Meet Ingrid Memelink, the woman behind the iconic Harrowset Hall and her more recent venture, The Linen Store.
Step into Harrowset Hall and The Linen Store and you’re welcomed by an abundance of exquisite bed linen, soft furnishings, and home accessories in beautiful natural fibres like cotton, silk, wool, linen and down.
A European Influence
“My parents, who immigrated from Holland, loved textiles and handcrafts so I learnt early how to discern the quality of fabric, and it became my passion too,” says Ingrid. “My father made violins in his spare time and my mother spent a lot of time sewing, painting and doing embroidery. European tourists love the stores and recognise many of their elements.”
While Ingrid sources her wares globally, she spotlights local. “It’s important for me to champion the vision and courage of our small businesses and designers,” she says. “There’s so much overseas competition which makes it difficult for independent business where the focus of large format stores is on price and discounting.” Ingrid understands malls are good at what they do but acknowledges high rents and incentives for international mega-chains make it tough for smaller retailers.
She stocks brands like Stansborough who produce wool on their Wairarapa farm to manufacture throws and blankets. “It’s about small volume, fair wages, sustainable business, and sharing the responsibility of all parties being profitable,” she says. “We love supporting the wholesaler community. I’m proud of that. It’s not about me getting rich and buying a helicopter, I enjoy what I do and the connection I have with suppliers and customers.”
Where It All Began
The story began 25 years ago when Ingrid and her partner opened Victoria’s Closet in Victoria Park Market selling lingerie and designing and making cotton and silk nightwear and pyjamas. “There was a gap in the market for natural cotton linen so we offered floral printed and striped cotton nightwear which proved hugely popular,” says Ingrid. “We called them Pauanui PJs because so many people in Pauanui wore them.”
Juggling Business & Motherhood
A few years in, Ingrid had her first daughter Bella and became a stay-at-home mother. “I thought that was what you did, but I realised pretty quickly that the idea of women gravitating naturally to being a mum at home is a myth. It was for me anyway,” she says. “I didn’t want to lose my identity and not utilise the skills, community, and business I’d created.” So she went back to work, taking a short break when her second daughter, Olivia, arrived.
Incorporating Bed Linen
Meanwhile, in the business, the success of the nightwear made adding bed linen a natural progression. “Very few people were offering cotton sheets at the time and they took off,” says Ingrid. “The bedroom was very much a hidden room then. People would spend a lot of money on their kitchen but the door to the bedroom was always closed.”
When she became a single working mother in early 2000, work and parenting became more of a juggle. “I understand the challenges single mothers face,” she says. “I felt like a mouse stuck on a wheel that didn’t stop. I needed a full-time nanny and found it difficult raising a mortgage as a self-employed single woman. Then just before the GFC I had a gut feeling and made the decision to move to Dunedin where I found time to breathe and find some balance.”
The Auckland – Dunedin Commute
Twelve years on Ingrid commutes to Auckland monthly and says the move made life more relaxed and parenting easier.
“The girls are grown now; Annabella, a successful international model, is 28; and Olivia’s 19 and at Otago University,” she says. “I recently pondered what I’ve achieved and without hesitation, I can say that raising two lovely young women is my greatest achievement. Being a mother, especially a single one, hasn’t been easy, but I’ve loved that part of my life, and it comes back to you in spades as they get older. There have been extremely difficult times but I think when you survive them you learn resilience.”
Harrowset Hall & The Linen Store
As the girls matured, so did the business. What began as Victoria’s Closet became Harrowset Hall, picking up loyal fans along the way, including The New York Times who describe it as an Auckland must-do. Three-and-a-half years ago, when Ingrid’s discerning eye noticed the bedroom coming out of the closet (so to speak), she founded The Linen Store aimed at townhouses, apartments, and holiday homes; they’ve also completed some custom work for yachts. “We have an exceptional range of sheeting; our staff are very competent and can give great advice on styling and quality sheeting,” says Ingrid. “People are confused about what a good sheet is as there are so many options these days so I wanted to simplify that a little bit.”