It is four years this year. Four years of lugging furniture around, changing millions of nappies and breastfeeding on the go, because I also had two babies in the meantime. I have a shop. I am a business owner. A ‘mumpreneur’. I am my own boss. How on earth did I get here? And what drove me so mad to combine tiring motherhood with running a business?
First of all, I never thought I would end up as a Dutchie in Scotland. Thought I would be here just temporarily, passing through. But here I am, ten years later. I also never thought I would start up my own business, let alone one where lifting a two meter long teak sideboard is a regular task. It was never on my radar, never in my plans. I was just happily doing all kinds of jobs when one day a seed was planted. And it grew. And grew. It grew a bit more. And here we are.
I am a creative being. I have always been interested in art and design, was forever drawing, and did a masters in Art history at uni, focusing on 20th century architecture. At 26 I moved to Aberdeen to be with my now husband, continuing to work for arts organisations like I did in The Netherlands, just in a different country. I settled in fine, but like most foreigners arriving in the granite city I was missing the variety in cafes, museums and yes – independent shops, that I was used to on the continent. Maybe I should just set up something myself, I thought at times. Surely there was a huge gap in the market. I would go and add some continental style to Aberdeen! The first seed was planted.
Once my husband and I moved from his bachelor pad in the city to a four-bedroom house in a village nine years ago, we had to shop for furniture. Oh boy, did I get frustrated! I couldn’t find anything in and around Aberdeen that was even vaguely my taste. Too bulky, too beige, too traditional, too tartan, to boring. There were no vintage furniture shops other than stuffy antiques and Ikea was three hours away. I wanted colour! Nice European furniture. Things to suit the average sized house without taking up too much space. Eclectic old stuff as well as stylish contemporary pieces. Things to add soul to a home.
Many people in this country seem to have a funny habit to cram large corner sofas into tiny living rooms and I just didn’t get it. I also detested the brown and beige ‘catalogue look’ that I spotted in so many houses. So many interiors looked exactly the same. What was going on? Surely North East Scotland could do better than that? The granite architecture as well as the dark winters make this part of the world grey enough at times and I yearned for bright colours and things for the home that made me smile and feel inspired. So I started dreaming. I started wondering. If I felt like this, surely other people felt like this too. If there was nowhere up here to buy nice European style furniture, I was going to open a shop myself.
A trip to Copenhagen gave me plenty of inspiration (I love that city!)
It took another five years and many mood boards and collages, bullet point lists and ideas in journals for me to take the plunge. I did lots of research, signed up for some Business Gateway courses, made a trip to Copenhagen to indulge in Danish design and see what kind of shop I wanted to be. The combination of losing my day job and being pregnant with my first child made the decision to change careers a little easier. I registered as a sole trader while still on maternity leave and began selling small vintage items and handmade cushions in an Etsy shop and at local fairs. When my baby boy was eight months old, I found local shop premises and got the keys to my very own space at Lethenty Mill.
My little boy and ideal treasure hunting companion in the shop before it opened
Since then Nina’s Apartment has grown with leaps and bounds and it has certainly not been a walk in the park trying to cover all the bills that come with running a business. Not to mention the juggling of business and family life. Nothing romantic about that, just really hard work! But I love what I do and believe 100% in my products and service. Winning the Life with Style Creative Award last year and being shortlisted for two others was a great boost and reminder that I am doing something right and that people are appreciating what I am trying to achieve. And that I am, in fact, putting my own little quirky continental stamp on the North east of Scotland, one step at the time.
Having started as a shop selling a mixture of vintage, upcycled, handmade and retro, Nina’s Apartment has now specialised in the mid century modern and Scandinavian style. Trying to stay unique rather than duplicating what more local people started doing (the painted furniture, pre-1950s vintage), just makes sense. I want Nina’s Apartment to be the main destination in the North East of Scotland for mid century modern design.
I have built up quite a bit of knowledge about British and Scandinavian mid century design and it just is the style I love most. The minimalist lines and details are subtle and sophisticated and remind me a lot of modernist architecture, another love of mine and what I studied during my degree.
I always get excited to find quality new stock that I just know my customers will love. And there is nothing better than knowing that a piece of original vintage furniture is going to be appreciated again after some TLC and plenty of elbow grease. I simply love sourcing beautiful furniture and helping people furnish their home with unique pieces to bring some soul and personality into their interior. And my own house? I think I have definitely solved the problem that gave me my business idea in the first place, many moons ago! No beige and boring, that’s for sure.