There's nothing better than a local gem is there? A great pub for a Sunday roast, a stylish cafe for a leisurely catch up, or in this case, three huge barns perfect for sourcing a great piece of vintage furniture! When we moved to Banstead in Surrey about 18 months ago, I was aware of Louisa Grace Interiors through Instagram, but it's only in recent weeks that I've had the chance to make the trip to the other side of the village for a visit. Why on earth did I wait so long?! Who blinking knows!!
The three barns, located on Seven Acres Farm, right near to Mayfield Lavender Fields are run by husband and wife team Jamie and Claire McFadyen. When Claire was on maternity leave in 2013, the couple were inspired to launch the business when they made a blackboard from a vintage frame for their daughters. Suddenly, they were selling these on eBay, and things gradually took off from there. Whilst Claire's background is in marketing and Jamie is an ex-London cabbie, the pair have always had a shared love for vintage interiors, so it felt right to make this the family business. The name for the shop was again inspired by their children - Maisy Louisa and Mollie Grace.
Being based in a rural location, Louisa Grace is definitely more of a 'destination'; one which shoppers have to make the effort to visit, which Claire admits can have its positives and negatives - although in the summer it can be combined with an afternoon at the nearby Lavender Fields. I asked Claire a few questions to find out a bit more about both the business and creative sides of running a vintage furniture shop....
Where and how do you go about sourcing your stock? What is it you look for when sourcing? We have various suppliers throughout France and Belgium. We look for unusual, original, rustic and industrial pieces. We also try to get good deals so that, in turn, we can keep prices down for our customers.
I love how you’ve used old doors, window frames and shutters to clad the interior walls of the barns – was that something you planned or have they just accumulated over time? A bit of both really! The oldest barn we have was once used to house cattle so the shutters looked far more appealing than muddy breeze blocks!
The barns have a unique feel of being carefully styled but at the same time with the air of a French flea market. How to you approach the styling of the spaces? Firstly, great, as that is the aim! Jamie does all of the styling and spends lots of time on Pinterest to gain ideas for making the space work.
The ‘shabby chic’ trend of a few years ago seems to have lost its appeal and the trend is now more for industrial and scandi vintage trends – would you agree? And where do you think the vintage aesthetic is headed in coming years? Are you a ‘vintage purist’ or do you like to mix it up with contemporary finds also? Yes absolutely – we banish the ‘shabby chic’ phrase at the barns, although my Dad still insists that’s what we do! We’re thinking less of an industrial scandi trend and more of a rustic, unfinished scandi look may be emerging, but we’ll just have to see! We definitely love our vintage finds but are happy to mix with contemporary, however we tend to steer clear of art deco and mid century.
As a small independent business, what have you found to be the best ways to promote and market your business? We do a little bit of local advertising but mainly rely on word of mouth and social media. Instagram is one of our favourites as we enjoy posting lovely images. Being on selling platforms like Etsy also helps us gain a wider geographical reach.
You're right, social media is a wonderful marketing tool, but do you feel it’s also worth investing in other marketing and PR activity? Yes, we have a PR who helps to get our products into national media. She also advises on content and images for social media. It’s an added cost but one which I think is worth it.
Photography is a hugely important part of any online business these days. Have you experience in this or have you had to teach yourself? If so, how have you gone about it? I studied photography when I was younger and love that I now utilise some of those skills. I can’t rate my iPhone camera highly enough though and take most of my photos for my listings with that. However, I’ve also got a mirrorless Panasonic Lumix with different lenses which allows me to take much clearer and more interesting images.
How do you see your business evolving in the next few years? Do you think you will have to diversify / expand? What are your plans for Louisa Grace Interiors? We aim to continue to expand and would like to offer a larger range of decorative objects and home accessories as well as furniture. Our ultimate goal / dream would be to own a property (we currently rent the barns) and have a showroom, workshop and a little café, so it becomes more of a destination… watch this space!
Finally, what wise words to you have to share with other small business owners or anyone looking to venture into this world? Ha, that’s easy - I’ve been told time and time again to ‘hold your nerve’ when things get tough and it’s become a bit of a mantra now!