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Eat, Drink, Shop at Nkuku

You could easily lose a morning or afternoon at lifestyle store, Nkuku. It's worth a visit for the cake alone.

I’ve been dying to tell you about Nkuku since I popped in for a little mooch a while ago and basically restyled my entire home off the back of it…in my dreams.  Now, spring has sprung and there’s an extra hour of daylight for pottering about the house, giving everything a bit of a revamp; so let me get you acquainted.

You know when a place makes its way into your subconscious without you even realising it?  Yes, that’s how I discovered this cluster of barns, having driven past them on the main road to Dartmouth just outside Totnes, on a few occasions.  I’d clocked the words ‘Home & Lifestyle Store’, thought to myself: ‘I must check that out’ and then, the name strangely seemed to pop up wherever I went.  It was telling me something.

It was telling me that this is a place that all Muddy readers will want to know about. And not just the shop, either; the café is a real little find, which seems to draw people in on its strength alone, regardless of the lovely homewares you have to walk past to get to it.

Heave open the most enormous iron door and within you’ll find a beautifully curated showroom of handmade home and lifestyle products.  There is quite a vast range of pieces to browse; in the main building, the ground floor is dedicated to lifestyle, from leather journals, to gorgeous glass picture frames and hand-crafted jewellery.

Around the corner en route to the cafe, there is kitchenware, from chopping blocks in every shape and size, to beautifully decorated dinnerware.   Move upstairs to the mezzanine and you discover furniture for the bedroom or living room, from sofas to soft furnishings and light fittings. I defy you not to fall in love with at least seventeen things.

Cross the courtyard to the other barn and everything becomes more super-sized.  Here, you’ll find all sorts of one-off reclaimed statement pieces for inside and out.  So, if you’ve ever felt the need to source an enormous, rustic firepit, or you’re looking for a quirky column to stand a pillar candle on, the chances are you’ll find it in this treasure trove.

So what ties everything together here?  Well the name ‘Nkuku’ (pronounced nuh-ku-ku) may alert you to the fact that this isn’t just another interiors store – there’s quite a background to how the brand was born, as I discovered when I met the lovely owner, Alex Cooke.

Ten years ago she, along with her husband decided to leave their jobs and go travelling and met lots of talented craftspeople along the way.  Inspired, the couple came back to Blighty, shipped out of the city and moved to rural Devon (clever move, obvs), where they started working with artisans around the world, hoping to bring their crafts to a wider audience and help them to preserve some age-old traditions for future generations.

The name, Nkuku was borrowed from a hut in Zambia and the business plan written on the cover of a paperback and the first little order they placed – lovely leather journals –  is still a best-seller today.  The first big order was a different story; arriving by boat, you can imagine the excitement of opening it up to rummage through the goodies and the sheer dismay on discovering that nearly everything had been damaged in transit beyond repair.  Now, logistics are slicker, but the couple still use a personal approach when they source, meeting every single maker they work with.

This is how Alex knows that every item has a real story behind it.  And the second thing you should know is that she has an encyclopaedic knowledge of her wares.  Point to any piece and she’ll let you know who made it, where and why, from leather bags hand-stitched in Rajasthan, to delicate Mali pottery handmade in southern India as part of a fair trade project.  It’s quite astonishing and makes you realise the virtue of buying something other than mass-produced items.

Perhaps the coolest thing of all is that so much of what’s on display has been repurposed, to avoid anything old going to waste.  So, the aprons hanging up that I, for some bizarre reason, took a shine to are fashioned from old tent canvas; the quirky storage boxes are actually old turban containers; and the glass picture frames hang using colourful strings made from old sari’s. They need to give customers one of those audio tour headsets, to do each item justice.

It really is an admirable ethos that is being celebrated by interior designers this year.  And, for me at least, a browse around the store is also a rather lovely eye-opener in learning what buzzwords like “ethical” and “eco-friendly” actually mean.

Apologetically, I need to round this off by bringing things back to cake.  You know how I’d describe the Nkuku experience?  For us mere locals simply looking for a spot of retail therapy, it’s a bit like a garden centre for people who don’t like plants.  And by that I mean you’d happily give up a morning to drive out, spend a few hours browsing and coveting things you’d never really thought had a place in your home and then round it all off with coffee and lunch, with a great big wedge of sponge as a full stop.  Also worth pointing out that kids will love meeting the humungous wooden elephant in the courtyard too, and it isn’t even mechanical or fitted with a coin slot, which means more pocket money for you.

To fully whet your appetite, have a browse at the Muddy edit of gorgeous gifts in store now.   Meet you there for cake?

From top left: Danta Antique brass frame £16.95 – £24.95; IBA Ceramic grey mug short £12.95; Green Druzy necklace £69.95; Rustic leather journal £19.95 – £29.95; Latika Leaf Vase £29.95 – £89.95; Badwa weekend bag £295.00; Beme brass heart pot £18.95 – £22.95

Nkuku, Brockhills Barns, Harbertonford, Totnes, TQ9 7PS.

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