The Mill is owned and run by me (Lesley) and my husband John. We came here in 1988 to start manufacturing traditionally made solid wood furniture , mostly for export and to buy and sell antiques. My husband is a fourth generation antiques dealer and I joined him in the business a year or so after we moved up from London.
About seven or eight years ago we realised that the business needed a complete overhaul. So much had changed in the economy and the trade that we saw the way forward as a centre with a good across the boards mix of antiques, decorative items and somewhat eclectic eccentricities.
On that basis, we auctioned all our existing stock without reserve and with the capital that raised we decorated and improved the building and spent a very substantial chunk on advertising to kick start the new business. We are now in our sixth year of renting out space to other dealers and we have 32 at the moment including an on site upholsterer.
The rule is that almost anything goes as long as it isn't dangerous or offensive or in direct competition with what another dealer is already doing. We try to encourage good taste, but everyone's idea of that is different! It makes for a very good mix, - some dealers stick strictly to their area of expertise ( mid-century modern, kitchenalia, furniture or China, etc) whilst others will simply buy what takes their fancy on the day.
We have always painted furniture here and pretty much always stuck to the lovely range of Pinebrush Colourman chalk paints. They are so easy to use and so reasonably priced that it seemed an obvious step to start retailing the product. It's been very successful and is a real compliment to the vast range of fabrics that Ashe Upholstery offer.
We still make tables and other items of bespoke furniture for the export trade and for our customers here at the Mill. It seems to make people very comfortable to be able to come in and sit down at a table and then discuss their specific needs.
With so many different people having input into the stock, it means that every day new items arrive and we can never predict what will turn up! I love the fact that our customers come from all over the country. Being on the main A12 is crucial and having the fabulous Farm Cafe right next door is such a bonus - it makes a trip to the Mill a proper day out! I love the noise and bustle of the busy days but I also love the quiet lulls in between when you can really feel the peaceful nature of the building. If it does go quiet for a couple of hours it usually means that everybody is next door having lunch and then I know what to expect! I use those quiet moments to walk around the building and look at the stock ( there is always something new in that takes me by surprise) I think I must fall in love with a new object every day, - my current favourite is a pencil sketch by our resident artist Andrea Newman.
We have been promising everybody that our top floor will be opening soon , which will mean another ten to fifteen dealers but we really need to put in a lift before that can happen, so it's a bit of a way off. We are more likely to expanded the garden side of things in the short term as the that has proved extremely popular. The sure thing is that each time anyone visits the place will look different and new!