by their shared love of entertaining. Their inimitable, warm and authentic style still encapsulates everything that we do, 27 years later. Nothing was or is contrived. Ultimately, the whole world slows down when you lay a beautiful table. It’s where the big decisions are made and it’s where your family share stories and their day. What happens at the table is life and there is nothing more important at the end of the day, than that. I think people have always realised the importance of this simple act but were too distracted to make it a reality. After the past year especially, it feels as though people are making a conscious effort to be present together at the table and we’re very lucky to do what we do, as we know that every time we sell a tablecloth, we’re bringing family and friends together.
Don’t miss the Summerill and Bishop sample sale which is on Thursday 20th May 2021, 10am – 6pm at the Tablecloth shop, 98 Portland Road, W11 4LQ. 20% of sales will be donated to the Kensington & Chelsea food bank.
Our top picks:
The classic deluxe tableware set, £800 from MATCHESFASHION
Falling flower linen napkin in blue, £25 from Fortnum & Mason
Striped linen tablecloth, £325 from MATCHESFASHION
Set of four striped linen tablecloths, £100 from MATCHESFASHION
Winter rainbow linen napkin, £26 from Selfridges
Winter rainbow linen tablecloth, £325 from Selfridges