Reclaim your home!

PUBLISHED: 11:31 28 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:29 20 February 2013

Jane Eakhurst of Serendipity Reclamation

Jane Eakhurst of Serendipity Reclamation

Forget brand new – this month Pat Bramley takes a look at how reclamation and re-use can transform your home...

STAINLESS steel minimalists look away now. Skip the next few pages. If you live in a dust-free zone of sculptural beauty with crisp clean lines uncluttered by anything more than a picture perfect bowl of fruit, you wont be on the same wavelength as people who get a buzz from rummaging through reclamation yards or foraging in charity shops.

Thats what this is about its about a charity shop known to locals as The Harrods of Chorleywood and a business in the village of Dagnall that gives new life to building materials salvaged from demolition jobs.

In both the charity shop and the reclamation yard youll find old furniture, cast-off clothes, books, china, old utensils, ancient garden tools, indeed all sorts of bits and pieces that were once part of a home in the days of the British Empire and post-war Britain.

Reclaiming life

Jane Eakhurst sees a fair few of the minimalist brigade at Serendipity Reclamation, her Aladdins Cave of salvaged treasures at Mile Barn Farm on the A4146 Hemel Hempstead Road at Dagnall.

They take a few steps inside her vast old cow barn stacked to the rafters with every imaginable type of antique alongside one-off pieces of furniture made on-site from salvaged timbers and theyre back in the car and away before exploring any further.

They just dont get it, sighs the 42-year-old wife of a TV producer who launched the business a year ago after 12 years as a London-based advertising copywriter.

Fortunately the majority of first-time visitors not only get it, a lot have become regulars.

Jane has always loved quirky stuff thats had a previous life. Since she left the family home to go it alone shes moved four times, always to an old place which shes done up with reclaimed materials and furnished with old furniture and vintage bits and bobs.

Ive never been into new things, she says shuddering at the very idea. My inspiration was my paternal grandmother. She was a proper East End lady. She lived in the house where she was born until five years before she died in her 80s.

I loved going to her house. Shed lived there with her seven brothers and sisters. It was a tiny place. Nothing in it was of any real value. It had an outside privy. I used to wander through, marvelling at the way she arranged everything. Ive never seen anyone since or before hang their pictures up with wooden clothes pegs, genius idea.

Home now for Jane, her husband Simon and their six-year-old son Oliver is a 350-year-old cottage next to a Buddhist monastery in a tiny hamlet just up the road from Mile Barn Farm.

Before that they lived in a Victorian terraced house in Willesden where they first met the timber reclamation expert who is now their business partner. We wanted to put down reclaimed floorboards when we moved to the London house, looked in the Yellow Pages and thats how we met Richard.

He laid the floorboards and did the garden for us in Willesden, then when we moved out here five years ago we asked him to help us restore the cottage.

Richard now has a 50:50 share in Serendipity and Jane and Simon have a 50:50 share in the Timber Reclamation Company. The allied reclamation/restoration/recycling businesses are housed in neighbouring outbuildings at Mile Barn Farm although Richard established his company 25 years ago.

It was one of the first companies to deal in reclaimed timber and reclaimed floors and building materials, long before recycling became fashionable, he points out.

Our philosophy has always been to re-use and restore wherever possible. We believe that period properties should always use reclaimed building materials to complement and accentuate the character.

Simon looks after the books of the joint venture while Richard and Jane are responsible for the day-to-day running of the companies with a team of highly skilled specialist craftsmen. They design and make bespoke pieces from salvaged wood both as stock for the showroom and to order.

The reconstructed furniture in the showroom today includes a coffee table and a worktop for an island unit in a 21st century kitchen, both made from 100-year-old lock gates which were surplus to requirements in their original form when they were replaced by a new pair on a lock on the Grand Union Canal between Linslade and Tring.

The largest piece by far is an impressive 19th-century fireplace reaching almost to the ceiling of the two-storey barn. Jane says, It came out of a stately home in Wales owned by a family who had had trade dealings in India in the 1800s. The fireplace is made from Indian padauk wood. We also have the staircase and panelling from the same house.

Other items include lots of vintage finds from France plus a multitude of things as varied as a copy of Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell (20) to a velvet-covered elbow-shaped foot rest for an Edwardian gout sufferer (45) and an art deco brass door handle (10).

Theres also a good supply of dolly pegs and chopping boards obviously made from off-cuts of something or another. The old-fashioned pegs will make useful stocking fillers, either to impress the neighbours on the washing line or copying grannys ingenuity as an eye-catching picture hanger.

Charity finds

Over in Chorleywood, Sandra Jones, manager of The Peace Hospice charity shop, has been putting aside donated items since last January to add to the selection of enticing Christmas gifts for sale in the shop from November.

People queue up each year waiting for the gifts to come out they buy all their Christmas presents here.

If the lucky recipients arent told where the gift was bought from, on past experience theyll be bowled over by the mistaken idea of the generosity of whoever gave it to them.

Ask any local the quality of the merchandise at the hospice shop is top drawer but the prices are bargain basement. Fifty pence buys you a secondhand paperback thats probably never been opened and a pound is the price of most hardbacks, again, good as new.

I know were much cheaper than most charity shops because Ive checked, says the manager. We get a lot of stock, I need to sell it. I want money in the till. I want a quick turnover. If the price is too high it will stay on the shelf. I want to keep up the element of surprise when customers come in.

Sandra had a background in retail when she took over as assistant manager two years before she was promoted to manager four-and-a-half years ago.

She runs the shops with assistant manager Lyn Judge and a rota of almost 50 volunteers Theyre all a great support to me. Id be nowhere without them.

Whereas Jane at Serendipity buys stock from auctions, flea markets, car boot sales, antique shops and occasionally from private sellers, all the stock at the hospice is donated.

Every item on sale is in good condition, probably because Chorleywood is a relatively affluent area. Even so all charity shops including The Peace Hospice have been adversely affected by the recession. The recession has hit us. It has been a struggle over the last two years, the manager admits.

As well as ensuring that prices are affordable, she also attracts interest by changing the window display at least once a week, sometimes more often. Even though she was a novice at arranging eye-catching windows when she took over as boss, the shop invariably wins the prize for the local traders best-dressed window display at Christmas.

Sandra and Lyn now only accept comparatively small pieces of furniture because of the difficulty of lifting large heavy items in and out of the window.

Their best sellers are womens designer clothes and bric a brac like china and glass. The recent buyer of a brand new boxed set of four Dartington champagne glasses for a fiver certainly had something worth celebrating. Even tatty clothes have a value. I get a lot of money for rags, says the boss.

Any items which could sell for big money such as paintings, vintage clothes and handbags and valuable antiques are seen by experts in each field who advise the best market.

The highest price weve had in my time was 700 paid for a painting at a Bonhams auction. I think it was only a print but it must have been a good one.

Latest from the Hertfordshire Life