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Interview: Nicole and Sarah of Ginger Elliott

Ginger Elliott vintage love seat

French-carved love seat lovingly restored by Ginger Elliott

Today, I’d like to introduce two creative Sydney-siders, Nicole Elliott and Sarah Hargrave who have combined their passion for textiles, design, vintage furniture, upholstery and upcycling in their new business, Ginger Elliott, sourcing quality second-hand furniture with a view to not just a ‘do up’ but some serious ‘zhushing’. They transform their finds into stunning, unique and, often quirky and bright, designer statement pieces. I caught up with them at the lovely Boathouse cafe at Balmoral to find out how it all began …

Tell me about your backgrounds and how you’ve ended up where you are today?

Sarah: My background is in interior design and property styling. I’ve had my own company for the past 13 years. The job didn’t exist 15 years ago when I started. I was working part-time for a real estate agent and one time he asked me to accompany him for a home viewing and photo shoot. It was a $1 million-plus property but the owner wasn’t ready for us – she’d just had a baby. So I ended up tidying up the kitchen and picking flowers from her garden and styling the house. After that I realised there was an opening in the market for property styling.

Nicole: I studied fashion at RMIT and my first job as a teenager was doing displays for [clothing retailer] Sportsgirl, then I ran the Benetton shop when it first opened. I ended up in Just Jeans working on their new accessories line doing the designs, colours, displays, shoes, bags etc. 

Ginger Elliott upcycled vintage furniture

Sarah Hargrave and Nicole Elliott of Ginger Elliott at the Boathouse, Balmoral, Sydney

Had you done much furniture restoration/upholstery before or did you need to do a course?

Nicole: We’ve both learnt over the years – we pretty much taught ourselves. I’ve always sewn and am self-taught in soft furnishings and upholstery.

Sarah: I grew up in the UK and my mother collected antique furniture and art, and took me as a child to many auctions and antique sales. I’ve enjoyed collecting and restoring furniture for many years and have always had a passion for fabrics and making things – cushions, clothes, light upholstery – and have learnt different paint techniques over the years. 

How did you meet and where did the idea to start Ginger Elliott come from?

Sarah: We met when Nicole and her family came to live in Sydney and our children went to the same kindergarten and then school, about 13 years ago.

We’ve both always been passionate about upcycling and restoring and finding beautiful furniture. We started four years ago taking a collection of furniture and interesting decorative items to Manly Village Markets, which we did every month for three years. However, often the weather would cause the market to be cancelled and we began to think about taking it online.

Do you have different skills you bring to the table (excuse the pun!)? Have you ever disagreed with how a piece should be restored?

Nicole: We do have different skills, which we find complement each other. We’re both very creative and usually bounce ideas off each other. Sarah does all the paint finishes and knows more about furniture and its history; I do all the sewing. We’ve never disagreed on how to restore a piece; it’s a totally collaborative process, which is a lot of fun.

Ginger Elliott upcycled vintage furniture

Red metal two-seater with Lion cushions

Where do you go to source the furniture and fabric?

Sarah: We find our furniture mainly at auction houses, but also friends approach us with pieces they no longer want. However, we are extremely fussy about what we take on – it has to be unique, quirky, generally, but not always, antique or vintage and in reasonably good condition. But you can get caught out, especially at auctions. Then you can end up spending hours and hours fixing them! The fabrics we source from fabric distributors and interior design trade shows. We’re always on the lookout for something a little different.

How do you work – do you find an old piece of furniture and then choose a fabric or do you collect fabrics and try and find the perfect piece of furniture?

Nicole: We usually find the furniture first and then, depending on what it is, we hunt down the perfect fabrics for the piece or decide on the perfect paint colour. We’ll often mix the paint colours ourselves to create the exact hue we are looking for, which is Sarah’s specialty.

Tell me about what you’re working on at the moment?

We’re currently working on an amazing pair of mid-century metal bucket seat chairs that we bought at auction and have given them a complete makeover. They’re stunning! We also have an interesting metal sculpture, which we’re converting to take huge candles. With our pieces, everything is a one-off, you’ll never see them again.

What’s been the most challenging piece you’ve worked on?

The Royal terrier chairs, which we thought would be easy to restore when we bought them, but it turned out they needed a lot of work!

Where do you go, or what do you do/read/see for inspiration?

Sarah: Both of us are magazine junkies; we also love to go to art exhibitions, trade fairs, interior shops. We also love fashion and Nicole has years of experience buying for a major fashion retailer. We also love Pinterest (Nicole’s addicted to it!), Instagram (I love to post photos) and on the web, generally, with blogs.

Ginger Elliott upcycled vintage furniture

Strong bold colour is a signature of Ginger Elliott

What do you like to do in your spare time?

All of the above plus spending time with our families and friends.

What’s your most beloved possession?

Sarah: A beautiful oil painting by my mother.

Nicole: My collection of artwork.

Do you collect anything? If so, what?

Nicole: Artwork when I can afford it.

Sarah: Antiques, anything old and interesting.   

Thanks so much, Nicole and Sarah! It’s great to learn about successful creative business partnerships and your pieces are divine. Ginger Elliott will be holding an ‘open home’ in the not too distant future – check the Who’d Have Thought? Facebook page or their blog for updates.

[All furniture images courtesy of the talented photographer Chris Warnes]

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