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Fiona Whitehead turns upcycling into successful business

PUBLISHED: 15:29 24 February 2015

Archant

After giving up her career to start a family, Fiona Whitehead thought her time in employment was over – that was until a TV programme inspired her to turn her hobby in to a booming business

Before the phenomenon of ‘upcycling’ became fashionable, 20 years ago Fiona Whitehead was busy experimenting with old furniture that didn’t suit her home’s décor; giving it a new lease of life with a coat of paint and a bit of stencilling here and there, as was the style then.

Over the years, she watched with interest as the media started to pick up on the hobby which she had enjoyed for several decades: “It was Kirstie Allsop’s TV programme that really made me realise that there could actually be a business in my hobby,” she explains. “Finding Annie Sloan’s paint was a revelation too. Previously, I had used normal emulsion but much prefer the chalk paint as it makes the furniture more interesting. It allows the character of the old wood to shine through and not just be painted over.”

With a qualification in Home Styling but no formal training in painted furniture, other than her own experience, Fiona decided to bite the bullet and turn her interest in to a business.

Inspiration often comes from the pieces themselves which are, “just crying out for a certain look” according to Fiona; while books, magazines and websites provide constant ideas to broaden her outlook and find new designs.

When it comes to finding the pieces to work on in the first place, Fiona cites freecyle.org as a great place to discover unwanted furniture looking for a bit of TLC. She continues: “It is very satisfying to take something which is going to be thrown away and make it useful and loved again. I scour antique fairs, car boot sales and auction houses and would love to be able to travel to the continent and source items from there; France has fabulous markets with wonderfully crafted pieces.”

All of Fiona’s transformations take place in a large shed at the bottom of her garden in Upper Clatford, and she can often be found exhibiting at local fairs around the county; although she does have very active facebook, twitter and pinterest sites, an online shop on etsy.com as well as remadebritain.com.

Dreams for the future include moving to a larger premises and running the business full time as she says: “I love the freedom and independence that running my own business gives me. Starting up a new venture at 52 with no previous experience has been a steep learning curve, but I’m loving every minute of it.”

The facts

• Name: Fiona Whitehead

• Business name: Birch and Hare

• Length of time in business: 8 months

• Number of employees: One

• Ethos: To reclaim the past

• Location: Upper Clatford, Hampshire

• Contact: www.birchandhare.co.uk or www.remadeinbritain.com/birch-and-hare

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