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From Behind the Chip Shop To Liberty London

Twenty-four years ago I started a small business
 with a friend I had met while working
 at The Body Shop HQ in Littlehampton.

We were teaching ourselves to paint and decorate furniture.
 No internet then.
 It was mostly information we gleaned from old books.

there she is.... the chum I started out with...helping us set up in Liberty

Our idea was to make a little extra money selling on market stalls.
 Instead we found a 19th-century warehouse
 and set up a shop and workshop area.

“Ambiance” was born.

We loved the warehouse, but it was hidden down an alley
 and it was hard getting customers off the main street.

The same landlord also owned other commercial properties in Arundel. 
He kindly let us rent an empty shop one summer. 
One of the first “pop-ups.”

Some of our decoupage pieces went into the window.
A well known antique dealer
 happened to look in.

 He needed someone
 to work on Victorian bamboo....using decoupage.

What were the chances?

So, the journey took us in a different direction.

 We restored and decorated bamboo  for several years 
 working from our own homes.

(Nass, my then partner, now husband, 
went to work for a weekend trial for the same dealer.
 He left 15 years later)

Later I was told I could take over the bamboo myself.

We live in Arundel as well as work here

been here 30 years...well...not in here of course

I found a barn on a farm in Binsted, 
a small village on the outskirts of Arundel, 
and set up my own workshop/ showroom.

 By then I had a few US trade clients.

 They loved driving down English lanes to find
 a bamboo antique emporium in the middle of no-where.

I later took a shop in a converted chapel in Tarrant Street in Arundel.
Nineveh House.

Popped up in one of the many of antique centres that were then dotted about Arundel.
Hired a van and bribed friends to come and do antique fairs with me.
Newark was one of my favourites.

We ate curry suppers in the cab and slept in the van.
 I had to "sell" the adventure of it to friends not in the business.
Often they didn't get it..but they came along for the ride, never the less. 

 I carried on the Ambiance name for us while  
but decided I needed my own identity. 
I racked my brains for names.
Nothing jumped out.

Until antique fair was held at Arundel castle
It was called “Antiques and Eccentricities.”

 I have lived in Arundel for 30 years.
It may look sleepy, but it’s 
 a theatrical eccentric town.
Feels like a film set at times.

It just made sense to put the two together.

Arundel Eccentrics. 

The English Victorian bamboo had always been a hit with our US clients.
 The pieces sit well in beach houses and NYC apartments equally well.
 But I needed to work on something that would appeal to the home market
By chance, I found a very large Georgian chest.
 It was a lovely shape but very battered. 
I didn't have the know-how to revive it in its original state.
Or money. 

I painted the chest black and decorated it with decoupage fish all over. 
Layers of aging varnish followed and a finish of antique wax.
A customer from NYC bought it. 
Some while later she sent me a copy of Architectural Digest.
 There it was on those glossy pages.

So I knew I was on to something.
 Chests became a big part of our collection.

I’ve worked on other colours 
but always come back to the black.
I feel it has more pzzaz somehow.

Occasionally I gild a chest, or a vintage enamel bowl and then decoupage.

Ten years ago my husband and I went into partnership.
 The warehouse where it began was empty again.

 So we returned...........

.....................and although it is STILL off the main street
 and hard to get people around that corner.
We do at least now have the internet

While we were building the business up I worked 7 years full-time nights.
In Crawley.
A residential home for "Adolescents with Challenging Behaviour."

Wild at times, I can tell you.
I'd paint furniture for a chunk of the day.
Have five hours of sleep.
Drive the hour to Crawley.
Work a 13-hour shift.
Drive another hour home.

I aged.
But it helped pay the bills.

After I finished the night job I ran
 workshops from our studio/summer house
 at the bottom of our Arundel garden.

People loved coming to the house by the river and would often use the workshops
 as a place to meet up with friends.

We provided lunch with glass or two of wine to add to the day.

I still run the occasional day, but am busy with decorating furniture
 for the shop and workshops have taken a back seat. 

Over the years we’ve extended the decoupage pieces
 and find buckets, bowls, and metal deed boxes.

 Trunks are always popular as are Victorian bamboo chests and bamboo bookcases.
We find items at antique fairs, auctions, car boots, and friend’s houses. 

vintage enamel bowls like this......

become this

We source old frames that are wide enough to take decoupage and then put mirrors in.
The shape of the pieces often offers some inspiration for the imagery we use.
Nass buys all our English and French antique furniture,
 displays and mans the warehouse.

and buckets like this....

end up looking like this

I work on decoupage pieces in our studio at the end of our garden,
 by the river in Arundel.

this became


bamboo that has seen better days get an uplift

and this became


this French vintage table... turned into


I’m watched by Elsa our 2-year-old cocker spaniel
 after we’ve had a long morning ramble

 either by the river or up through the woods or Arundel Park.

or over fields to the village of  Burpham.

" Somewhere Over The Rainbow...."

sometimes we stop off at the warehouse to see what's happening

We three are a good team.
Last year we won a small business award.

Best small business.

but...even bigger than that....

In 2016 Arundel Eccentrics we were invited to take over the 4th floor of Liberty in London.
It was the decoupage that first came to their attention

The collection was a combination of decoupage items and English and French antique pieces.

We gained quite a following and I was sending vintage
 decoupage pots to well-known celebrities
 in this country and film producer royalty in the US.

(Sorry, Mum’s the word.)

So, we have a lot to thank those little bamboo tables for. 

They were made circa 1880 in factories all over England.
The Brighton Pavilion played a key part in the popularity of bamboo.

Most of the cheaper end pieces had rattan on their surfaces. 

Some of the more upmarket pieces had lacquer work and chinoiserie.

We take off the torn rattan. 
Clean the bamboo and polish it.
 Re-board and then paint and decorate.
Its many hours work, but rewarding and thankfully we still love what we do.

Our English and French collections have got bigger over the past few years.
The decoupage is now only a small, but very vital part of our business
Heres a taste of what we have at the moment.

19th-century French Buffet Deux Corps

19th-century French chair reupholstered in pale aubergine fabric.

19th century painted trunk dated 1824. Probably Austrian.

Four English 19th century dining chairs.

This is lovely. A 1940's French Notaires cabinet.

19th-century French marble top commode/secretaire.

1940's French oak tambour filing cabinet....a stylish way to store sweaters/shoes/toys......

mid century French os de mouton chairs.
This fabric is gorgeous.

19th century French...nice and shabby back to original paint.

French 19th-century chest.

painted armoire and trunks...probably Austrian..some are 18th some 19th century.

Come and see us if you're ever in Arundel.
Open 11-4 pm every day.
You will find more details on our website

Wonder what's next for 2020?

What this space........