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In Conversation: Catherine Roberts

Today on Habitus Living we chat to Catherine Roberts, founder of Showroom, a retail space set in the heart of Brisbane City. Catherine moved from Canada with her husband almost five years, and soon after set about sharing her design finds on her blog. This quickly progressed into what Showroom is today, as Catherine explains.

Can you tell us about how your obsession with design began, and what career path led to establishing Showroom in Brisbane?

About a year and a half ago I opened a concept store called Showroom. Showroom trades in beautiful, artisanal design wares gathered from makers and brands from here in Brisbane, across Australia, and around the world. It’s curated like a magazine, ever changing like a gallery, and of course we’re in the business of selling things like a shop.

I came to Australia from Canada nearly five years ago in support of my partner’s career. I had no idea back then that it would be here in Brisbane that I would create a dream and a business of my own.

I started blogging when I first moved to Australia almost five years ago having met my Brisbane-born husband when we were both living in England. Through taking photographs around my home and kitchen I discovered it wasn’t possible to find the styling props I wanted here, like cast iron skillets and mason jars and kraft paper shipping tags. From there I started a little online store and a market stall. That went well so I opened a pop up shop for about a month, and that’s what sparked the idea for Showroom.

I’m a professional historian by training; I’m a lover of stories with a soft spot for nostalgia. Although history may seem like an unlikely background for a retail entrepreneur, researching and teaching about the past enhanced my natural curiosity and honed my inclination to seek meaning and connection in ideas, relationships and material objects. This is at the core of what I, and by extension my business, am about.


When and how did the concept for Showroom come to you? Can you tell us about your business ethos?

With a little experience as a blogger and a few seasons of running my own market stall and online shop under my belt, I decided to see what I could do about re-thinking bricks and mortar retail.

Here’s what I find so fascinating about retail: It’s clear to me that in 2015, our consumer brains have been significantly rewired by the internet and social media. Consciously or unconsciously, we’re all more design literate, more selective, and our appetite for content has grown. We’re more interested in the stories that give objects meaning, and more invested in the notion that our possessions reflect and shape our identities.

This has largely come about because of the way incredibly innovative brands have rewritten the rules of online retail over the past 10 years. But here in the real world, where we all still mostly live, the way stores operate has stayed pretty much the same, and we’re seeing the impact of that with vacant signs up and down our high streets.

This is worrying, because I believe that traditional shop-fronts are essential gathering places that keep our neighbourhoods vibrant and connected. I also believe that it’s important for our communities culturally and economically that artists, artisans and local businesses can afford to work and thrive.


You just moved into a new location. Can you tell us a little about that? Have your offerings changed?

Curation and a strong point of view are paramount to Showroom’s identity and success – this is something I’ve realised and prioritised in the new space. I have a clear sense of how I want the store to look and feel, and I seek out artisans, brands, and products that fit my vision. We’re not to everyone’s taste, certainly, but people who love what’s presented in store and online love it in its totally, and that’s what I’m going for.

I make most decision about the editorial content of Showroom on the basis of what I personally like the stories behind the things. My style is quite paired back and referential. I love quality materials worked in an unfussy way. I love clean-lined, heritage designs that feel warm and modern. A simple Falcon enamel camping mug is my idea of design perfection both for its aesthetic qualities and all that it evokes. Of course there are lots of things being made in the Brisbane community and further afield that I really like or find interesting but don’t fit into the aesthetic point of view I’m cultivating at Showroom. In those instances I think it’s important to be super edited and unwavering. In the old shop I think I was more eclectic than I am in the city, and what we’re cultivating here has much greater impact.


How would you describe your new space, and what is it about the space that makes it special and personal project for you?
Do you have any favourite aspects of the space?

I love the character of the new space best. The new shop has huge windows, soaring ceilings, wide floorboards, and crisp white painted brick walls. I didn’t want to erect anything that would compete with the character of the building, so our fit-out is all about white painted shelving and simple trestle tables. Everything can be easily reconfigured to suit the mix of products in store at any one time. I love rearranging the shop and never leave things as they are long enough to get bored!

Tell us about a typical day at Showroom?

I’m not sure there’s any such thing as typical which is one of the things I like about this self-made gig as CEO and editor-in-chief of my little empire. Still, certain routines do punctuate my days. I don’t set an alarm but tend to naturally wake up quite early. I always start my morning with a cup of builder’s tea. I check in on social media. I check in with my team. Most days I head into the store to spend the day helping customers or crack on with behind the scenes projects from WORKROOM. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, which I often do in times like this when so many elements of the business are expanding, I try to work a bit more from home so I can concentrate, eat well, and make sure I take the time to rest.

Where do you find inspiration?

I’m Canadian and was raised between the city and the woods. I think if you look closely you can see that background in the mix of products I place in store. I do spend a lot of time following inspiring brands, stylists, and content creators on social media, but I find it’s equally important to step away from that and immerse yourself in art, photography, and film. I switch off to read personal essays and novels as much as I can.