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How We Started, Arundel and Paint Workshops

Happy New Year

Where did 2015 just go?

We had a busy year.

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

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

Had several pieces in magazines which we were commissioned to work on.

Had a great write up in Antiques Trade Gazette


The first time I tried to paint and distress furniture,
it was over twenty years ago and the
 piece was a Habitat coffee table,
with no real age to it, probably 1970's.

It was scruffy and by then offensive to my eye,

  I had 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 then.

No Google to ask.

So I rang an artist friend, ( and yes, we still just phoned each other in those days,)
who 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, I asked her?
Where do I go to get all this stuff?
Her reply?
" 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 completed.

Eighteen years ago, my friend, Allie,
who I had recently met through working at the
Body Shop headquarters in Littlehampton,
 and myself, found we were both into making
and creating.
We laughed as we talked about the same creative milestones.

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

So, we thought we could make a bit of extra cash
, selling 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 total 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 friend, Zoe,
who we had worked with at the Body Shop
we moved in, and with the
assistance of an army of helpers and 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 bashed around for days.

Well...we only had days. 

We went to London to buy stock 
at one of the importers
 we had heard of, 
and afterwards
had a snack in the one of
 the brand new restaurants
  that appeared to be springing 
up all over the place....

Cafe Rouge.

Afterwards, we stood outside,
and remarked on the ...the...the...
Allie screamed "AMBIANCE"

At the opening, looking back,
we barely had anything in the massive warehouse,
but the place was filled with friends
 generously wishing us well,
 and supporting our new venture,
 and that was good enough for us.

Even Gordon Roddick, 
head of the Body Shop, 
turned up, though we suspected our
business would never be QUITE as successful as his.

We barely had any stock.

Well, we hardly had any money.

I had recently lost my job and had 
been signing on and Allie was bringing up
two very young children.

Somehow, don't ask me how we did it,
we managed  
to buy junk items to restore and decorate.
 We eventually  built up  
quite a warehouse of interesting pieces
 and a loyal following of fans.

Slowly, we were teaching ourselves 
to paint furniture, decoupage, craquelure and gild.

We scoured books, magazines and experimented.

I had never owned a microwave, 
didn't have a clue how they worked,
and as a consequence, nearly blew up
Allie's kitchen, warming different coloured waxes.

We had seen an article somewhere 
and as a result painted an old 1930's cupboard,
grey,I think it was,
then used different coloured waxes
 to cover, and eventually,
 merged them all in together.

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

The warehouse, though a great space,
 being a little off the main street,
and down an alley,
(or twitten, as we say,
down south)
 was so difficult to
draw people round to.

I used to drag Allie out in the town leaflet dropping.

Oh! how she hated it and groaned.

She still sighs, to this day,

at the very thought of it.

We would go round the town, 

handing out leaflets,
get back and put the kettle on,
and by the time the brew was ready,
people were coming round.

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, I suppose.

We went in virtually overnight.

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 were to evolve, 
when an Arundel antique dealer,
who was, still is, one of the most
 prestigious in the country,
 saw what we were doing and
as luck would have it, 
was looking for someone to decorate 
his Victorian Bamboo
furniture.....with decoupage.

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

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

That, it appeared, was that.

We put the phone down
 feeling devastated,
on hearing the news.
We really needed this break and without
the person to teach us how,
the whole idea appeared 
to be doomed from the start. 

 We thought about it for 
 thirty seconds and decided,
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.

The expert we found the most information
through was 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 all over again.

We re-did the piece, and as far as I know it was a pretty good. finish.
After that,  we worked on Victorian bamboo tables for some time.

We used the opportunity wisely and 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 also
looking for an extra man on their team.
Nass went to work in the shop, on a days trial,
and stayed 14 years.

Twelve years ago
I opened a shop again, this time ,
 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.

Actually, it was more successful, than sitting in the shop,
so I gave that up and just operated from my studio,
working away on 19th century
 chests of drawers and  Bamboo
 & selling to the 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.
 I would stall out at antique fairs
 such as Newark and Ardingly,
sleeping in the van overnight.

Brrrrrr cold sometimes.

Building up a business is hard hey?
Sometimes, you need some bread and butter while you are doing it.
the BBC came to film at the warehouse  for Antiques Celebrity Roadtrip

.....with the actress Alison Steadman

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,
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,
before finally sinking into bed.

Seven years I juggled both.

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

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

I hope in some small way, I changed a young life along the way.
Although I wouldn't want to particularly
 want to be in that front line any more,
I would not have missed the experience for anything.

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.

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

Some of our pieces in Liberty in London

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

My son Jay is a menswear designer in California.
He says in their business, it takes you 10 years to become an overnight success.
You work away quietly and then suddenly everyone knows you 
and thinks you have come from no-where.

Well, lets hope that after 20 years
Arundel Eccentrics will be an
overnight success............

and if  its not...

I've  had fun and learnt a huge amount, trying..........
An Arundel Eccentrics gilt Victorian Bamboo Homes and Gardens Magazine

Our Warehouse Now


We live in the most beautiful town in Sussex England.

Our Arundel video on FB


Learn to
paint & distress,
wax and age,
crackle and craquelure
& gild.....
make an old piece of furniture
found unloved,
looking seriously
destined for the rubbish tip,
into, at the most, a work of art
& treasured heirloom
at the very least
very much more beautiful than it did.
At the same time, enjoying
the tranquillity
of our
Riverside Studio
in the beautiful,
country town of Arundel,
you will be learning in a small friendly class
and enjoying a tasty, vegetarian lunch
with a glass of wine.

We have met some lovely people and had some great workshops over the past few months.

Here is what some of them have to say.....

"What a wonderful, inspirational day,
I loved every minute of it"

"What an incredible experience
 doing decoupage with Brenda."

Ha ha this person added

"her ideas and her talent are endless,
her charm is delightful,
now add her scrumptious lunch
and you won't want to leave"

Thank you Sandy,
I only just noticed all those 
wonderful things you said, 
and now my head is 
so large I cannot get
 out of my house through the door.

I would also like to officially
 sign you up as my agent.
Ha Ha

" I never thought I could 
do anything remotely usable"
said Chrissie,
who turned this

and this

into this...she had NEVER done anything like this before.

We use all sorts of products
and introduce people to 

painting, distressing and waxing,
crackle glaze,
 and aging pieces in all different ways.

If you are interested do let us know.

[email protected]

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This post first appeared on Arundel Eccentrics Decorative Antiques, please read the originial post: here

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How We Started, Arundel and Paint Workshops


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