TechCrunch Cribs Visits Llustre — A Better Gilt For Home Decor?

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I must admit I didn’t immediately get Llustre. It looked like another e-commerce play, super-focused on curation and editorial – where was the potential for scale? I looked again. They’d raised £750,000 (just over $1 million) from a host of experienced angel investors, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. There must be more to it than meets the eye? Perhaps it was the latest in a new trend of culture-led startups coming out of London right now in the fields of art, design and music? Clutching a camera, I went along to their new offices in Clerkenwell to find out.

The location is significant. London’s Clerkenwell has long been home to a cluster of designers, artist and artisan communities and is well located between the creative/design companies of the West End and the tech startups of the East.

Founded by Vivienne Bearman and Tracy Dorée, their respective CVs offer a hint as to what they might do with Llustre. Bearman was a senior studio producer at Playfish acquired by Electronic Arts. That suggests gaming. Dorée was a former VC with MMC Ventures. That suggests a business that can scale. She wouldn’t do a mere lifestyle business, would she?

Then there was the investors – a nice roster including Oleg Tscheltzo (Founder of Fotolia.com), VCs Hussein Kanji and Rob Kniaz, Tom Hulme (Design Director at IDEO), Kirill Makharinsky (CEO Ostrovok), John Earner (GM Playfish) and Sir Peter Bazalgette (media guru formally with Endemol). None of these guys is a mere pinch hitter, to use a base ball term.

So what is Llustre? On the face of it it’s a “trusted guide” to discovering good design, showcasing designers, curating a daily mix of exclusive products, limited edition pieces and flash-based sales (up to 70% off the recommended retail price). But it’s also content and community.

The designers are well known if you are into your interior design, such as Becky Bauer, Ella Doran, Hoganas, Iittala, Mellorware, Norman Copenhagen, Plumen, Shan Valla, Snow Home and Stelton. Meaningless to my thuggish self but well known in their areas.

Llustre is probably pushing at an open door in Europe, it’s main market. The European homeward and furniture market online is worth £130bn but only 10% of this sector is bought online versus 30-40% in women’s fashion. It’s a yawning gap waiting to be filled by new startups.

Certainly in the UK, the magazine stands are bulging with interior design magazines, and yet people’s homes seem largely Ikea-fied. It strikes me that there is a cultural zeitgeist going on here: Llustre and Pinterest are signs that people, especially women, are hungering for more choice of design in the their surroundings, and have a need that can’t be filled by flicking through magazines writing down web addresses.

Llustre certainly plans to get on the social train with its members by merging commerce with social gaming and content around discovering, discussing and buying designer homeware online. The aim is to create a frictionless flow from discovery to purchase.

They’ll do this in a very data driven way driving engagement via game mechanics (in the video below I also interview their CTO).

“The flash sales business is not generating cash because it’s all going into marketing,” Doree tells me. “The trick is to make the customer enjoy the experience and they’ll come back – so integrity is what it’s all about.”

It’s something other sites have struggled with. Gilt has extended to other areas. Perhaps Llustre can crack the magic code with its data-led approach.

Well, you’ll get a flavour for what Llustre is all about in our interview below.

(Apologies for the slight editing fail during part of the main interview).