15 mins with…John Manning of The House In Town

The House In Town ground floor designer homeware

I get up close and personal with renowned Ipswich designer homeware entrepreneur John Manning of The House In Town. He reveals the story behind this super stylish shop, where he gets his inspiration from and what it’s really like running a family business…


Please tell me a little about the history?

Our first shop, Maud’s Attic opened in St Peter’s Street 22 years ago. Initially it operated as an antique shop for 10 years. But, we then evolved to become an interiors and designer homeware shop selling new products with a vintage slant. In fact, these days, there’s a lot of emphasis on gifts, jewellery and accessories. In addition, all the products are new and contemporary.

Our second shop, Merchant House Interiors opened a couple of years later. So, for the last twenty years, we have sold a variety of furniture, mirrors, lighting and stunning accessories for the home. This was so successful, we extended our range by opening The House in Town eight years ago. In fact, we have actually doubled our floor space.

What designer homeware do you sell in The House in Town?

I specialise in contemporary furniture, lighting, mirrors and artwork. Our stock is eclectic and forever changing. So, you can walk away with a sofa, a wardrobe, a full length mirror or a stunning accessory.

Where do you source your stock from?

As a long standing family business we have suppliers and wholesalers from all over the world. I work with talented local people too to try to offer designer homeware to suit every style and budget.

Do you follow interior trends?

It is very important to keep an eye on current and upcoming trends. However, as I am always looking for unique and unusual pieces, I am not afraid to stock designer homeware that I believe in, regardless of trends. I take the view that if an item will enhance the look of the shop, but may not necessarily be the sort of thing everyone would like, I simply have to go for it. I really love to have conversation pieces for everyone to enjoy.

Where do you get your inspiration from for your designer homeware?

Exhibitions and trade shows are very useful, but equally if I visit an amazing hotel or restaurant and I am inspired by a look or luxury homeware item, I will always try to track it down so that we can share it with our customers. My customers are also a great source of inspiration as they will often show me pictures of great places they have been, which give me fresh ideas.

What’s been the most memorable luxury homeware item you’ve ever sold?

Probably the life-size woman made from mosaic glass, wearing a Coco Chanel hat. This piece of luxury homeware was absolutely stunning and she found a great home.

Have you had celebrity customers?

Yes, we are fortunate to be supported by local sportspeople, celebrities and of course visiting performers usually find this street if they are here for a few days. However, apart from that, I will remain discreet.

Do you work with interior designers?

I work with a large variety of local interior designers with amazing style and a whole host of ideas. We are currently collaborating with a local designer with luxury homeware to furnish an absolutely stunning new home, which is nearing completion. It is such a joy to work with designers as it really gets my creative juices flowing. I offer a free-of-charge design service to my customers, but it is certainly not on the same level as some of the schemes these talented people put together.

What’s it like running a family business?

The biggest benefit is knowing that we are all on the same side and working towards the greater good. It makes it easier to ask my brother to deliver a sofa at 7am on a Tuesday morning. I am far too sensible to name any downsides!

What do you love most about The House In Town?

It is a fabulous building to come to work in each day, filled with luxury homeware – we have a great customer base. Many have become more like friends over the years, so my coffee machine is in constant use.

Describe your typical working day?

There really is no typical day as every customer has a different requirement and my ethos is that if I haven’t got it, I will do my best to find it. Between customers, I am constantly changing the different rooms in the shop as new designer homeware arrives on an almost daily basis. Customer service is paramount so I can be delivering goods long after the shop has closed, often taking my drills to hang mirrors and artwork for customers who would struggle to do so for themselves. I also deal with accounting, invoicing, website management, ordering and much, much more!

Why did you decide to be based in Ipswich?

Well, it is a family business…. and, with three shops side by side, it would be very difficult indeed to find such a perfect location elsewhere. It all stems from Mum opening her shop more than two decades ago. I was in the property industry and losing my passion for it. The opportunity came along in 2011 to open a retail outlet, so, following my parents’ ethos, I thought “why not!”.

What do you like about your location?

St Peters Street is, in my opinion, the best location in town and, along with our neighbours in St Nicholas Street, it is a great community. It is of course just a few minutes’ walk from the marina and only a couple of minutes to the town centre. Our customers really like the free parking outside and we have loads of great coffee shops and restaurants to choose from here, too. We have new neighbours coming soon in the form of an award-winning vegan cafe, which will enhance the street even further.

Where do you see The House in Town in five years’ time?

Hopefully, we’ll be exactly where we are now, in a vibrant street with the same neighbours. I’m sure my luxury homeware shop will have evolved in some way to meet shopping trends, although we remain firmly committed to bricks and mortar retailing – the internet just isn’t for me! I hope to be able to continue to support our charity partners such as The Suffolk Animal Rescue and Helping Hands Suffolk, and would like to find a way of incorporating charitable support into what we do as retailers.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

The shop is open six (sometimes seven) days a week, so time off is rare. So, when my day off isn’t spent delivering furniture or visiting suppliers and trade shows, I like to play golf and watch other sports such as cricket. In reality, I don’t get enough spare time for either, but I love what I do so it’s all worth it.

What’s your favourite thing about Ipswich?

Ipswich is my home and has been for 40 plus years. It is a vibrant town with many great things, such as parks and museums. I fully intend to find time to support more of the great local events. The town takes a lot of criticism, but mostly on social media from keyboard warriors. There is far more good than bad!

If I walked into The House In Town right now, what would I want to buy?

Definitely some stunning artwork. We have 3D pieces, hand embellished prints and decorated mirrors. There truly is something here for everyone

What are the best interior investments I should make for my home?

Just buy what you love and want to live with – but storage units always hold their price. My mirrors are also timeless and the sort of thing that you can keep, use and love for decades.

Describe your interior style?

Eclectic but comfortable. A twist on conventional with a sense of fun!

Want to find out more about the life of an interior designer? Well, read my interview with Simone Suss of Studio Suss who offers decorating advice and reveals some of her latest luxury design projects.