Whilst attending the March Hare Craft & Vintage Market last month – some of you may remember my post on Country & Vintage Finds – there was one particular stand that caught my eye. A stand full of beautiful pieces of upcycled furniture and a unique selection of homeware.
As I took a closer look, each piece appeared to have its own intricate hand-painted detailing, embedding that item with individuality and charm. ‘Beautiful’ was my first thought, my second was, ‘I can’t wait to have my own home where I can include some of these fantastic pieces!’
Although owning my own home may be a while away yet, I snapped up a business card sitting neatly on the table, which read ‘The Alabaster Box’.
Based in Aberdeen, Ashley Drain, a graduate in Textile Design discovered a gap in the Aberdeen market for upcycling old furniture. In June this year, Ashley decided to start-up on her own as she realised the demand for these bespoke pieces.
Intrigued by Ashley’s inspiration, I decided to get in touch to find out more…
Hello Ashley! As you know, I first came across The Alabaster Box at the March Hare Market last month, and from then I have been interested to find out more about your unique products.
For those just learning about you and your business, can you briefly describe what it is that you do at The Alabaster Box?
Thanks for getting in touch! At The Alabaster Box I provide a unique range of hand painted vintage furniture and homewares. I take on a range of painting and restoration commissions on clients own furniture from painted kitchens to chairs, tables and dressers. I also offer a soft furnishing service making up curtains, blinds and cushion covers. Alongside this I can provide interior design consultation and inspiration.
What was it that inspired you to start-up the business?
It has been a dream of mine to start-up my own business for a long time. I’m from a long line of business owners so you could say ‘it’s in the blood’. If I hadn’t pursued my Design degree it would definitely be some kind of business studies as my second choice. I have a degree in Textile Design which I was always very keen to put to use; the perfect opportunity presented itself when I returned to work after having my son. It soon became apparent that the job was no longer working alongside my childcare commitments. Being a mum is my highest priority and so it was important to me to find something that would allow me time for the children, to express my creative talents and to earn money!
This is where the idea behind The Alabaster Box was born. I began working alongside an upholsterer when I became so busy buying and selling bespoke furniture that I decided to branch out on my own. It was a hobby of mine and so it’s such a pleasure doing it for ‘work’.
Being a full-time mum and running your own business must be difficult! Do you get a helping hand from anyone?
I have a wonderful team of people around me assisting and supporting me in my business aims.
My husband is an amazing support, helping to lug furniture from restoration yards and putting up with all my painting mess! My wonderful family and friends have been such a blessing. Always on hand to help out with the kids whilst I attend craft fairs, customer appointments and scout for pieces. I couldn’t do it without them all.
Describe a typical day in the studio?
I usually start the day by having a quick gander around all of the local charity shops. I always have a stock of furniture ready for painting and sometimes commission pieces waiting for a lick of paint. So it’s mostly full of painting, sanding and waxing. There’s always the dreaded paperwork to go through at the end of the day, then catching up with emails and updating the Facebook page.
What are the best and worst parts of the job?
I love to see a customers face once their piece of furniture has had a makeover and it’s a great feeling you get when you make a sale, or an important contact.
Not so nice parts are carrying and transporting furniture from one place to another, and it can be a loooong day at a fair if you’re not making sales or it’s particularly quiet. I do often find though that I always make contacts at fairs which lead to future sales. All in all, there are much more pros than cons.
One contact being me of course! But apart from me, who would you describe as being your primary target audience?
My target audience is shabby-chic lovers, from young professionals to the more mature customer. Everyone seems to love shabby-chic these days! It seems that with less disposable income people are keen to re-use and upcycle furniture they already have. Many people like the idea of old pieces of furniture being re-loved and put back into circulation.
Who or what is your main source of inspiration?
The furniture itself is an inspiration; I love period furniture and properties. The Victorians and Georgians were so elaborate with their designs which makes some of the antique pieces a joy to work on. Even replica pieces have their own beauty. When I see pieces with intricate woodwork and delicate carvings it helps to inspire me on colour and paint technique to bring out the best in the piece. I have a passion for design, particularly interior design, so I often draw from current trends to help pick up pieces and choose on-trend colour combinations.
I suppose passion definitely helps drive the business and trigger inspiration! Where do you see The Alabaster Box in 5 years time?
I would love to have my own shop selling furniture and homewares, as well as offering an interior design service. I would also plan to expand my range of home accessories if I had a shop!
Soon, I will offer chalk paint classes which should begin early next year for anyone who is interested in learning.
At the moment I sell the chalk paint by mail order but I would eventually like to stock it in the shop. I am currently working on a website which I hope to launch in the next few months. There’s lots of vision for the future and if the business continues to grow the way it has in these initial months then it’s achievable.
What advice would you give to someone sharing your passion and hoping to start-up on their own?
Solidify your idea; it’s important to really know your product/service before you put it to market. Seek out help – Business Gateway offers a free business support service to start-up and established businesses. The standard of the service is high and completely free so I would highly recommend it, I even obtained funding from them to help start-up. There are many avenues to get assistance/funding so don’t be shy, ask around.
Where to spot Ashley next:
The Alabaster Box features within at least one craft fair each month. The next one will be held on Saturday 23rd November in Laurencekirk.
For more information, or to find out about The Alabaster Box products, contact Ashley on the following:
T: 07835 556 221