By Shannon Latimer
“I was the new kid at school, always. As a result, I embrace change. I don’t back down from a challenge. I dream big. And I’m constantly looking beyond the horizon,” says self-professed ‘non-designer’ Ingrid Corbett of Quirky.Me. “I believe anything is possible if you put your mind to it. My world was always and still is a very much broad experience of the term.”
From her busy shop at Cape Town’s design-hub, The Old Biscuit Mill, Ingrid tells how her family moved every two years when she was growing up and believes this gave her a “global outlook”—one that informed her life subconsciously.
If you’re a devourer of magazines you will recognise the name. Ingrid Corbett was in publishing for many years and says her time on Elle Decoration gave her an appreciation for design and a sense of the aesthetic. As editor of the South African edition of Real Simple—a magazine she believes broke from the norm of women’s titles—she was always thinking outside of the box.
“I was always good at writing in terms that everyone could understand and relate to. My design aesthetic is the same: to make beautiful things that remain affordable. My biggest frustration is being seduced by something in a magazine, or in a store, and then finding out how much it costs and realising I will never be able to afford it.”
That’s something we can all identify with. Another is the touch of quirkiness that’s in all of us. Ingrid’s little design and décor business brings beautiful and fun items to help us shape our homes into spaces that reflect a bit of our own offbeat personalities.
So how did Quirky.Me start? When Real Simple closed Ingrid didn’t have a clear idea of what she wanted to do next. The idea for a décor business was just a seed, but she never imagined it would take root so quickly. “I think some things are meant to be. That same year, after some international travel everything just kind of fell into place. Meeting my business partner, Michele Petrie of Abode Design, shortly thereafter sealed my fate.” Together, they took up a retail space at The Old Biscuit Mill and they’ve enjoyed watching both their brands grow.
It’s her skills as a journalist, Ingrid says, that helped her with this new incarnation of hers. She believes a good idea needs as much research as a good story. “I’m under no delusion that I am a bona fide designer. I think there’s a clear distinction. I’ve had no formal training and I don’t work in a vacuum.
“I conceptualise a large part of the products myself, and put them into production here in South Africa with the help of incredibly talented local designers and craftspeople. I also take pleasure in sourcing quirky products that catch my eye from local creatives and artisans, as well as working with these talents to create products and ranges that are specific to our store.”
When asked about her inspiration, Ingrid confesses she gets most of her ideas while driving. A little worrying for other drivers, she says, because “I go into auto-pilot mode and my brain has time to wander. Of course then I never have pen and paper on hand to jot anything down so I end up calling up friends to tell them what I’m thinking and ask them to remind me about it later.” She immerses herself in literature—from international home and décor magazines to design and illustration books, and vintage titles. She also trawls second-hand bookstores and bookstores overseas for anything that looks interesting and unusual. “I find that poring over other creative ideas often sets my own creative process in motion.”
A bit of an oddball in her family—her older brother is a vet-turned-engineer, younger brother a doctor, oldest sister a PA and middle sister a telecoms executive. “They are all straight-up, solid folk. Luckily, we all share a great sense of humour, so I’m not the butt of every joke.”
She credits her dad. “He’s retired now but still tinkers with stuff in his garage. He can be quite creative. He helps me loads with the behind-the-scenes work for my business.”
When I ask who her favourite SA designer is, she’s quick to answer, “The guys from Dokter and Misses ... I think they make really clever, quirky stuff.” There’s that word again.
And what does her hubby think of her decorating choices? Apparently Mark, her levelheaded accountant husband, no longer questions her about the unorthodox choices she makes when decorating their home. She seems to have won that battle.
They live in Hout Bay with their three children, Josh, Sam and Eli. It seems it’s not always work, work, work for Ingrid, though. They recently bought a holiday house in Scarborough. “We love getting out there for weekends with friends and just relaxing.”
Ingrid leans forward and tells me two things a lot of us will be interested to know. Firstly, she thinks flamingos are going to be the next big thing. And secondly, she’s keen to expand her fledgling furniture range by collaborating with other local talent.
Watch this space.