Image: François Köng

Karine Candice Köng founded award-winning concept store BODIE and FOU with her sister, Elodie, in 2005. French with Norwegian heritage, Karine now lives in London while her husband, Steve, and daughter, Mila, live together in France.

Tell us about you
I grew up in the South of France, went to University in Bordeaux to study advertising and started working in one of the top 10 French advertising agencies – now PUBLICIS – on Canon and L’Oreal. After three years, I felt it was time to spread my wings and move to London. I had never been before but my mum loves the British style and I think I grew up with a very positive image of England.

BODIE and FOU was one of the first online stores of its kind. Where did it all start? 

My sister Elodie joined me in London a few years later. To start with, we shared a place and then I bought my first one-bedroom flat in Stoke Newington, North London, so we started shopping to do it up. We’d always been very interested in decoration, our mum always had piles of decoration magazines and even with a five- gap (Elodie is younger), we are very close. We started talking about running a business together, looked at different options –opening a shop or having a stall in Spitafields market.
Then one evening, my now-husband Steve came back from a meeting and told me about this company that was selling online. That night we went for a run together and I didn’t say anything for 30minutes; by the end of the run, I thought ‘this is it, we need to go online’. That was nine years ago, when there were very few interesting online shops. I wanted to create an online space with a boutique feel. We created BODIE and FOU and now we have customers from all around the world and have a huge social media following. I also have more than 51,000 followers on Pinterest but Instagram and Le blog are my playgrounds.
How do you balance being a woman and a mum?
To be honest the first five years I didn’t balance anything. I launched the business two weeks before giving birth and spent the rest of my maternity leave looking after Mila and pushing for the business. We hired someone called Mandy to look after Mila but as the business was growing, she ended up spending a lot of time on BODIE and FOU, too, and she became such a closed friend that she is also Mila’s Godmother. The first year, we worked from home so we were taking turns to look after Mila. After a year things settled a bit more, we moved to office premises, Mila went to nursery and I was running around like a chicken trying to do everything because at the time we had moved to Bristol and Steve had a job back in London. I think it took me about five years to get the balance right but I’m sure if you ask Mila, she will tell you that I still spend a lot of time on my phone.

What’s the most challenging thing about motherhood?
Letting your kid becoming the person they are meant to be and not a version of yourself or your tastes, and to instill self-confidence in them. Mila is nine years old now and until last Summer, I could still dress her the way I wanted with lovely Liberty tops and pretty dresses. Then she went on holidays with my sister and niece and came back all pre-teen with specific ideas of what she wanted to wear from now on (mostly leggings, skinny jeans, shorts and sweatshirts). It took us a a few months to adjust but now we have an understanding. I listen to her and her tastes but if I think something is really too awful to wear, we leave it and we find something else we both like. Very early on, when I was shopping, I would always ask her what outfit she liked the most in a shop window, just to get her to think about things and formulate an opinion. Even if I think she wears leggings far too often for my own taste, I love the little human being she is becoming. She has a really good heart, she really cares about people. She is very confident, fearless and has the most infectious smile. I’m really proud of her. This year is specifically challenging because my husband, who is from New-Zealand, and Mila are spending a year in France to experience the real French lifestyle and she loves it! Me on the other hand, I have moments I miss her so much that it aches but I’m proud of her. I admire her determination and confidence. Even if she is there with Steve who is an amazing dad, I don’t think I would have been able to be without my mum at her age. It took me years to find confidence so I’m hugely proud that she has got that.

Your house always looks immaculate. What are your tips for leading a design-conscious life with kids?
Have enough storage and baskets to hide all the plastic toys, and get them to play in their bedroom rather than dragging all their toys into the lounge. If Mila wanted to hang around us, she would bring a few toys down but at the end of the day, everything would go back in her bedroom. I declutter regularly to to stay on top of things that inevitably end up in our home. Also, use water-proof painting in all the rooms so you can clean up scuff marks from the walls easily.

How do you spend time as a family?
When Mila is in London, we go to see a kids movie on Saturday or Sunday morning at Westfield, our local shopping centre, then off to the park – she is super active. Over Christmas, we went ice-skating, we baked, we were planning to make scented candles but she then Mila had friends around for endless sleepovers. I tried to teach her to make her own smoothies but she wasn’t really buying into it.

What’s your insider tip for family fun in France?
We often go to our house in France by the beach so we try to do as many outdoor activities as possible. The house is on the Bay of Arcachon and Mila loves going to Accrobranche, which is an adventure park where you go from one tree to another 5 metres from the ground. Personally, I tried once… never again.

More in Features


By , 4th July 2024
‘A standout literary thriller.’ THE FT ‘Ingenious, intriguing, colourful and very entertaining, this is the ideal summer holiday novel.’ LITERARY REVIEW

From book to screen

By , 28th February 2023
Free resources and tips for would be screenwriters, from a complete novice - and some professionals - as I navigate the process of adapting my novels for TV and film

Observer New Review Q&A

By , 22nd March 2022
An interview with Stephanie Merritt about Edith and Kim, the perils of writing about family, and why female spies often get overlooked

Researching Edith and Kim

By , 17th November 2021
From a compendium of stories about life at the Bauhaus to a Modernist memoir by the founder of the iconic Isokon, here are some of the books that inspired my forthcoming novel