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Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Arundel Eccentrics in Liberty London

Arundel Eccentrics
Liberty London

Well, we made it.

 We were thrilled to be asked to take the space on
the 4th floor at
Liberty in London

I had always adored the shop and been going there for many years.

yep thats me......big son there grinning now 38!

Looking gorgeous in the Liberty Cabinet... decoupage pots and a tole tray that my aunt painted in chinoiserie

The van left Arundel at 5.30 yesterday morning 
loaded with French and English antiques.

I drove up with my lovely friend Allie... a little later!

We all spent the day displaying
and labelling.

the room is beautiful...felt like a baronial hall.

our friend Russ came to lend a hand

we will be adding to the collection over the next few weeks......

my aunt also paints these 19th century chests....clever gal

Do go and have a look if you are in London

and if you don't already know us...

We are a husband and wife team
that live and work in the beautiful town of Arundel
on England's south coast. 


The first time  I painted and distressed furniture,
 was over twenty years ago.

It was a Habitat coffee table,
with no age to it, probably 1970's.

It was scruffy and past its peak.

  I heard there were ways to
paint and distress furniture
 to give a
more interesting aged look to it,
but didn't know where to start looking.

No pc's or Internet.

No Google to ask.

The phrase " shabby chic" not even thought about. LOL

I rang an artist friend, ( we still just phoned each other in those days.)

She talked me through sanding the wood
 back and painting it with emulsion.

(Wow, we only ever used that on walls and
 ceilings, so that in itself was a revelation)
and then waxing it.

"What with?"

"Where do I go to get all this stuff?"

" Bren, don't worry if you can't find the furniture wax,
you can just use brown boot polish"

That's  what I did and so,
 my first aged and distressed piece was complete.

 I met Allie 20 years ago.
At the Body Shop headquarters in Littlehampton,

We worked the evening shift at
The Trading Post
the lovely wooden shop that was on the HQ site.

We laughed  a lot those evenings.
About similar creative paths.

Macramé and candle making,
crochet and cards,
bags and patchwork
and a hundred other things

"Lets make some extra cash
and sell on market stalls."

We found an old warehouse, 
a 19th century brewery building, 
hidden away in a little side
street in Arundel where I lived.

It was in a mess.

 Filthy, damp
 and filled to bursting with kitchen units.
Stacked floor to  the ceiling.
Left behind by a company who had gone into liquidation 

Together with another Body Shop friend, Zoe we moved in.

With an army of  friends
 from Body Shop HQ,
we cleared, painted and opened our
warehouse in less than a week.

"Ambiance" was born.

The name was something we brainstormed for just days.

Well...we only had days. 

Early one Sunday morning we went
to London to buy stock.

Afterwards, with the car groaning under the weight,
 we stopped for breakfast
at one of
 the  new restaurants
  that were springing 
up all over town.

Cafe Rouge.

It was a new concept then.

Beautifully decorated with a French.....
we all shouted together.

At the opening,
we barely had anything
 in the massive warehouse.

It was filled with friends
wishing us well,
 and supporting our new venture.

That was good enough for us.

Even Gordon Roddick, 
head of the Body Shop, 
turned up.

We  suspected our
business would never be
  quite as successful as his. LOL

We barely had any stock.

Well, we hardly had any money.

I  had been signing on and Allie was bringing up
two small children.

Somehow, we managed.
We found junk items to restore and decorate and built up  
 a warehouse of interesting pieces
 ........and a loyal following of fans.

We taught ourselves 
to paint furniture, decoupage, craquelure and gild.

Scouring books, magazines , 
anything we could lay our hands on.

We sourced new products and experimented.

I had never owned a microwave, 
didn't have a clue how they worked.

I nearly blew up
Allie's kitchen, 
warming different coloured waxes.
We had seen an article in an old book
and painted a 1930's cupboard, grey.

Afterwards we used different coloured waxes
 to cover, and merged them all in together.

The piece we were experimenting on came out beautifully......
...........but the microwave was never the same .

The warehouse, though a great space,
 was off the main street,
down a dark alley,
(or twitten, as we say,
down south)
It  was really hard to
draw people round to.

We would go into town leaflet dropping.

Handing them  to day trippers or pushing
 them through local doors.

Allie still sighs, to this day,

at the very thought of it.

It worked though.
We would go back to the warehouse.
Put the kettle on.

By the time tea was made people were coming to look.

The landlord allowed us to use
 the front of the building, (now the right side of
William Hill,) for the summer months.

One of the first pop up shops.

We went in  overnight.

Zoe was doing a lot of work for Anita Roddick and was great with artwork.
She made all our signs, cutting the large ones out of ply and painting them.

The A boards were old discarded Body Shop ones......

as was our counter.....

Location, location, location.

It's true what they say....

We took more in the first week 
than we had in six months around the back.

But more than that, though, we had a window on the world.

Exciting opportunities evolved
when an Arundel antique dealer,
who was, still is, one of the most
 prestigious in the country,
 saw what we were doing and
was looking for someone to decorate 
his Victorian Bamboo
furniture.....with decoupage.

A  friend, Julie, from  Body Shop days
 was working at his shop
and she 
 introduced us.

The previous bamboo person 
was going to teach us
but he left without warning,

That was that then.

We put the phone down
on hearing the news.

We really needed this break and without
someone to show us
the whole idea seemed doomed from the start. 

 We thought about it.........
 thirty seconds and 
no, that wasn't that.

We called back.
"What about if you talk us through the recipe
 and we do a couple of samples?
If they are good, then we are on,
 but if they are not up
 to your standard,
 then we shall

Bear in mind, we were small fry,
 and, as far as we were concerned,
this was an internationally
 known antique god
 we were
talking to.

We were quaking in our boots when we made that call.

We were given a bamboo cabinet to work on.

It was to be painted a saffron yellow,
 crackle glazed
 and the same gorgeous yellow,
as a top coat.

Then antique waxed was to be applied
 to sit in the cracks, 
giving a fantastic aged look.

Only problem was, 
we hadn't even attempted crackle glaze.

Out came the books, and we studied all we could find on crackle.

We found most information
through  Jocasta Innes,
and, as luck would have it,
there was one of her Paint Magic shops
in Arundel High Street.

How to put it on?

Her books suggested in a haphazard way.

I forget who did the first brush stroke,
we both hovered over the piece
 with loaded brushes

"You go first"
"No, you first"

Well, we finished it over a couple of days,
working on it in the back of the shop.

The last wax was on and we were proudly buffing it up,
 late at night, when Julie passed by
and saw the lights on.

We swept her in to the shop and with a
flourish proudly showed her the cabinet.

To our horror, and massive disappointment,
 Julie shook her head and said,
"Oh dear, he won't like that"

We had done large haphazard cracks,
and what were required were
small, neat,

We decided there was nothing else for it, if we were to get this job,
we had to do the whole thing over again.

We re-did the piece and got the contract.

We learnt a massive amount
 about painting and ageing on
some glorious items of furniture,
that with our humble income,
we would never have had
access to.

As luck would have it, the company were
looking for an extra man on their team.

Nass went on a days trial.

He stayed 14 years.

Sixteen years ago
I opened a shop by myself
 in Nineveh House in Tarrant Street.

I kept the Ambiance name,
but late changed it to
Arundel Eccentrics.

At the same time I found a
 workshop to use
as a studio/showroom
 on a farm in Binsted,
a little village just outside Arundel.

By then, I had taken over the
Victorian Bamboo myself
and had several US trade customers who came
 to visit me regularly.

They loved
 driving down country lanes and tramping
 through mud to get to my hidden away studio.

Well, actually, not too sure about that last bit. Ha ha

It proved more successful, than sitting in the shop.

From then I just operated from the studio,
working on 19th century
 chests of drawers and  bamboo
 & selling to the US antique trade.

The first chest of drawers I decorated like this, went to a shop in NYC.
Two years later, in turned up in the prestigious US interiors magazine
Architectural Digest. Exciting stuff

Occasionally, I would pop up in one of the
 many antique centres around the town,
and stay for a year or two.

I needed to have my pieces seen.

Sadly most of these centres have now gone.
Restaurants most of them.
 I stalled out at antique fairs
 such as Newark and Ardingly,
sleeping in the van overnight.

Bribed friends to come and help.

Brrrrrr cold sometimes.

and wet...........

Building up a business is hard hey?
Sometimes, you need some bread and butter while you are doing it.

So, I took a night job.

Full time nights at a residential home for
"Adolescents with Challenging Behaviour".

It was wild.

I could tell you stories that would make  straight hair curl.

It was exhausting trying to juggle the two,

On more than one occasion I worked on furniture all day,
drove to Crawley, worked a wild night shift,
 drove back to Arundel to see clients,
  finish a piece of furniture off,
throw a dinner in the slow cooker,
and finally sink into bed.

Seven years I juggled both.

I aged. LOL

 Chasing absconders over
 the south of England, or collecting them 
from London police stations in dead of night.
It was manic sometimes.

I did the job to the
 very best of my ability,
 and staff and most
 of the kids seemed to like me.

I hoped in some small way, I changed a young life along the way.

Although I wouldn't 
 want to be in that front line any more,
I would not have missed the experience for anything.

Some of these kids had experienced dreadful times and
 used to view staff as enemy.
Well, most actually.

They could scream abuse at me with words I'd never even heard of. Ha ha .


Years by one some of them contacted me.

One said how we/I had changed her life and she
 was now working with adolescents who had been through the same.

Makes it all worthwhile hey?

Seven years ago
my husband Nass and two friends
 set up an antiques warehouse.
Guess where?

Yes, the very same place I had started all those years ago.

Full circle.

 20 years later.

The only difference being more antique traders slowly moved in.

Nass and I now work side by side
Arundel Eccentrics & Nass Interiors.

We've had BBC there for
Celebrity Road Trip

.....with the actress Alison Steadman

Worked on 60 Minute Makeover with Peter Andre

and the lovely Hollywood interior designer
Martin Lawrence Bullard

turning this into ..............
 this and then..............

We've had pieces in Liberty in London........
Some of our pieces in Liberty in London

one of our tables in Liberty London...exciting hey?

and magazines.....

An Arundel Eccentrics gilt Victorian Bamboo Homes and Gardens Magazine

Our Warehouse Now

What's next I wonder?

Wonderful to think after such humble beginnings 
we now have a collection in one of the most prestigious stores 
In the country.

My son, in the fashion business always says in their business
It takes you ten years to become an overnight success.
You work away behind the scenes for years and then something happens
To push you into the limelight and it appears you've 
only just arrived and come from no where.

Well it's taken us twenty years to be an overnight success.
But it's been worth the wait.

Have a great day

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