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Ambre Concept: a hidden jewel

Ambre Concept: a hidden jewel

Why not give yourself a pleasurable treat with a visit to Ambre? You’ll love savouring the original delights of this enchanting concept store situated in the centre of Cognac’s pedestrian zone. We visited in the run up to Christmas...

Ambre-concept-boutique-cognacHunting for suitable Christmas gifts and seasonal decorations to make your French home alluring for the festive period can be stressful. Yet this needn't be the case if you take a few minutes to step into the narrow Rue du Palais in the historic centre of Cognac to discover Ambre Concept Store.
Characterised by its friendly, relaxed atmosphere, the boutique displays a huge range of original homeware, scented products, furniture and delicatessen spread over 350 square metres. Its popularity – which is rapidly spreading by word of mouth – is not only due to the store's conviviality and its elegant exhibits of 3000 different articles: there are also weekly deliveries of new items from the fifty suppliers, some of which have chosen Ambre as their exclusive French retail outlet.

Where else in Poitou-Charentes can you find Rococo chocolates and Oliviers & Co. truffle salt rubbing shoulders with Jellycat soft toys, Flamand furniture, Cavallini notebooks, Iosis cushions and Tadé soaps? It is this mix-and-match ambience that makes the store such a charming place to visit, and which allows clients to buy different decorative objects in the knowledge they'll harmonise in their own homes.

Scores of quality wares at under 10€ sit alongside Starck stereos and objets de curiosité, with plenty of catalogues for ordering specific goods. The owners – Australian Paul Mottershead and his French associate Olivier Guérin – are willing to give you advice, but they're also perfectly happy to let
you browse to your heart's content and simply enjoy the store.

Ambre's success is very much down to the refined taste of Paul and Olivier, who spent the months preceding the opening in November 2010 travelling to cities in Spain, Belgium, Italy and South Africa to source their stock. They still manage regular trips and are always present at international fairs such as Maison & Objet in Paris and Top Drawer in London. Paul and Olivier will also do their utmost to source any desirable items you may spot in a magazine.
The store was born from the encounter of two like minds, when Olivier and Paul met four years ago in London and decided to work for themselves in the Charente, where Olivier has family. Olivier had been in London for 25 years, running a language school for business executives, while Paul was managing the famous Clifton Nurseries in Maida Vale – the oldest running nursery in London. "It's a beautiful place, selling homeware as well as plants. It's hidden behind buildings and has a narrow entrance, rather like Ambre," says Olivier, who shares his love of architecture, interiors and gardens with Paul. "We both enjoy looking at shop window displays for ideas, and we go into the countryside to look for inspiration. In England, we belonged to the National Trust and would often visit gardens there."

"I like the romantic side of gardening," admits Paul. A qualified horticulturalist and garden designer, he spent 13 years gardening in Melbourne, Australia. "For me, the place where a garden is set is very important. I love the historical settings here." Paul's eye for context can be appreciated at Ambre, where the decked courtyard, overflowing with pot plants, is bordered by an original birch log wall, and a hanging garden of clematis and star jasmine sets off the central fountain.

ambre-concept-cognac

The courtyard is just a tiny part of Ambre's six rooms, which underwent a thorough renovation under local architect Eric Daigre's hands. The style blends ancient with contemporary, with a hint of countryside and a few ethnic pieces, including Asiatides chinoiserie. The front room has red tile floors, bare stone walls and exposed beams, with modern gris cementite paintwork – an ideal backdrop for the tasteful selection of furniture on which a multitude of decorative items and fashion wares, such as Tampico handbags, are placed. "Our French clients think it looks English, but I think of it as French with an English twist," says Olivier, adding that once clients have found Ambre, they keep coming back.

Behind the front room lies the salon, housing a sofa and coffee table. This is the cosy area, lit by lamps and decorated with pictures and furnishings galore, including Chehoma delights. To the right you'll find children's gifts, such as the funky Déglingos toy animals.

Hidden behind this is the largest room, where you can wander through the home perfumes and bathroom products, featuring Savonnerie de Bormes, and into the tableware items. In this section, Swedish linen from Linum, Basque serviettes from Artiga and tableware from Côté Table are artfully exhibited, and lead naturally into the Epicerie Fine corner.

It took a year of negotiation to establish Ambre as an outlet for the wonderful Mariage Frères teas, hard to find elsewhere in Charente. And alongside these lies Maille's gastronomic range, found only here and in Maille's Paris shop.

Leading British products can be found too, including the Artisan du Chocolat range. "These are popular for their trendy packaging. The chocolates with sea-salted caramel inside are amazing," says Olivier, adding that Ambre is the unique outlet for Artisan Biscuits' products.

Finally, a modern staircase leads to L'Atelier, a showroom with original wooden floors displaying plants, seashells, picture frames, clocks and basketware in a workshop atmosphere.

Although it may seem tiny from the outside, you'll soon discover that Ambre is actually a gateway to a whole wonderful world of home decoration.

 


Find out more...

Ambre Concept Store, 10 rue du Palais, 16100 Cognac.

Tel: 05 45 36 54 21. Open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 7pm and seven days a week during December.

Rue du Palais is a narrow street leading off the pedestrianised Rue Aristide Briand, about 50m from the entrance to St Leger church, between Letuffe chocolate shop and Babylone clothes shop.

Ambre is 20m down rue du Palais on the right.

 

WORDS: TERESA HARDY PHOTOS: COURTESY OF AMBRE CONCEPT STORE

First published by Living Poitou-Charentes December 2012 © All rights reserved