Meet Sara Jane, the hands & heart behind Home Front Vintage…
Name: Sara Jane Murray
Company: Home Front Vintage
Description: Home Front Vintage rescues unloved stuff from the past and retells the story by remaking it with love into beautiful homewares and quirky gifts.
Location: Kent, Great Britain
Date Started: December 2012
What is the ethos behind your business & the history behind your products…
I love the idea that everything in our homes should tell a story ~ and also that we should learn to have ‘sufficient’. I don’t mean we should become self sufficient, although that is also a great ambition, but just that we all need to learn that we can’t keep consuming at the rate we do. Having a few personal, useful or beautiful ‘things’ is much better for us and the environment than filling our lives with lots of cheap soulless stuff that might give us instant gratification when we buy it, but ultimately doesn’t mean anything to us so we throw it away. I know it is odd me saying ‘don’t buy stuff you don’t really need’ when I run a business selling the things I do, but I believe we should spend our pocket money wisely, preferably with local artists and makers who take pride in what they do. Isn’t it fabulous, when asked about something in our homes we can say ‘oh yes, there is a great story behind that…’
How did you get started on your path to where you are today with HFV?
It all started with a visit to a vintage fair in Whitstable. I came across what I thought to be a silk scarf featuring a map of China. It was only when I got it home that I realised what I had bought. It was a genuine ‘escape and evasion’ map from WW2 that pilots and Special Forces would have carried hidden in their uniforms in case they were shot down over enemy territory. I just loved the idea that I could ‘re-make’ this bit of history into something new that was relevant to the way we live today, preserving its history. I started collecting and rescuing more of the maps and remaking them into cushion covers, lap top and kindle covers, notebooks etc and ‘Home Front Vintage’ was born! We now rescue all sorts of unloved stuff from the past and remake it into beautiful homewares and gifts.
What has been the highlight of your journey to date?
There have been lots! I think one of the big moments was attending the Liberty ‘Best of British’ event at their store in January 2013. I had to pitch my products to Ed Burstell, the Managing Director of Liberty and Katrina Burroughs, a journalist from The Telegraph. It was terrifying and exhilarating in equal measures ~ well actually, maybe more terrifying than anything ~ But I came away really believing in the products and what I was trying to do, oh and I had a lovely cup of tea and a bun in their cafe and chatted to Emma Thompson!
The silk escape and evasion maps used by pilots and special forces during WW2 & the cold war is one of the key ranges in the Home Front Vintage brand, but you have an eagle eye for hunting out all sorts of unique & beautiful vintage items. What has been your favourite find?
I am a little obsessed by the maps ~ I found a lovely one of Borneo in gorgeous greens and orange colours, which I made into a cushion cover and now adorns the leather chair at home, I just couldn’t sell it as I spent time in Borneo when I was younger and it brings back great memories. Other great finds include a tin desk top globe from the 1950s that when you open the top contains a brandy bottle and 6 tiny shot glasses. Even better, if you remove the bottle it activates a music box that plays the 1812 overture, so nobody can sneak a cheeky snifter without you knowing! Pure genius. Completely bonkers, but genius! I also have a brooch made from an old penny that has been re~made into the shape of a spitfire plane. It is a piece of ‘trench art’, dates from the 1940s, and was probably made by a soldier as a present for his sweetheart. I wear it as a necklace and the spitfire has become an emblem for Home Front Vintage.
What is your most favourite HFV product or range to create?
Did I mention I like the maps? Seriously though, the silk maps ARE my obsession and my favourite range. I have also just started to make some notebooks covered in pieces of ‘indenture’ or old deeds printed onto vellum. They date from 1790 to 1920 and are another amazing bit of history. I am falling in love with them as well. Old paper just smells so lovely…
What has been the best piece of advice you’ve been given/is your favourite inspirational quote?
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them and pretty soon you have a dozen.” Steinbeck
I also had a teacher who used to say ‘the harder you work the luckier you’ll get’ ~ I think that is true, sometimes you make your own luck and sometimes it is about seeing an opportunity and grabbing it ~ others might see you as lucky, but you will know you worked hard for it. The same teacher also used to say ‘If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got’. Sometimes you have to try something a bit different. I like that.
Running your own independent business can be exhilarating, rewarding and exhausting…what keeps you motivated?
Meeting customers who love what I do and really ‘get it’. I get asked all the time what I will do when I run out of maps, and keep being told I should get them reprinted onto new silk to sell as I could make more money ~ but that misses the point entirely. The whole ethos is that people are buying a part of history; they are becoming part of the story.
What do you love most about running your own business?
The creativity of coming up with new ideas and translating old things into something new. As well as running Home Front Vintage I also work full time for a charity working with terminally ill people. Home Front Vintage gives me the space to do something completely different which I love, but working for the MND Association gives me a bit of balance. It really isn’t the end of the world when someone doesn’t want to pay £4 for a card I have handmade and personalised because they ‘can get one for 99p’ on the high street!
Who/What inspires you?
I am inspired by the past and by the stories of ordinary people who do extraordinary things, but also, the ordinary people that do ordinary things. I think this little island of ours produces the most amazing people and stories and we need to feel we can celebrate those people and commemorate the past whilst looking to the future. Britain really is ‘Great’ and we should celebrate it with all its idiosyncrasies and foibles.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out on their own journey?
Believe in what you do and give it a go. What is the worst that can happen? Even if you get a knock back it doesn’t mean that what you do or create isn’t right; it just means it wasn’t right for that person at that moment; so sometimes you have to have faith and keep going. It might take a while to find your style or really work out what makes you ‘you’, but that is all part of the process so don’t be too hard on yourself.
Oh, and don’t take things too personally – business can be harsh and sometimes you have to take a deep breath and carry on. Not everyone will ‘get’ what you do, and that is ok. And finally, always have a bottle of something cold and expensive in the fridge ~ you never know when you will get that ‘lucky’ break and want to celebrate!
Your beautiful range has recently been taken up by The National Trust at Chartwell and you’ve recently exhibited at the Decorative Living Fair with Homes & Antiques magazine…what’s next for Home Front Vintage?
Well, we have just fulfilled our first order for Liberty so our products will be stocked in their store from July…I keep trying to be cool about it and have been practising my ‘this is no big deal and stuff like this happens every day face’ but actually, I am a tiny bit overexcited about it all!
Thanks so much for sharing a little bit about your style & your journey, SJ x
When I first met SJ, I was bowled over. Not only by her knowledge and passion for her products, but by the innate warmth she radiates…she is one of those people I just want to squeeze, and this lovely lady has become a rather sooper friend since our first meeting (although I really must not go vintage hunting with her again…we find too much good stuff!).
I never could get those amazing maps out of my head, and am now a proud owner of one original silk ‘escape and evasion’ map cushion. The story I love most is that, as SJ explained, the maps were made of silk in order that they didn’t rustle in pockets, and also so that if they became wet, they wouldn’t tear…a piece of history that is indeed still beautiful and useful, and will continue it’s journey and it’s tale to be told.