Why you won't see me in Courts again

The opening of the Your M&S Home store a couple of weeks ago marks the rebirth of something that has been much vilified, perhaps unfairly.

Marks & Spencer's Lifestore at Gateshead always looked a one-off, a probe exploring all manner of issues way beyond product and environment. However, it somehow became synonymous with all that was wrong with the retailer, to the point where it almost seemed that closing it would be a symbolic statement of intent.

Whichever way you cut it, M&S chief executive Stuart Rose had to lower the curtain on this unhappy episode if he was to satisfy those baying for blood. Contrast this with the latest store at Kingston upon Thames, which, in spite of the name change, starts to do what Lifestore failed to: it has avoided falling in love with itself.

The problem with the Gateshead Lifestore was that this was a store talked about more for how it looked than whether it actually worked as a shop. Your M&S Home seems to work, if only because the house is gone and its prices are within reach of the customer.

Irrespective of whether M&S decides that it is right to go with the format as it has been developed at Kingston, this is a store worthy of consideration; one that has a restrained sense of style and where design is evident without becoming self-congratulatory. Now let's take a trip to the other side of the retail world and visit another homewares and furniture store, Courts.

One of the things that continues to intrigue me about retail is the sheer diversity of the operators in each sector and the way there always seems to be room for numerous variations on the same theme.

Courts is a case in point. How is it that Your M&S Home and Courts exist on the same planet? The former takes fashionable interior design classics as its starting point, in much the same way as Habitat, Heals and Ikea seem to. There is room for all of these; indeed you can easily understand why customers frequent all three retailers from time to time, depending on their mindset and requirements.

Courts, however, is more problematic. The aphorism there's no place like home may usefully be applied, because this really is no place like any home I have ever visited, at least not recently.

Forgive me for sounding churlish, but shiny steel, coloured leather furniture and stripped pine belong largely to a not very parallel universe where the progress of time was halted at in the mid-1990s. Funny thing is, there are other stores like this: Rosebys and Harveys are good examples, which look suspiciously like formats in search of a customer.

The other point is that Courts operates on the international stage. So if you really want to, whether you are in Swindon or Singapore, there is a Courts waiting for you to make sense of it. Okay, it might work in the Far East, but I'm absolutely at a loss to know where its UK customers come from.