Spending your formative years hanging out with your dad in his antiques shop is bound to have an effect on a girl, as it did to Vicki Spencer-Brown. And when she grew up she naturally became… a Trading Standards Officer for Solihull. But seeing as that is no use at all for this story, we’ll skip over those wilderness years and fast forward straight to 2011. Although she liked spending time at her dad’s store, Vicki was never a fan of his Victorian stock, so when she opened her own shop in Digbeth’s Custard Factory, it was with industrial fittings and furniture gleaned from old factories and offices that she filled it.
After three years there, Vicki was running out of the space and began looking for bigger premises, eventually finding a shop on Augusta Street in the Jewellery Quarter. “I also looked at Moseley and Kings Heath, but felt the JQ was on the up, had a good community and fitted with what I was selling. With all the old warehouses [now modern apartments] and their industrial look, it’s almost like the furniture is returning to where it began”.
As well as using her shop as a showcase, Vicki is also something of a collaborator: “I’ve got a few pieces in the barbers around the corner. We’ve been working together and I get quite a few people come round – his clientele seem to be into my stuff. I’ve also met a few photographers and we’ve talked about them hiring items for props.”
As well as selling pieces in their original or restored form – “There’s a lot of metal stripping” – Vicki also does a fair bit of repurposing. “If something doesn’t have much of a function, I might develop it into something more useable. I bought some printing blocks because they looked so interesting, but had no idea what to do with them. Eventually I used them to make coffee tables. Right now I’ve got a German cabinet that was used to smoke fish, but there’s not so much call for that at home these days so I put some shelves in and made it into a regular cupboard.”
Vicki also makes bespoke items – “I’ve started to do a lot more made-to-order work; industrial dining tables and benches are particularly popular” – and also offers a sourcing service for anyone looking for a specific something or other. But how does she track such things down? “I like to go and find it. I do have a lot of contacts who I get stuff through, but it’s not that easy. It is fun, though, going out and never really knowing what I’ll see.”
Fortunately, it’s not always such a random treasure hunt, and Vicki occasionally gets a lucky break. “Sometimes, people just bring things into the shop.”
15 Augusta Street
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