I am very excited to share my chat with Norwegian Cathrine Tjore who runs the café and lifestyle store NORSK in Buckinghamshire in the UK. I discovered Cathrine on Instagram a while back and was immediately drawn towards the positive and typical Scandinavian feeling on her feed. In the following interview, you can learn more about her Norwegian roots and how she is bringing a slice of Norway to the UK. A truly inspiring and interesting read so grab a coffee and get comfy!
Q1 // Tell us more about NORSK café & interiors store?
I launched NORSK, my café and lifestyle store, in 2018. It’s more than just a shop though – it is how I import a slice of my native Norwegian style to my UK home. A good way of staving off homesickness, I find. It isn’t my first venture into this sector though. My husband and I created, and still run, a chain of coffee shops at commuter train stations across the south-east of England. When we started Little Italy Espresso Bar in 2004, we sold coffee from the back of a Piaggio Ape van outside the ticket office, come rain or shine (or snow!) We now have seven coffee shops and employ over 50 staff.
NORSK was originally our only Little Italy Espresso Bar café that wasn’t based in a station – it is in the middle of a pretty village in Bucks. It has always had Scandi-style décor with lots of clapboard, clean lines and wood, but last year I took the plunge and changed the name to NORSK. We relaunched as a café and lifestyle store. The menu is Scandi-inspired and I stock a selection of cool Nordic interiors and gift brands.
Q2 // As a Norwegian, why did you decide to move to England and how are you finding it being a Scandinavian living abroad?
I have lived in the UK now for 19 years but I grew up in Kristiansand, a seaside town on the southern tip of Norway known for its archipelago where chic Norwegians flock in the summer months. I first visited London in the mid-‘90s when I was 20 and lived there for a year. I originally came to visit for a month but loved it so much I stayed for a year. Then I came back in 2000 to study tourism and marketing in Cheltenham. My dissertation looked at the workings of the Norwegian tourist board so it is safe to say I have had an interest in flying the flag for my homeland for many years!
I had not planned to stay in the UK but I am still here in rural Buckinghamshire, nearly two decades on. I blame my British husband Simon for that! I feel very at home here because the British sense of humour is similar to the Norwegian one. And I really love how polite Brits are – we don’t queue nicely in Norway, for example. And I adore London, there is such a buzz and a get so much inspiration from the city, its culture and its people. My heart is forever split in two though, I love the UK but I love Norway too. I regularly go home to see my family and spend time in the mountains or by the sea.
Q3 // How are you bringing a slice of Norwegian cool to rural Buckinghamshire?
I have stayed true to my Norwegian roots by building a traditional white clapboard summer house in my front garden. It is a great spot for an impromptu drinks party on a warm evening. My décor style, meanwhile, is a mix of classic Scandi clean-lines and quirky British vintage finds with a rock’n’roll edge. It is a house of two halves, much like my heart. And then, of course, there is NORSK; my café and lifestyle store.
Q4 // What can be found in your store and which Scandinavian brands do you stock?
I am very proud to be the exclusive UK stockist of several Scandi brands. Pulito does sleek, sustainable water bottles and lunchboxes, while Sögne Home do rustic homewares and cool slogan mugs. And we have Norwegian woollen house socks (which keep selling out) and aprons made by Mamma – who is actually my own mamma, Torunn! We are also starting to launch our own NORSK-branded products too, like our body scrub made from the café’s leftover coffee grounds. Other best-sellers include Danish cult beauty brand Meraki, Iris Hantverk who makes ordinary household objects like dish brushes look absolutely beautiful and blankets from the Swedish heritage brand, Klippan.
Q5 // Tell us about the café and what Scandinavian delights visitors can expect to taste here?
Smørbrød open sandwiches – try the crab one or the smoked salmon with smashed beetroot. For breakfast, we have delicious homemade granola and as a snack, we have recently introduced our homemade skolebrød. When people think about Scandinavian snacks they always mention cinnamon swirls or Danish pastries but skolebrød is how we do it Norway. They’re my all-time favourite from my childhood and I wanted my British customers and friends to get to try them. It’s a bun dusted with shredded coconut with a cardamom custard filling.
Q6 // Do you have any tips and advice for readers trying to create a Scandinavian style in their own home?
Resist the temptation to make things too sleek and minimal, you need to makes sure your home is cosy and comfortable too. Lighting the fire and lots of candles can help with this. Scandis are big on grouping items together to display them. We put a candle, a bunch of flowers and a wooden bowl together. Think about smart storage too. I feel much calmer and happier if I know there is not loads of mess chucked in my cupboards and drawers. Good old IKEA is great for bits to organise your storage, and I like browsing for ideas on Instagram. Take a look at Houz Oslo or Workshop Living (who are actually based in Brighton in the UK) or of course norsk_inspiration!
Q7 // Why do you think the Nordic people are amongst the happiest in the world?
We get work/life balance right. It is not a badge of honour to stay late in the office and family takes priority. We spend a lot of time outdoors, whatever the weather, we make the most of the beautiful scenery and natural world. Exercise always makes you feel good, doesn’t it? We tend to eat healthily with lots of fish, salads and bread that is homemade so you know what goes into it. And we make sure our homes are relaxing, lovely places to spend time in which makes us happy.
Q8 // What is that Scandinavian feeling to you and how do you find it?
For me, it is when I return home to Kristiansand in the summertime. It is waking up in a summerhouse and then drinking coffee on the terrace with my feet dangling in the sea and salt in my hair. It is the most relaxing thing ever and it makes me smile just thinking about it.
And if you live nearby be sure to drop by NORSK and say hi from me.
(For anyone wondering; NORSK simply means Norwegian in English.)
// Photo credit: Liv-Unni Tveitane & Cathrine Tjore