IT was only when it almost imperceptibly moved one of its feet that I realised the chicken on the ground beside me in Grahame Booth’s workshop was not part of his taxidermy stock.
Salted Chilli is certainly not stuffed, but a rescued barn hen that clucks about the place as Booth works on renovating the pieces he buys at auction in Ireland and on two annual trips to IACF Newark and Swallow Fairs event at Lincoln.
Grahame and his wife Jenny, a landscape architect, run their antiques and vintage business The Natural Room Emporium from their home in the small village of Killinchy in Co Down, where I visited him last month.
Up to the beginning of last year Grahame was an architectural technologist in a large practice in Belfast.
He said: “Draughtsmanship had become a thing of the past and increasing demands and shortening deadlines had created a stressful environment.
“To get away from it I began revisiting auctions, something I’d enjoyed as a child with my folks.
“Jenny and I had little interest in high-street shopping, finding it generally dull and very predictable, but the auctions, with their unknown contents from week to week proved to be great fun. We’d buy a piece of furniture, bring it home and restore or refurbish it.’’
Grahame added: “As we were buying more than we needed, we started taking our restored pieces to car boot sales and they seemed very popular so we set up a Facebook page. Before we knew it, we were getting repeat customers and the Facebook page was generating more and more interest.
“All our free time was now spent sourcing and refurbishing. Car boot sales led to vintage fairs and we set up a small showroom in a spare room in our home.”
Taking the plunge
The couple realised they couldn’t continue both working full-time and meet the demand for stock, so Grahame decided to leave architecture and put everything into the business.
“We converted our garage to a showroom and by August we’d built a second, ” he said. “So we trade from our two little ‘boutique’ showrooms next to our home plus one in the house and everything’s going great. No regrets and a much happier, more interesting way of life.”
Grahame, a warm and welcoming man, has a good eye for what he buys and how he sets out his rooms, and has obvious skills at restoration.
His stock is well-priced and sells quickly. Recent sales include Royal Belfast Golf Club lockers at £495 with other sizes available – the club is the oldest in Ireland dating from 1881 and the lockers have been modified down the years, said Grahame – while a small JCB digger bucket at £125 would make an unusual log or coal basket.
Plenty more stock is available on the premises than is currently on the website.
The property is down a small quiet side road “in the rolling drumlins of County Down”, but while I was talking to Grahame, a customer came hammering on the kitchen window.
He is doing good business – even more since he has taken space at the Studio Souk Gallery in Belfast.
Before I said goodbye to Grahame and Salted Chilli, which by way of acknowledgement showed me her feathered posterior, I bought a boldly patterned thick terracotta Irish pottery bowl for a lovely loughside flat I have on the shores of Strangford Lough. I will certainly be back.
The Natural Room Emporium is at 44 Ballybunden Road, Killinchy, which is between Comber and Killyleagh on the A22 inland from Strangford Lough in Co Down.
Contact 07828 009243.