An expat success story in Switzerland
Charlotte and her family moved to Switzerland in 2016, for her husband's work. Their two kids, Lola and Freddie, are now 9 and 7 years old and perfectly adapted to Swiss village life. A few years after her move here, Charlotte started MILOLA, a high quality designer furniture shop, offering stylish, contemporary furnishings for the home and office. After many years of hard work, a lot of research and much change, MILOLA is enjoying great success in Switzerland.
Below is Charlotte's and MILOLA's story. We love stories like these and we're are excited to share them. Not only because Switzerland is seems offputting to any expats thinking of starting a business here, but also because MILOLA is a family business aiming to make people feel at home.
Charlotte, tell us more about your move to Switzerland.
I remember it vividly. It was July 2016. My husband asked how I would feel about moving to Switzerland for his work. I never saw myself moving abroad, was enjoying the life I was living and was happy being fairly close to my family. But at the same time, I felt excited and was already buzzing thinking about the beautiful surroundings we could live in, lots of chocolate and cheese, and the challenge of revisiting my school French. We decided we just had to do it – my motto has always been the biggest risk in life is to risk nothing. A few weeks later we were in Lausanne meeting with relocation agents, visiting houses, creches and schools.
"We decided we just had to do it – my motto has always been the biggest risk in life is to risk nothing", Charlotte Hazlewood, MILOLA founder
How about after the excitement of the move faded?
The first few months felt like a holiday. We spent some great times exploring the mountains, strolling around pretty villages and sampling the local cuisine. But we were also experiencing real language and cultural barriers. It was all a little overwhelming and lonely at times. What I hadn’t anticipated was the feeling that I had somehow lost my identity having gone from working and being financially independent to spending much of the day at home, alone and relying on my husband as the breadwinner. The three-month mark was probably the hardest as the honeymoon period had worn off, but it did not feel like we were properly settled. I am however a sociable person, so I threw myself into trying to make friends and learning French. I also changed my mindset to accept that my role for the next few months was about supporting my family to settle in our new home and that I was going to enjoy this time where I was not working. I got to see the kids more and could go for a cheeky ski in the daytime.
''What I hadn’t anticipated however, was the feeling that I had somehow lost my identity having gone from working and being financially independent to spending much of the day at home, alone and relying on my husband as the breadwinner'', Charlotte Hazlewood, MILOLA founder
When did you start to feel settled in Switzerland?
About one year after our move was the turning point where we finally felt settled, the kids were happy in their new school, we could communicate a little better and we had started to make some good friends. We were beginning to realise what people meant about the quality of life in Switzerland, whether it be the year-round outdoor life, the beauty or cleanliness of the country or the sense of security – it’s lovely that it feels safe enough for our kids to walk to school with their friends on their own. We would not have done this in the UK.
Definitely no. It has been the best decision moving out here and one that has changed my life. I can’t see ourselves moving back to the UK now. It feels like the hard beginning has really paid off – the kids are happy at school and completely bi-lingual (unlike their parents;). We've had opportunities that we would never have had in the UK, like learning to ski and going most weekends in the winter, we've made friends for life and have bought and started renovating a house. The move was also the catalyst for me setting up the business I had always dreamed about, which we now know as MILOLA.
Tell us more about MILOLA...
MILOLA was born out of my passion for furniture and interior design, combined with the realisation that there was very little choice of furniture and interior décor in Switzerland.
'We wanted to offer something different, something exciting and beautiful, and MILOLA slowly started to shape up. In fact, the name is taken from our daughter’s (Lola Millie), and yes we are biased, but we think she is also unique, exciting and beautiful', Charlotte Hazlewood, MILOLA founder
What kind of furniture would we find in your store?
Our collection is rooted in our passion for contemporary design, and we only sell brands that offer something a little different and importantly share our values for quality craftsmanship and beautiful design. We embrace the fact we are a small family business and have found that many of our suppliers are also family run businesses where often we will be working and talking with the founder, which we love, as they have as much passion for what they do as we do, which means culturally it’s a really good fit - that's really important to us.
Your house is also your showroom? How come?
Yes, we've turned part of our house into a showroom where people can see some of the furniture and look through samples over a coffee. I love this part of my job! The ‘living’ showroom works so well and customers love the fact they can see items in a real environment (so real that sometimes our two cats sometimes make an appearance). For those who can't visit us, we arrange a zoom call and then send out samples. Of course we have the website where people can buy direct, but in reality, we love speaking with our customers and we find they need this too. In most cases, people don't know exactly what they want and also, our pieces are highly customisable, so we spend a lot of time working with our customers, looking at different options to find that perfect piece that works for them.
We had one family who had just moved to Switzerland from the U.S. with a 3-week-old baby. They came to see us on a cold February evening, and I remember her being anxious about whether they would make it on time with the baby’s feeding/sleep schedule. I've been there and reassured her that it really doesn’t matter, we are in all night, so just arrive when you do. We spent the next 2 hours exchanging moving stories and talking furniture. They settled on the Kristensen Flex Table and Ram Comfort chairs, which look beautiful together. They were supposed to be delivered in a few weeks, but then our client told me they hadn’t actually got a dining table at the moment, they were eating off their knees! So, the very next day, we sent them one of our display tables to use until the new furniture arrives. And when it did arrive, they sent me a picture of their first meal at the new table and her words ‘We are obsessed with this table’. Its experiences like these that make it all worthwhile.
We have also just helped a couple who were moving into a gorgeous lake-front villa and were looking for marble furniture. They came to pick up a marble side table they had seen in our outlet, we started talking and in fact it turned out they were looking for other marble furniture, but had not been able to find exactly what they had in mind. So, we worked with them and our artisan stone mason in the UK to realise their dream. There was a lot of going back and forth to make sure everything was right, down to the veining of the marble block and level of shine, but in the end they were happy and that's the most important.
Favourite pieces from your shop?
I often get asked this. Brand wise, I can’t pick one as they have all been chosen for their individual merits, but I certainly have a few key pieces, which I am eyeing up for the non-showroom part of our house. One of our favourites and best sellers is the CASØ 700 bookcase:
We love mid-century furniture and feel this is modern twist on this, and with its clean and simple lines, but with a retro feel. It is a best-seller because of its stylish, well made but its also very functional with room for display, cupboard, and drawer storage.
The next is the Kristensen Kristensen Sydney Table:
I love the contrast of the metal and solid wood and the design of the boomerang legs means that chairs can be positioned all the way round the table without the leg getting in the way. What’s more is that it is available in lots of sizes, extendable by up to 2m, 11 different woods stains, 3 different metal detail colours, 5 finishes (from smooth to raw with knots) and 4 edge profiles.
Next would be the Danform Flair chair because it is a real statement, but is also extremely comfortable with its armrests, making it suitable for long evening meals with family and friends:
People love it because it comes in real leather, artificial leather or fabric and a choice of black metal, chrome or wood legs.
On sofas, I love the SITS Teddy Sofa with the pointed rounded feet available in wood, chrome, black/grey metal or brushed chrome and wide array of fabrics:
This sofa is also modular so you can configure the size and shape of the sofa for you. I don’t know what makes this sofa so eye-catching, maybe it's the angled arms.
I could go on forever, but the final favourite which is new and just made it to our website is the Bolzan Letti Flag bed:
A great combination of fabric and wood with brass accessories and has poufs, a cute chair and dressing table in the same range. It's designed and manufactured in Italy, we're so excited to have it in our shop.
In closing, do you have any tips for anyone moving to Switzerland?
Well, furniture wise - my advice would be to get the basics in place before you move. If you know that you are not going to have a bed or a dining table, think about it before you move. Most house details have plans so you should be able to purchase before moving, meaning that it can arrive for when you move in. We have held or timed furniture to arrive when our customer moves into their house, and this has worked very well. Otherwise, if you have the basics, wait until you move in and then get a feel for the house, the way you live in it, your needs and then go from there. We see a lot of people moving into new houses, thinking I need x,y,z only to find the x,y,z is very different to what they thought before they moved, so I would say take your time. Or contact us, we'll get you through!
And, this has nothing to with furniture, my advice for anyone moving here would be to do your research. That is not just reading up about the area on the internet, it is best to reach out and speak to people who've already made the move. I didn’t do this prior to moving but have helped others since. It's so useful to get first-hand insight to help you to decide where to live, who to speak to for what, and generally what it's like living here. There are some great expat/ international groups on Facebook you can use to reach these people, including national groups but also groups for each area and groups with shared interests. Just pick someone you like the sound of and ask them if they would mind chatting with you – people usually love sharing their stories. Finally, once you have made the move my tips would be to adopt the local life, try not compare your home country to Switzerland and embrace the change.