Even with the ever growing national appetite and enthusiasm for mid century design, it’s no easy task for anyone to break into the tricky and competitive world of vintage furniture dealing. But seemingly not so for John and Liz of Just Be Retro who are relative newcomers, formally setting up their business a mere two and a half years ago.
John openly admits that he enjoys sourcing and buying pieces that other dealers may overlook, but this approach is not without careful research and a discerning eye for great design. Realising fairly early on that the highly sought after Danish furniture was already too expensive, John set about researching British manufacturers of the same period who were well-respected and popular in the 1960s and the 1970s.
And so the Just be Retro product was born, beautiful heritage pieces that are either restored to their literal former glory or for the chosen ones a bespoke subtle touch which transforms the piece into something which is truly unique, that is the Just be Retro touch!
When did you start trading? How did you get into the trade?
Liz: We had been collecting mid century furniture for many years and had also been searching for something that we could do together. We both trained in creative fields – John gained a design degree and I graduated with a Fine Arts degree so we were keen on doing something still within this space. We started off by selling some pieces on Ebay and when they all sold, that was the push we needed to get started!
What did you do before this?
John: When we left university we actually restored traditional antiques so we learnt the skills for restoration back then. I started making furniture for small companies, basically anything out of wood. Later on, I worked closely with a company supplying seating to large organisations such as British Airways and Barclays and became involved in their product development side as well. During the last few years I have carried out small project management jobs, for example I have just recently been collaborating with the National Trust converting a space into a small library.
Which designers or periods are you particularly interested in?
John: We both obviously love mid century. I am a real history buff and love to research British design amongst others.
From where do you mainly source your pieces?
Well we are strategically very well-placed being in the Midlands. We often go to auctions, and in the main we source from within the UK.
Do you recall the first piece that you sold?
Yes, it was a beautiful Danish tiled coffee table! We loved it ourselves and we thought that if it didn’t sell we would like to keep it anyway. We always buy what we love ourselves.
Do you recall a spectacular find that blew you away?
Yes, it was a Gordon Russell piece which was very badly damaged. We fully restored it to its natural beauty. The person who bought it was a Gordon Russell expert and was very complimentary about the quality of the restoration.
Do you do all the restoration here yourself?
Around 98% of pieces we sell have been fully restored by us, a process which takes place here and is carried out by us. We completely strip everything back and do a very thorough job. Before we became traders we used to do a small amount of restoration for other traders, it’s a costly business and it used to sometimes frustrate us when only a small part of the restoration was carried out. At least now this is something we can completely control.
What is your favourite piece right now?
A Beithcraft sideboard which is a very rare piece.
How do you split the role of running the business?
Liz: We both source and buy the pieces together and John takes care of the first part of the restoration process. I become more involved in the final finish and help to make the decisions if we are going for a bespoke finish. it might just be a different handle or a certain shade on the wood.
What do you both do when you are not working?
We are both avid divers and our penchant is deep sea diving, searching for wrecks in the British waters. We also love running and Liz is a ballet lover and attends class on a regular basis.
What do you have planned for Just Be Retro?
We hope to increase our stock and increase our sales! We’re also looking to develop our online presence.
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