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Saturday, 2 January 2016

The New Year & how Arundel Eccentrics began

Happy New Year

Where did 2015 just go?

We had a busy year.

It promises to be even more hectic in 2016.

Firstly, later in January we will have
 a collection of our decorative
 antiques in a top London store.

It's really exciting for us as our warehouse
 is very much off the High Street.

It will be marvellous for our pieces to be in the front line.

I nearly passed out when I received the phone call inviting us.

"Would you just hold the line for a moment please?"

Put the phone down on the table and did a  manic dance
punching the air while silently screaming  around the kitchen.

"Brenda, are you alright?"
"Yes, sorry,  just someone at the door."

More of this over the next few weeks, and I'll tell you when and where.

My menswear designer son lives in California.
Suffice it to say we burst with pride over what he has achieved.

Jay went to NYC many years ago
 with an amazing portfolio.

Ecko Unltd only saw half of it
when they said they had seen enough.

Jay got the job.
He's been in the US ever since.

He's worked with many fashion houses over the years.

Now in California with his lovely wife and child he has started his own business.

Here's what he's doing......

Visual Thread was started by founder Jay Borley because of his passion and dedication for Menswear Design and Fashion Illustration. Born in London England, Jay has always been very interested in Art and Design. Graffiti art enhanced his fascination for drawing. He enjoyed drawing the characters which later lead to the love of sketching people in the form of fashion illustration.
Jay graduated with a degree in Menswear Design from Northbrook College in Worthing England. At the time it was the only college to specialize in Men’s Design. He has sixteen plus years of Men’s Apparel Design experience. From London, Manchester in England, to New York City, and Orange County California where he now lives, and where Visual Thread is based.
As we live in a digital age where the art of fashion designing with good old fashioned pencil and paper is slowly disappearing. We should not forget that the identity of a designer is truly visible through their style of hand sketching and illustration. One reason Visual Thread was started was to celebrate the true skill and artistry of the classic fashion designer.  Although we offer a complete design package, the web site has been created to help inspire not just designers, but anyone to pick up a pencil, pen, paint brush, and start designing and illustrating the way it used to be done.
Visual Thread offers inspiring services to clients that are looking for a creative and professional experience from start to finish.  
 Services we provide:
  •            Fashion Illustration Commissions
  •            Full Men’s Apparel design package
  •            Concept design through to final production
  •            Multi product design
  •            Trend and color analysis
  •            Garment technical specification sheets

In 2015 we

flew to Paris and the South of France on buying trips.

It wasn't ALL work.....

We encountered Air B n B for the first time....what a wonderful idea.
I returned to places in Paris like Montmatre I've always loved.

Went to several French antique fairs....

Were commissioned to work on pieces for magazines...

This for House and Garden

Had a great write up in Antiques Trade Gazette

Lost 30 pounds at Slimming World and by walking 3-7 miles most days.

Well....I needed to

Continued attending my writing group.

Run by an ex Sunday Times journalist
 its been going three years.

A tight knit group of locals..

Known affectionately as the 
Drinking Group with a Writing Problem.
Though I have no idea why

Learnt a lot and made some great friends

I've  walked miles
 along the river
and over
 Arundel's beautiful park land


Nass and I stalled out at fairs.

Petworth Vintage Fair among them

If you've never been to Petworth House its well worth a visit.
The park is the most glorious place to walk.....

Organised by
Love Lane Vintage
its a beautiful fair.

heres us.......

now have a walk around...............

and Stansted Garden Show.

had Open Days at the Warehouse
where our lovely neighbours/friends
 came along to 
play music.

  and where we raised money for the Chestnut Tree, Arundel's  Childrens Hospice.

photographed events around the town
such as the Arundel Festival

.........................where I won a £50 prize for the Magicians Assistant !

ran a few paint, gilding, decoupage workshops......

always have some great people....

some wilder than others......

attended  a few weddings........

  and christenings.....

so...what of 2016?

and our business...

and how did it all begin?


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

It was a Habitat coffee table,
with no real 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

Have the most wonderful day
and all good wishes for a
Happy 2016