MY COUNTRY BUSINESS
Shopkeeper Libs Lewis trades in vintage and contemporary homewares in the Cotswolds
In the Cotswold towns of Nailsworth and Tetbury, Libs Lewis can often be seen unloading her roof rack and taking armfuls of decorative booty into either of her two Domestic Science shops. Here, she sells a mix of all things reclaimed, repurposed and reused, along with an edit of contemporary pieces that complement her vintage offerings. With cafés at both shops and regular artisan pop-ups and workshops, both locations have become the destination stores for collectors and interior aficionados on the hunt for something unique.
‘Since I was a child I have always loved collecting,’ says Libs. ‘Instead of wanting to visit the sights on family holidays,
I was desperate to rummage in junk shops. Obsessed with “tiny things” I would seek out treasures to display in my bedroom: snuff boxes, tins, farm animals and little objects that made my heart pound. Like a magpie, but always as much in love with the rusty and worn as with the shiny.’
What started as a hobby for Libs has grown more recently into a successful retail business. After a short stint as a Norland Nanny, Libs took over the local junk shop in Nailsworth at the age of 21; then joined forces in 1998 with
Ali Sharland, to open Sharland & Lewis, an antiques shop in Tetbury.
‘Five years ago Ali moved to Dorset and I carried on trading antiques from the shop in Tetbury,’ says Libs. ‘However, in 2013 a large 2,000 square foot space became available in the old mill in Nailsworth owned by my husband David and his brother. I had been fostering a huge desire to start selling a mix of both old and new and it felt like the right time to take on another selling space and trust my buying instincts. I didn’t think too much about what I was doing. I had a wealth of experience from Sharland & Lewis but limited cash in the bank. The huge bonus was that the shop premises were family owned and, with spending limits available on five interest-free credit cards, I used the funds to purchase some
stock and Domestic Science was launched.’
With a cavernous mill space to fill, Libs’ lifetime of hoarding came into its own. ‘I have always collected pieces of industrial reclamation and random antiques and, as a result, our garden has often resembled Steptoe’s yard. I think David was relieved to see these things move down the hill from home, into the mill. Our motto for Domestic Science is “if we don’t love it, we don’t sell it”, and I have stayed true to that throughout. I think it is really important to be passionate about what you do and for customers to feel that.’
The introduction of new items began to really enhance sales and in a short space of time Libs decided to rebrand the Tetbury shop as Domestic Science as well and repeated the successful new formula.
Five years on, the shops are filled to the brim – think English and French antique furniture; vintage signs, toys, linens and fabrics; American tin tiles and antique Dutch factory cheeseboard shelving. All this sits alongside a plethora of new finds, including lifestyle brands Iris Hantwerk, Redecker brushes, Annie Sloan chalk paint, Superga footware and NLXL Wallpapers.
Libs also goes on regular buying trips to Bali, India, Marrakech and New York, as well as visiting places closer to home. ‘I find it hard to avoid a local market,’ she says. ‘Drawn to the raw beauty of the pared-back, chipped, faded and industrial, I love nothing more than a rusty piece of corrugated iron or a discarded skip find. I am obsessed with provenance and enjoy passing on the history of an interesting piece to the next custodian. With new items, I only buy small amounts and then move on – customers love that things are always changing and lots of what we sell has a humorous side, too.’
With the business growing, Libs now employs 12 part-time local staff. ‘I made the decision to stick to the things I could do well and delegate the rest,’ she says. ‘I focus on the buying and creative and my fabulous team manage the merchandising, accounts, social media and day-to-day running. I meet with a mentor every few months who helps me to see the bigger picture. I would love to develop a range of Domestic Science products and an online shop but, for now, I want to get the shop experience right and balance work and family life at home with my husband, daughter Harriet, 23, and son Alfie, nine. I love what I do but with both David and I being self-employed it can become all-consuming – we have learnt to let go and not take ourselves too seriously.’
DOMESTIC SCIENCE SHOP & CAFÉ, DOMESTIC-SCIENCE-HOME.CO.UK.
Libs made this pinboard (available to order) for her home from vintage fabrics and buttons.