Not many couples can say their relationship blossomed over a shoulder of ham, but for Neri and Patrick Williams, co-founders of interior design practice Berdoulat, it was a not so chance meeting at a deli counter where they first started to chat. “I was studying photography at the time and working in the deli when Patrick came in,” recalls Neri. “He brought this ham he’d bought in Spain and asked me to cut it for him. We had lots of similar interests as he was a designer, and we became good friends at first. I loved his approach and he was super passionate, which I found very engaging.”
From Patrick’s side, the meeting was a little more planned. “I was trying to carve the ham at home without much success and I thought this gives me an opportunity to talk to the girl in the deli,” he says. “I was desperately trying to court her for a good six months and even after two mix CDs she didn't really get that I liked her. She just thought I was really into music.”
Luckily, both his music curation and design sensibilities won Neri over in the end, and now together, as well as their studio specialising in period projects and restoration, they also run a homewares emporium in Bath. Currently housed in the same Georgian building where the couple, their two daughters and two dogs live, it features original mahogany and marble counters, gold leaf lettering and mirror backed vitrines.
Directly behind the retail space, their home echoes the shop’s double height construction and is filled with eclectic objects each imbued with their own sense of meaning. One such object, gifted to Patrick on his 30th birthday, is quite unlike any other. “We have some very close family friends who live in south-west France,” he explains. “They’re fantastic antiques dealers with a shop in the village near to where I grew up. This little jar contains dust gathered from the top of an 18th century bed canopy, which they quite rightly thought I would enjoy as a present.”
Beyond its unusual charm, the tiny, fabric topped jar with its raffia tie and faded, handwritten label has a deeper significance for Patrick. “The friend, Didier, taught me a really important lesson,” he continues. “I’d just graduated so hadn’t yet embarked on my career. I was down in France when the landline went early one morning. He said, ‘I've a house clearance to do, can you come and help?’” One of the items the pair moved was a bed, and Patrick asked whether his companion found it odd that someone may have just passed away in it. “His answer was that the following week he’d probably sell it to a newlywed couple, so it would have an entirely fresh start. It really helped me understand about cycles, heirloom pieces and becoming custodians of ancient things.”
In contrast to ethereal dust, a set of wooden blocks are much more functional favourite. “They were also a 30th birthday present from our friend Marcus Jacka, an incredible cabinet maker who creates some of the furniture that we sell in the shop,” says Patrick. “When I started designing pieces, I thought it would be useful to have an understanding of how furniture is constructed. To learn more, I joined Marcus in his workshop for a spell, using the machines and handling timber to get a feel for the craft. These blocks demonstrate how various joints work, so as well as being beautiful they’re really useful too.”
For Neri, her most cherished pieces have deep connections to her family, who were immigrants that travelled from Bulgaria to Turkey. Having moved several times, only their most precious possessions were able to come along. “I had a really close relationship with my grandfather, who was a great storyteller,” she explains. “People used to come just to sit and chat with him, and he would grind coffee in a brass grinder and put it in this wooden pot.”
For many years however, the whereabouts of the pot was unknown, until one day, it was discovered by her brother at the family home in Istanbul. “I'd been thinking about it for a long time and now it's come my way, I really treasure it,” she says. “You can still smell the coffee. It reminds me of him and his stories and I find that very comforting.”
A needlework blanket handwoven and embroidered by Neri’s mother as part of her dowry holds the same familial emotions. Filled with natural wool, it would have been used like a mattress or a floor cushion. “The motifs are very Bulgarian, and again they make me feel connected,” she says. “My mother spun the wool, dyed it with beetroot and then wove it so it's the essence of handmade, which is something I really value.”
Similarly, a TOAST cotton quilt finished with hand stitching is also something that the couple holds dear. “It feels traditional but at the same time quite contemporary. We love the natural chestnuts and indigos, which are very much like the colour schemes we use in our work,” says Neri. “It’s an investment piece that can be appreciated for years to come, and we’ll no doubt pass it on to our kids in the same way my family passed these things on to me.”
Interview by Claudia Baillie.
Photographs by Marco Kesseler.