Having spent years organising international exchanges for budding artists, Simone Chester felt it was time to do something for herself.
So, last autumn, she launched her own arts hub in Tyseley, Birmingham where she upcycles unwanted furniture.
Already, the aptly-named Chester Drawers is appealing to people across the Midlands who want to buy shabby chic furniture or learn how to make it themselves.
“After leaving university, I went to work for an art company in Barcelona,” says Simone, 42 and from Acocks Green.
“I really wish I’d launched my own business after that but I was young and so I had other ideas instead.
“Instead I went to work for a youth organisation, organising international art exchanges, giving other people opportunities rather than myself.
“Finally, I decided to bite the bullet and do something I love.
“And it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
“At 42, I’m enjoying a bit of a renaissance!”
Simone searches all over the country for unwanted furniture she can transform into loved pieces. For her, history plays an important part when it comes to vintage decor from all eras.
“I try to find where the item has come from,” explains Simone, who is mum to Jude, seven.
“I recently had a side table that came from a lady’s grandmother who lived in Paris, which is where she bought this piece.
“I like to know the narrative behind a piece of furniture, people appreciate knowing where something has been since, say, 1945 when it was first made.
“They can carry that on then themselves, making the pieces antiques for the future, family heirlooms they can give to their children.
“I work on any type of furniture, from pine dressers to wooden stools.
“I can make modern pieces look vintage too by re-waxing, distressing and stripping off the varnish.
“I find things on eBay and have friends in London who look for things for me too – have van, will travel!
“I’ve become a bit of a skip diver!” she laughs. “I know all the people at the local charity shops and they give me a call when they have something they think I might be interested in.
“I can find pretty much anything for people. It’s a big playground out there really.”
To make the most of her large shop, Simone has transformed it into a studio, gallery and space in which to run workshops where she shares her skills.
People have already been travelling from far and wide to learn how to be creative, both in an artistic way, and in making their money go further by turning unwanted items into loved furniture again.
“I have a lot of space at the back of the shop which has given me the opportunity to launch a whole events calendar,” explains the single mum, who has lots of support from her family and friends.
“There are workshops teaching people how to distress their furniture and how to do decoupage. I also run classes on upholstery where people can learn how to make curtains and pelmets too.
“It’s great for people to be able to use what they have already got. There’s a real joy in it.
“Men and women have come from all across the Midlands. I recently had a couple come from Worcester and both of them wanted to attend a workshop.
“I want it to be a working shop rather than just a shop front for my work.
“It’s an art hub.
“A local artist has put an exhibition of her work in here and we’re hosting wine tasting evenings.
“We do a plethora of different things.”
Simone, who studied fine art at the University of Birmingham, makes screens which she free paints herself.
She also offers a full interior design service where she visits a client’s home, talks through ideas, draws up design charts and sources furniture to work on that will suit the space.
“It’s a great way to work with people to give their home a vintage look,” she says.
“I recently sourced a piece for someone who’d been looking everywhere for a heavy wardrobe with specific wallpaper decoupaged on it.
“I got what they wanted and did the work on it for them. It’s nice to be part of that creative process.”
Vintage mirrors and side tables start at around £40, rising to around £250 for larger pieces of furniture.
Interior design projects cost £500-plus depending on what the client wants.
Workshops cost £120 a day.
“Some people have said my prices are too low but I’m trying to keep them around this level to make it affordable.
“I know when I was younger this style of furniture is what I’d have liked to have had.”
Chester Drawers is open from Wednesday to Sunday.
She adds: “Like most self-employed people, I work seven days a week. When the shop isn’t open, I’m out the back working or collecting furniture.
“It’s such an exciting time for me, especially to be doing it on my own as a single parent.
“Sometimes single parents are given a label which is quite negative. Jude is an amazing child and I think it’s good for us to be doing something like this.
“This has been my dream for such a long time.
“It all happened very quickly once I became focused on my dream. The name just came to me when I was sitting with the girls having a glass of wine. I thought this is it.
“I’d say to anyone who has a dream to get on and do it. Once you put energy into it, everything starts to flow.”
* To find out more visit www.chester-drawers.co.uk