Not so long ago I was introduced to a place so wonderful that I just couldn’t wait to share it with you. For those of you who love hunting out unique vintage finds from yesteryear, I can tell you this is somewhere that will be right up your street.
Home Barn is a veritable wonder emporium full to the brim with fantastic design finds, vintage accessories, old school furniture and much, much more. It is a family business, owned and run by two couples: James and Sally Wilkie & Sarah and Mark Wilkie. James and Sally had previosuly been working as design directors for Men’s and Women’s Apparel at Abercrombie and Fitch in the US. But when they returned to the UK in 2010, they sought a new creative direction to compliment their ongoing fashion consultancy work. James’s brother Mark and his wife Sarah were happy to take up the challenge with them. They also have creative backgrounds having worked in graphics and interiors respectively.
As soon as I heard about this fantastic venture I knew I wanted to find out more, so I spoke to Sally and Sarah to get the inside story.
Sarah (left) and Sally (right) of Home Barn
Where can we find Home Barn?
Home Barn is located in Little Marlow in Buckinghamshire, but we also have a webshop. However, if you really want to have the full Home Barn experience and see all the unique and one off stuff you will have to visit us (wear a coat!), go for a country walk, have a pub lunch and buy some fresh eggs from our neighbour’s on-site farm shop.
We are open Thursday to Sunday during the winter – tithe barns are very cold so we hope to open 7 days a week from spring to autumn. You can check the website for opening hours.
What was it that convinced you to set up a business dealing in vintage furniture and accessories?
Having an addiction to buying vintage, and antiques for our own homes was a good wake up call. When you can’t stop shopping because you get a thrill from the hunt and the chase it’s time to open your own shop! Homebarn was created as an outlet for our combined creative talents and a way of challenging ourselves beyond our normal boundaries and to work for ourselves outside of the corporate world.
Homebarn was conceived from a desire to try out a new direction which would compliment our existing consultancy work. Between us we seemed to have the skills and experience to open a shop and our friends kept asking us to find things for them which we had in our own homes. Whilst all continuing working on our day jobs we set up Homebarn and decided to see if we were good at it, enjoyed it and could make it work.
Our opening stock was largely based on the amazing vintage and unique finds which James and Sally had purchased during their time as ex pats in the States and surplus items from our homes which we did not really want to sell but we had to to get started! Initially we had to make lots of furniture in the bottom of our gardens and it was lovely to get our hands dirty and learn new skills. We have had so much fun, learnt so much and we are happy to say it has been a success.
Can you tell us about the barn?
The shop is situated in a tithe barn, built, we think, in the mid 1700’s but there has been an agricultural building on this site since the 1300’s. All its original oak beams remain, the building has not been renovated in any way and is an architectural wonder in itself.
A tithe barn historically would have been used to store crops and livestock, which were taken as a ‘tithe’ (tax) from all the local farmers. Home Barn is still shared sometimes with birds, the occasional duck and often by our customers dogs! We are based on a working farm with its own farm shop selling local produce, homemade cakes and hot homemade scotch eggs if you are very lucky.
What kind of things do you sell at Home Barn?
We sell vintage and antique collectibles, things we love. Because of our backgrounds we love items that are very graphic and we have a passion for anything that has words, numbers or text involved.
We also collect and sell anything to do with printmaking. For example, due to James and Sally’s backgrounds we often can’t help buying vintage items which hail from the textile, haberdashery or millinery industries like hat lasts, shoe lasts or bobbins.
We sell dining tables which are made to order from recycled timber, reclaimed chairs, leather hat boxes, prints and one off artworks. We love making mirrors from old factory and warehouses windows. We have a passion for original and truly vintage industrial furniture. Lately we have been buying school and science related items too.
We enjoy working with local artisans and cabinetmakers. We also enjoy working with bars, restaurants and hotels sourcing unique items to brief and working on individual designs tailored to their needs. We have also been lucky enough to have worked with The Narrative, BGW Concorde (The Wheatsheaf in Northleach), Paul Danson Imagineering (The Oast House in Manchester), The Henry Root, Karpo Restaurant Kings Cross & Megaro Hotel.
How do you source all the vintage goodies that you sell? Where do they come from?
Can’t tell you because we would have to kill you! We do the usual round of trade fairs internationally and in the UK. We buy wherever we travel. James, for example, often buys when he is doing fashion consultancy work in Japan. We try to buy vintage in America at least twice a year and this is very influential to our style and direction, given James and Sally’s time in the USA, Vintage Americana is still a huge influence.
These days once we have established a relationship with a dealer or cabinetmaker we will tend to work with them on new ideas and ask them to source for us. Having built relationships with a core of our favourite antiques dealers, they now often pop by Home Barn before they begin trading at the shows and give us first choice. We also do our fair share of buying in fields at 5 O’clock in the morning after camping out in our van!
What has been your favourite item that you have sourced for Home Barn and why?
Gosh there are some items we wish we had never sold like the set of six individually unique French hat lasts that we sold to a dear friend and customer. We love the truly unique items that you can only buy once in a lifetime, like the large vintage abacus. We also love things which are hand made such as the signwriting on our sweet shop cabinet.
Currently we are loving our vintage alphabet letters which are made from recycled boat timber. We never tire of baby shoe lasts. Our huge antique commemorative coronation stained glass window from 1953 will be difficult for us to part with. Our morse code lamp and vintage theatre spot lights are a current favourite. We have recently made our own coat hooks from vintage rulers (we must take one home before they sell out! ) Balls jars will never go out of fashion and just become more desirable – the colour of the turquoise glass never fails to bring a smile.
What kind of things tend to be your best sellers?
Our customers come back in regularly to see what we have bought at the beginning of each week. The unique items that we point our regular customers towards rarely stay in the shop for more than a day or so. Our British made tables made from recycled wood have been a real hit with our local customers as well as our one off warehouse mirrors.
Why do you think vintage has made such a big come back in recent years?
Vintage has made a comeback in fashion and in interiors with the same power recently. Refound objects have a charm and charisma of their own and their history is a major attraction. At Home Barn, we are obsessive about truly classic designs and are always inspired by the past. Our creative jobs have made us value and draw upon good design and it has always been a part of our lives and our homes.
What are your top tips for incorporating vintage furniture and accessories into our interior design schemes?
A good vintage piece can only add charm to an interior, even in a very modern home a well loved & worn favourite item such as a battered leather club chair or a dresser with peeling paintwork can provide a real point of difference.
A set of vintage singer sewing chairs, for example, in a modern kitchen can show that the owner values good design and will make their home feel unique and fashionable. A visual feast can be made by putting smaller ‘collections’ of vintage objects into an unexpected situation and will please the eye every time you walk by. Be brave and try Victoriana in a warehouse or a modern design classic or retro piece in an Edwardian home.
If, like me, you are desperate to discover all the delights that Home Barn delivers, you will probably find the information below pretty handy.
Tel: 01628 878 771