Deciding to sacrifice our dining room into a vintage grocery shop was probably my maddest of ideas. Well, we all have mad ideas – well at least I hope so!
My dining room was originally a shop which closed in the 1960s and the shop window was bricked up in the 1980s.
It was originally a shoe shop in the 1890s and was a grocery shop from 1920 to 1923. It then become more of confectionery shop with ‘fancy’ goods in the late 1920s.
My house being located opposite the town’s railway station meant it had plenty of potential customers walking by.
I decided to create a replica of the 1920s grocery shop when I was planning a wedding in 2011. So I was trawling the internet for advertising antiques whilst I was deciding seating arrangements and favours!
It was the biggest sales pitch I’ve made to my partner to convince (or force!) him to agree to the project.
“But it will complete the story of the house!” I pleaded. Not something most people look for in a home, I know.
Whilst I loved the previous dining room, it belied the house’s working-class roots and original purpose.
In those days the house had to earn a living for the family. I also knew a replica shop would be its ‘unique selling point’. After all, not many houses have a 1920s grocery shop!
Vintage grocery shop – expenses, expenses!
I was used to picking up antiques for a few pounds at car boots before embarking on this bizarre mission.
Little did I realise that the world of advertising antiques was so expensive and cut-throat!
I went to my first advertising antiques auction at Bamfords in Derby thinking a few hundred pounds would kit out the shop.
How wrong was I!
I ended spending over a £1,000 on a few tins, boxes and signs that barely covered one corner.
It was a gradual process. When I say gradual I was getting Ebay deliveries daily for a year and the Royal Mail depot told me they had a whole shelf for my packages!
Vintage grocery shop – 1920s focus
I went a bit mad on the early purchases and bought a lot of unnecessary items as I tend to do when I have a new obsession!
Many of the early photos of my shop recreation show a real mis-mash of eras where Victorian cabinets wrestled for space with 1920s storage tins.
This may seem authentic as shops evolve after time just like homes. However, no shop in 1920 would have been selling Victorian chocolate boxes without many complaints!
I’ve honed my collection to the period of 1920 to 1923 when the shop was a grocery business.
A large mahogany Carr’s Biscuits cabinet, which would have adorned a larger shop, had to go with a heavy heart.
In its place are old loose biscuit tins on a makeshift stand made of storage boxes to give that make-do-and-mend feel about the shop.
Vintage grocery shop – getting the packaging right
The biggest challenge has been finding packaging from the early 1920s.
Specific advertising antique websites such as Old Shop Stuff are good sources of information and shop items to buy.
Dating products is not easy. Many products such as Jacob’s Biscuits had the same branding and packaging from the 1900s to the 1950s.
Whereas, chocolate products such as Cadbury’s and Fry’s changed their packaging designs numerous times during the early 20th century. The fashion for pretty children on labels on Edwardian chocolate boxes made way for more stylised Art Nouveau and Art Deco designs.
I used old newspaper adverts and books on advertising antiques to date some of my packaging. I’ve also become attuned to changes in font, colours and materials over the years as I became absorbed into this fascinating collector’s world.
Vintage grocery shop – transformation taking shape
I carried out the shop transformation in two stages.
Firstly, I purchased an antique glazed counter similar to the one I was told was originally in the shop from a reclamation yard. I also had shelving fitted to two walls, incorporating a bank of antique shop shelves.
Once I had saved enough cash I was lucky enough to find two tradesmen willing to take on the next stage. This involved fitting a shop window into the bricked up opening, recreating a window display area and reinstating the entrance door and sash window.
It was a hell of project and one I would never do again!
My before sections show this journey.
However, I feel this room really brings the house to life and make it stand out from other period properties restored to their former glory.
Vintage grocery shop – current uses
But what do I use it for, I hear you ask?
Well, nothing! I can only describe the room as a giant display cabinet for historic shop items of around 1920.
We use the counter-side shelves as a book case and a wine rack. I suppose the shop has some practical use! It’s a particular favourite on my house tours.
As William Morris famously said: “’Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” In the case of the shop, I believe beauty prevails!