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Lancashire Interiors - a vintage Christmas in store at a Lancaster Victorian terrace

PUBLISHED: 00:02 19 November 2013

Living room

Living room

Archant

Behind the front door of a terraced house in Lancaster is a shrine to vintage style that's getting a big following among lovers of shabby chic. Ellie Hargreaves reports

From the outside, Emma Small’s Victorian terraced home looks no different from all the others on her street. The only difference a passer-by might spot is the frequency with which a courier calls to collect piles of brown paper packages, fastened with string.

Step inside, however, and only a One Direction poster and well-used laptop stop you thinking you’ve travelled back in time.

A stone’s throw from the centre of Lancaster, this fascinating home is furnished almost entirely with antiques that Emma has been amassing since childhood, when her mother ran an antiques stall on London’s Portobello Market.

For the past 18 months, the entrepreneurial mum-of-three has also been buying furniture, fabrics and vintage knick-knacks to sell and, via Facebook and a website (www.lavenderhousevintage.co.uk), her passion hasn’t just earned her a comfortable living but an army of several thousand fans and customers.

With Christmas almost upon us, these followers have flooded her inbox with requests for ideas how to decorate homes that are as far away as South America, the Far East and Australia.

The softly-spoken Londoner aims to reply to all her messages personally, sharing photos of delicate paper chains, unusual handmade decorations and decorative winter foliage the family has gathered on walks around Lancaster.

Sitting on a beautiful wing back chair that she rescued from a skip and covered in vintage lining fabric, Emma admits a love of old things has taken over her life as well as her home.

‘In the 15 years we’ve lived here, the house has been filled with items we’ve found at auctions, car boot sales and even in skips and at allotments. Since setting up the business we’ve turned over stock to the point that most of our possessions have been sold and replaced and, aside from a few treasured items including our bed and a chest that I bought with my first ever pay packet, almost everything is for sale,’ she says. ‘My husband is used to coming home from work to find a chair missing or a bare patch on the wall where a picture had been hanging that morning.’

Photographing all of her ‘finds’ in situ around her home, Emma is able to show off her stock in the context of a room. The family then lives with, uses and enjoys the items until a customer buys them.

Having set up a network of buyers who source items on her behalf, busy Emma uploads new stock and images daily, sending her more serious followers ‘into meltdown’ when she goes on holiday and misses a few days.

‘I get through more than 100 metres of bubble wrap a week in the run up to Christmas and am constantly up to my eyes in brown paper and string, waiting for the courier to arrive. I love what I do though - and I couldn’t do it if I didn’t,’ she says.

It’s little surprise that business gathers with such pace in the run up to December 25. The customers who track Emma’s every purchase and pore over her images of a family life spent surrounded by faded tapestries, vintage books and gilded mirrors, always look to her for inspiration but never more than at this time of year.

So what does she advise?

Aside from adding the odd raspberry-red velvet scatter cushion to her bed, and using more richly-coloured throws in her children’s bedrooms, Emma concentrates the festive decorations on the ground floor of her four-bedroom home, and involves the whole family.

‘Every year we go to the woods and choose a branch which we decorate with coloured lights and dozens of decorations. Many of them the children have made over the years, while others date back to the 1930s. The result is a bit kitsch and in-your-face which seems to work well in the dining room.’

The family has a real tree in the sitting room, where Emma prefers to use more subtle colours. Old keys and beautiful bows fashioned out of favourite fabrics hang from the branches while the gifts beneath are wrapped in old newspaper print or brown paper, and tied up with vintage ribbon.

‘I like to make the mirror a focal point so we collect holly and ivy from the woods and make an arch over the mirror and along the mantelpiece,’ she says.

The bunting and paper garlands that hang all around have also been made by Emma, Lottie (19), Thomas (13) and Rebecca (11) out of old sheet music and an old edition of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which was falling apart; the pages having been cut into hearts and strung together with bright red string.

Even these paper chains have a following, including a celebrity admirer in the form of singer-songwriter turned designer, Pearl Lowe, who contacted Emma to ask if she could borrow the bunting for an event she was holding.

‘There’s always been a market for beautiful antiques but I love that people are beginning to enjoy the imperfections of old things too,’ says Emma. ‘I grew up with everything homespun - my mother made my clothes from things like old curtains - so it seems very natural to me to live this way. And at Christmas it’s a look that comes into its own.’

Box of tricks

Emma’s house has taken a lifetime to style so don’t assume you’ll be able to recreate it instantly. ‘Let it grow organically over time and only buy things if you love them. That way they’ll always work for you,’ she says.

Vintage and pre-war Christmas decorations can command prices upwards of £50 but look out of season and you could pick up something for as little as a few pence on eBay.

Antiques needn’t be perfect. Knocks and scrapes add interest while the chips and stains that would have made a piece of china worthless a few years ago, can increase its value among interiors buyers.

Check out GB Antiques Centre in Lancaster, Clitheroe car boot sale and Kirkby Lonsdale auctioneers James Thompson – all favourites of Emma’s - for furniture, mirrors, soft furnishings and unusual items such as Beatrice, a mannequin from the old London department store Gamages, which is Emma’s prize-possession.

If you spot something that looks a bit worse for wear, think how you could repurpose it. Emma saved an antique rug from a bonfire and plans to frame some sections and cover a footstool with others.

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