Barbara Has the World on Her Plate

Barbara Hobart

A woman who spotted a true gap in the market talks from America to Patricia McLoughlin about investing in inspirational ideas.

Barbara Hobart laughs, "I'm actually a TV writer and producer who worked in Hollywood for many years but when I was starving in New York and trying to write and get produced I worked in business."

Although it was always the TV business, she knew how to take a good idea and run with it and, being creative she was always working with crafts in her garage and improving her home.

"But you know when it all looked great there was always one thing that stuck out like a sore thumb, the light switch plate."

Take a look around most newly decorated rooms and you'll see what she means. Then, having started her company Home Plates in the USA in 1994, she visited friends in the UK. "And nobody knew what I was talking about. Then they said well, you couldn't have them in the UK because they are wired into the wall.

"So I went back to America and invented a cover and screws for the UK. All you do is remove the old screws, put the new decorative plate over the old one and screw in the new screws. Easy as that!"

The product launched in the UK in 2004 and sells in major retailers like John Lewis and BHS. You can go Horrible Histories or glow in the dark for the kids' bedrooms, Beatrix Potter for the nursery, damask taupe for the bedroom, Japanese flowers for the conservatory, starfish on sand for the bathroom, the possibilities abound.

The plates are desirable, they're affordable so have they made Barbara rich? "It has provided a nice income," she laughs. "And everything is made in America and warehoused and distributed in the UK. I feel it's very important to employ people in your own communities."

Barbara says she was "lucky" to hit on her idea. But surely there was more to it than luck and are there tips she can pass on to other entrepreneurs?

"The world is so small now, there's a Starbucks on every corner, and back then I was shocked to find out this product didn't exist for you guys. But having a good idea is just one part of it. You might say, 'What a shame they don't have attractive light plates' and just leave it at that.

"You have to be prepared to invest in what you believe in because that's a one in a million opportunity. And you have to have the eye to see what you can bring to the marketplace, how is it different. I'm always looking for new things and new angles but it's still true that I got lucky that I went to the UK saw it didn’t exist and said let's do it!"

Barbara has been travelling to the UK for years and says she probably has as many friends here now as in her Los Angeles hometown. "I love London but it feels as familiar as New York. I really love visiting friends in Oxfordshire, going for walks in the countryside, seeing beautiful villages with houses with thatched roofs. We don't have those here."

You can almost hear her wondering whether thatch might sell in LA!

Patricia McLoughlin


Women Talking would like to offer one lucky reader the chance to win a pair of Home Plates of their choice.

To enter just answer the following question:

Name one of the categories for Home Plates.

For help visit - shop

Send your answers to, ensuring you place the words Home Plates in the subject header and also include your Women Talking username with the submission.

Any entry without a valid username will not be accepted.

This competition has now closed and the winner will be contacted shortly.