Thorsten van Elten

After working for UK retailer SCP for 5 years, Thorsten van Elten set up his own business in 2002, producing and distributing design-led products by young emerging UK based designers.

After having a design destination shop in central London for a while, Thorsten launched the online shop ‘Theo’ in 2011 where he continued to sell and support young emerging designers from around the world, offering a platform and sales outlet.

At the end of 2014 he decided to take a break and decided to put the online shop into hibernation in order to have time off and to figure out what he was really passionate about and decided to swap the Big Smoke for a more tranquil life in the East Sussex countryside.

But, once a shopkeeper, always a shopkeeper and after an eight month break, Thorsten decided to go back to his roots and bring you an inspired selection of cute curiosities. Nice things. Things he loves and cares about but can’t possibly keep all for himself! He’s been around the (design) block for over 20 years now, so we are thrilled to finally have this design aficionado join us to do an interview….

For those who don’t know you how would you describe what you do?

Haha, I often ask myself that. I’m currently mainly an online shopkeeper of (mainly) German or Germany inspired products. In the past I’ve been everything from producer, distributor, curator, shopkeeper, buyer, visual merchandiser. I’m a classic jack of all trades, master of none.

How would you describe your style?

My style has always been that if I wouldn’t have it in my own home I won’t sell it. It’s incredibly personal that’s why being a brick and mortar retailer wasn’t for me, I literally couldn’t deal with the rejection of people walking out without buying anything or, god forbid, say something negative about anything in the shop. 

Do you have a signature piece?

I guess the Sheep, and currently the Happy Spoons. 

Which new designers are exciting you right now?

Since I am now mainly an online shopkeeper I don’t follow the design scene as much as I have in the past but Bethan Wood is always a joy to follow. 

Your own home must be full of amazing design pieces. Which piece could you not live without?

Way too many to mention. I tend to get attached to a lot of things and by no means are they always the expensive bits. I’ve got quite a nice ceramics collection so I would be very upset if anything would happen to that but I think my absolute favourite bit would have to be my two 1972 Munich Olympic Games Posters by Otl Aicher.  They are A0 in size so play quite a large part in my house.

Talking of home, where is that?

After 25 years in Central London, I now live in a wonderful 70s bungalow near Battle in East Sussex. It’s the least English looking house I could find as I’m not too fond of beams and low ceilings. 

What inspires you?

I love a good road trip, especially around Eastern Europe. I always find inspiration there, in the socialist modern architecture, mosaic or other public art of which there was plenty. I always find Berlin a constant source of inspiration so try to go at least twice a year and always pick a couple of neighbourhoods I’ve not been to and aimlessly wander around. That’s my kind of heaven. 

What do you look for in a new product?

It needs to speak to me immediately. If I think about it too long then it’s usually not a good sign. 

Do you think the role of curator has changed/evolved over the last 20 years?

Absolutely. God I’m gonna sound so old but I think everything has changed in the last 20 years. Everyone’s a curator nowadays. The internet has changed so many things and just like anything it’s changed it for the good but also for the bad. I’m very excited to see that there are so many more opportunities out there for young designers even if that means taking things into your own hands and create your own brand. The fact you can crowdfund projects and you can present your ideas to the world with one click of a button.

All images courtesy of Thorsten van Elten

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