When we first moved to London, we arrived only with some clothes, a few books and a couple mementos to remind us of home. Fortunately, our flat was fully furnished although there weren’t any hangers in the closets. I had no idea where to start to try to find decent wooden or plastic tube hangers. I remember actually Googling: “hangers in London”. So sad in retrospect. If only I knew then what you will know now! (And if you were wondering, there isn’t anything in the UK that is similar to Target. Big grocery stores, yes, but not the same!)
If you only need household basics and are not particular about aesthetics or high-quality, try your local grocery store, ideally the biggest one you can find. As they do in the US, UK grocery stores often sell things such as cheap hangers, light bulbs, garbage bags (read: bin liners), or simple kitchen/bathroom supplies. Some of the nicer grocery stores sell more specialised housewares (and are also more expensive).
- Waitrose As well as quality groceries, you can often find really nice housewares here. Waitrose is part of the John Lewis chain of department stores so they usually sell what John Lewis sells in terms of kitchen supplies. The Waitrose near my home sells Brabantia, Michael Graves, Le Creuset as well as the less expensive John Lewis brand. Do note that smaller Waitrose stores will have limited selections of these kinds of items.
- Sainsbury’s Try the location on Cromwell Road if you can. When we moved out of our furnished flat, we bought our kitchen garbage can (read: bin) here as well as some glassware. You should be able to find cheap basics for your home here.
- Tesco The large Tesco’s are what you want to look for when you need housewares. Located in more suburban areas, they carry a large range of housewares, electronics, clothes, etc. If anyone remembers Gemco, these large supermarkets are similar to that concept. You’ll want to travel by car after shopping here as this could be a great place to get pretty much everything you need for your new digs, especially if you’re on a budget.
There are non-grocery store options, of course, which are great when you have more specific needs. I’m sure there are many places I’m not mentioning here, but I’m limiting this to only the places I frequent and can recommend. They are all also within central London (Zones 1 and 2).
- Robert Dyas This is where I actually ended up buying hangers (I don’t recommend the 8 pound box of wooden hangers they sell here; they break really easily). Robert Dyas is one of those houseware havens where everything is packed in but they probably have what you’re looking for. I go here for one off things like generic light bulbs, rubber feet for the sofa, mouse traps (yes), etc. They also sell pots and pans, water filters, irons, kitchen electrics, etc. I bought my latest garbage can here. They often have specials.
- John Lewis I don’t know how many John Lewis department store locations there are, but I usually go to the one on Oxford Street or in Canary Wharf. The housewares department here reminds me of Williams-Sonoma and I loves it. Depending on your budget, you probably don’t want to outfit your entire apartment/house from here (though I suppose you could). There is a John Lewis brand that covers reasonably priced pots and pans, flatware, glassware, etc. I bought my pots and pans from here, as well as some dry food canisters, sachets and sofa pillows among other things.
- Ikea We didn’t visit Ikea until we had already been here for a couple years, mainly because our first two flats were furnished and we didn’t need furniture. As soon as we moved into an unfurnished flat, we rang up some friends with a car to help us out. As we would have done back home, we bought our dressers, desk, mirrors and some kitchen/bathroom accessories from Ikea, and either used our friend’s car, or booked a taxi service to help us bring it back (sometimes there are men with vans who will solicit you in the furniture pick-up area. As I was with my husband both times, we went with this option. It worked out fine. They drive you back to your house and you pay an agreed amount, usually about 40 pounds, for the service.) All that said, there are a few Ikea’s in the London area. Only one was truly easily accessible via public transportation for us and that is the one in Croydon (we had to take the tube to a train to a tram to get there, but no bus!). I simply don’t frequent Ikea as it’s not easy to get to, nor pleasant to try to wrangle all the purchases back home.
- Ryman The chain of Ryman’s is good for office supplies such as notebooks, scissors, pens, etc. There are bigger Staples-type stores around, but again, they’re farther out in the suburban areas. There are Ryman’s dotted throughout central London.
Again, I didn’t become familiar with furniture buying the the UK until relatively recently when we moved into an unfurnished flat (tip: unless you know you’re going to be here long term, try to get a furnished flat).
- Ikea See above for my comments on Ikea.
- DFS This is sort of like Levitz (or any other American sofa store). More often found in the suburban areas, DFS is a large showroom of sofas you can order. Some floor models are available if you need one immediately but chances are it’s not going to be one you want. Sofa prices range from 600-1500 pounds or more. We didn’t buy our sofa from DFS, mainly because we didn’t want to wait 6-8 weeks for it to arrive.
- Furniture Villlage We went to a Furniture Village once but I wasn’t blown away. They have sofas, bed and dining room furniture.
- Dreams Dreams sells mattresses. When we were shopping for a bed, we particularly like the Chaucer model but we later read some online reviews about their service and opted against buying a mattress here. But if you asked me where you might look for a mattress, I’d tell you this place you might consider. (We ended up buying our mattress online from this place, if you’re curious. They delivered within a few days and the mattress did live up to the hype. I was sceptical of a purely memory foam mattress but I love it: firm but comfortable. We also ordered a “divan” with our mattress which is essentially a tall platform, typically with drawers for storage.)
Buying used is the best route, I think, for new arrivals to the UK who may or may not know how long they’re staying and don’t want to make a huge investment, at least not right away.
- Gumtree Whereas we rely heavily on Craigslist in the US, here they use Gumtree. I think there might be a Craigslist functioning in London but I never use it, and no one I know does, either. We found our coffee table and sofa through Gumtree (you can also find a flat, to share or not, through Gumtree but that info is all on the Live > Finding a Place to Live page of this site). But Gumtree works exactly the same way: you see something advertised, ring them up, go see it, maybe negotiate, then buy and bring it home!
- As far a getting your large purchases home from someone else’s home, there are car services all over London. You will often see cheap-looking business cards advertising airport rides or taxi services. Just ring them up and ask if someone can come in a van as you have a table with you (or whatever). If you have a really large item, you’ll need to investigate more of a man-with-a-van type option. There is one specific business I can recommend if you have a lot to move around town, or if you are on your own and need a bit of help. Online Taxi Vans was recommended to me by a colleague and when we moved from our second flat to our third flat, we had a lot more stuff than we did when we did when we moved in. Online Taxi Vans is a really simple service where a man shows up with his van, helps you load your things (you would choose to help load the van if you wanted to save on costs), then he drives you and your stuff to where you need to go.