Homes: Master the art of slow living with Ivy Joan
“A well developed vintage-style home can not be bought in one visit to Ikea; it is about finding pieces and building around that.” Hayley Peters, founder of Bury St Edmunds-based brand Ivy Joan, tells Alice Ryan how her online brocante came to be - and why buying vintage is the future
In the beginning
I would love to tell you some whimsical story of how my parents were avid antique buyers or that I grew up in a 15th Century beamed property so it was in my blood, but alas my story is simply not this romantic!
I was never surrounded by old things - my parents certainly didn’t have a passion for them - but I think it all began as I started looking for my first house. I was so drawn to listed properties and pined for a place with real character. I had lived in a few older houses while renting and fell in love with the charm of original floorboards and the fairytale style of beams throughout the house.
Old houses, of course, come with a lot of work. Quite frequently, this in turn can lead to a deflated bank balance, which certainly played a huge part in my love of all things old as I took to searching local car boots in hope that I would be able to fill my home on a budget.
This was absolutely how my passion developed; I fell in love with the uniqueness of vintage. At first my shopping was purely fuelled by price but once I had the bug it opened up a whole new world of curiosities I never knew existed - and like that I was hooked!
Mother of invention
Ivy Joan was born from necessity, if I’m honest. I desperately wanted to stop commuting to London from Suffolk every day, but after working in the city for years, I knew finding a job that would challenge me, allow me to be creative and that I would love in a rural area would be tough, so I needed to try to develop something myself. My hobbies were, at that point, attending car boots, painting furniture and collecting vintage nick-nacks - was it possible to turn this into a job?
With all that in mind, I and a best friend started plotting a business plan early on in 2014; we had decided we wanted to launch a website where you could buy on-trend antiques and vintage. We hit the ground running, but finding a name took a little longer. . .
We wanted something nostalgic that was personal to us both and, after some thought, we stumbled on our grannies’ names: my Big Nanny was Ivy and Jo’s grandma was Joan – and like that Ivy Joan was born.
Ivy Joan is absolutely an antique and vintage online shop specialising in French Brocante, but it is also much more than that - it is about an experience, a transaction to remember. Every day we post a beautiful collection on social media, which in its own right is a type of art; this collection of antiques and vintage are then available online that day. The experience doesn’t stop there, as we ensure everything is wrapped beautifully with one of our magazines in the box so you can continue enjoying Ivy Joan well after your parcel has arrived.
Vive la France
We used to buy in the UK but four years ago changed how we do our buying and switched all our buying trips to France. For us it helped to develop our style. We do a lot of buying in Paris, as it’s a great area for buying paintings, but the rest of the time it’s really about researching what events are on when we can make it over. Doing two to three trips a month, we have really started to cover ground there. It’s getting to the point where we have certainly visited more small towns and villages in France than we ever have in England!
Seeing the light
Four years ago I had my first child and I was incredibly worried that having a little one would impact my ability to get out to markets. I had previously dabbled in candle making, but it was in the early days of the business and, once I realised how time consuming it was, I parked it.
Once I had my son this seemed like an excellent thing to explore: I wanted to develop a vintage candle collection and thought this would give me the opportunity to still have work even if I couldn’t get to markets. I did a course and after a few weeks of research I was off.
Little did I know at the time my little boy wouldn’t hold me back, he in fact made me more determined to succeed, and with that the candle side of the business almost caught up with the vintage sales, so I started splitting myself between the two.
Pots of style
The following year we started developing our ceramic ware. We started making our own versions of our favourite French pots and they proved to be very popular, the match strike and the oil burner in particular. I love the way these pots evolved, as it was a natural organic move for the business; we hadn’t been inspired elsewhere or overthought the design, it just felt like the next step, and after some initial worrying they were super popular!
Social media for me is very much my Marmite: it has opened up so many opportunities and now the way we work is very much shaped by Instagram, but it can be a difficult wave to ride especially when the algorithms seem to be even more confusing than the Cloud! I also find it can be a real time thief and it has really changed the industry I work in, so the competition is so much greater than before.
The positives from this, though, is that it has really pushed us to grow and develop, as well as evaluate and review, which has meant we have shifted our focus to things that we are really passionate about - like the photography within the business and the move to printed copy and images. We felt with online being so accessible now, it would be lovely to revisit and revive the printed media of the past so we launched a seasonal magazine and a monthly lifestyle card.
Taking it slow
I think the pandemic has brought with it a new love of slow living which is 100% what this trade can be about. A well developed vintage-style home can not be bought in one visit to Ikea; it is about finding pieces and building around that. For instance a gallery wall can, of course, be made overnight if you buy a dealer's 10-15 paintings, but to organically build a wall that fits perfectly could take years.
I think the pandemic gave us the gift of time, which has made vintage and antiques more appealing, plus it also gave people the opportunity to clear the decks. Everyone had time to have a good sort out and I think many noticed that good quality purchases weren’t at the heart of their clear-out and that instead it was the mass-produced pieces that were destined for the bin. This realisation has made people eager to focus on better quality purchases.
My gut feeling is that the main reason for growth in interest is due to people's awareness of the environment: buying vintage and secondhand is certainly a good move for the planet.
There are, of course, trends running through the interior sector, but Ivy Joan is more about a style: we try not to follow trends or to buy into trends but instead to hunt down timeless pieces.
One of the things I am most proud of is the impact we have on the environment. Selling things from the past is great, as it is one less new thing that needs to be made.
Buying into trends can contradict this notion, so I am always incredibly passionate about pieces that could work in lots of settings; that way, if someone chooses to redecorate, the piece still has a home. A great way to ensure that’s the case when buying is to use lots of neutrals, which does absolutely complement the current Scandi trend.
In terms of hot sellers this year, candles have been more popular than ever. I think we have all learnt to love our homes a little more since lockdown, so with that comes more nights in and of course that means more candles!
For me running a house, three children and three businesses is all about military planning! Any spare moment I have, you’ll find me poring over my planner looking for more efficient ways to operate. We tried to improve our work-life balance for ages, but in the end decided that merging the two was far healthier for us all, so the children help us with work - they’ll regularly come along to markets and are trying to learn French. By everyone being involved it means more time together.
Do what you love
Doing what you love day in, day out is incredibly rewarding, but knowing I am at almost every single school pick-up while maintaining a career I love is really something special: I am incredibly grateful to all my customers for enabling that to happen! On a cheekier note, getting first dibs on all the stock is a pretty good perk too. . .
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More by this authorAlice Ryan