‘Con Amore’ means ‘with love’, and that at the heart of Charles Kerr and Maria Cochrane’s four furniture stores, including their new flagship one in Durban’s buzzing Station Drive precinct.
The couple grew up in Durban and live a few hundred metres from their boutique-sized La Lucia Mall Con Amore store. ‘This is our home-turf, but people here associate us mostly with handbags and cushions, which is about all we can fit in at La Lucia,’ says Charles. ‘They don’t know we’re this big furniture company with a 1000 square metre store in Kramerville, Joburg, and a 600 metre one in Brooklyn Mall, Pretoria. So when we saw this beautiful factory warehouse on Station Drive, it was a no-brainer – we can finally showcase our full range for a home crowd!’
It wasn’t without a lot of hard work. ‘This was the original Lee Jeans building,’ says Maria, ‘And though we wanted a raw warehouse look, it needed so much done.’ They rewired, painted, scraped and polished the cement floors, and moved the original windows several metres higher, so light streams in atmospherically from above.
Handiman Shadrack Mgiba created partitions for the different living area displays, from French classical furniture – all delicately carved antique chaises and chandeliers – to worn leather Chesterfield (originals and carefully crafted replicas) with vintage ceramic bulldogs.
At the entrance, Durban illustrator Kim Longhurst and designer and font collector Scott Robertson, of The Curators of Contemporary Craft, have created a world map from wooden pallets and bakers’ trays, local succulents and old Indian bird cages, capturing the Con Amore concept spelled out in signage elsewhere: ‘We bring the world home’.
It was on their travels that Charles and Maria first met and the ‘amore’ began. Charles ran Durban’s Colonial Trading and Cargo home stores and Old Vicarage Antiques before importing for chain stores, and Maria had a business importing fabrics and manufacturing cushions. They’d see each other at fairs and markets on buying trips in Europe and the East.
‘We’d chat about how great it would be not to have to buy things with mass commercial appeal for work, but just things we really loved, and to open a store for them,’ Charles says. Eventually Maria came up with the name for it, and in 2010 they opened the first Con Amore shop in Kramerville.
It took wings on the trend to up-cycling born from the recession and rising Green movement, but at its heart is what Charles calls ‘a great partnership, at work and now in life — we share the same vision, tastes and craziness.’
Con Amore, 15 Station Drive, 031 303 2531, conamore.com