Christian Hawley founded Nest in 2002 after a gap year travelling around the world opened his eyes to the power of beautiful, contemporary furniture. Just two years later, and influenced by his background in technology, nest.co.uk became one of the earliest adopters of online retail.
Today, Nest is the go-to design destination that celebrates great talent and is dedicated to sourcing and selling high quality, authentic modern design.
From his travels to your home, Nest CEO Christian Hawley discusses how he created the brand where great design meets only the finest quality.
A former IT broker, Christian was frustrated with his lack of passion for the computer industry. He knew it wasn’t his calling but was still trying to work out what was. With his then girlfriend (now wife) he decided on a gap year, a voyage of discovery, to find himself and something he believed in.
“To this day, that experience helped build my future and set in stone who I wanted to be as a person,” he says from Nest’s Sheffield HQ. “We visited many different countries, but it was when we reached Australia that I was struck by something that would influence the rest of my life. When we were in Melbourne, everywhere you went – hotels, cafes, restaurants and even offices – everything was fully geared up towards great contemporary design. I grew up in Yorkshire and, back then, there wasn’t much going on. To suddenly find myself in this stylish destination was my light bulb moment. The idea of bringing modern design home formulated.”
Nest was born in 2001, firstly as a retail business as was befitting of the time. Christian describes it as “intense.” He continues. “Trying to get people to buy into this ideal was hard. I’d come home with a folder of work, trying to understand who we wanted to be. My bible at the time was Design UK by Max Fraser and I devoured it. One of the reasons we exist is because of him.”
His former experience in the IT industry proved to be valuable and was instrumental in influencing him to take the brand online at a very early stage.
“I love retail, but business had to change, which is why we embraced e-commerce in 2004,” he explains. “At the time, it was very pioneering because there were very few people doing it. Some people were very against the idea and sometimes we hit a wall. It was hard to predict what was going to happen. Back then, I certainly didn’t foresee e-commerce becoming more successful than the high street.”
Still, it was a savvy move and, within the space of 6 months, Nest went from having 50 clients to thousands. It quickly established itself as a global brand, with a worldwide customer base. Yet their northern heritage is core to the brand’s values. “We’re Yorkshire folk; we’re genuine, we’re honest and we like to listen and give you advice,” he says smiling. “Plus, a lot of creative people come from this area and I’d like to think that we’re contributing to that.”
17-years on, he’s now a walking encyclopaedia on beautiful, contemporary interiors. “Whilst I’m not a designer myself, you can still influence what people buy by bringing beautiful products to market,” he says. “I hand pick everything and, over the years, have done a lot of research. I’ve learned to understand that everyone might not want just what I like, and I must be more open-minded. It’s about understanding who your consumer is, where they’re coming from and what values they have.”
His own are reflected in choices he’s made as the company has grown. His original Saturday girl, Toni, for instance, is now his MD. “We got all of the staff together and said, ‘Look, if you really want to make something of yourself at this company you can; Toni is proof of that.’ She and I are very different. I like navy, she likes yellow. We have different opinions but that means there’s a conversation to be had. It works.”
He’s also not interested in cashing in on the business nor making as much money as possible. His passion for iconic interiors won’t let him, for starters. Growing thoughtful, he says, “For me, it’s not about the quick win. I’m all about the long-term solution whilst having a smile on my face and helping others do the same through the power of great design.”