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Thursday, June 30, 2022

My side hustle is more life enhancing than therapy | Follow your passion

“When the pandemic hit, I lost all my work pretty much overnight,” says Gemma Griffin, 43, from Suffolk. “I’m a knitwear designer. I’d worked for various UK high street brands since leaving university, then I went freelance three years ago.” When Covid arrived, Griffin hadn’t been self-employed for long enough to qualify for government funding. She was also living in a new house and caring for her eight-year-old daughter. “I really, really needed something else to do,” she says.

She decided to use the time to renovate her home. “My dad was a painter and decorator, so I’ve always been used to getting on with home projects,” she says. “We’d just moved in and there was some disrepair, so I wanted to see what I could do.”

Her first project was refurbishing furniture for her daughter’s bedroom. “I found some old wardrobes and painted them,” she says. “I sent a few people pictures and then some people started asking if I could do pieces for them.” Griffin began looking for old items of furniture to makeover. “It was a beautiful summer, which meant I could work outside in the evenings,” she says. “I got an Instagram account, @ten:09, to show people what I was doing, and it grew from there.”

Quote: “I sent a few people pictures and then some people started asking if I could do pieces for them”
Detail of colourful bunting
Gemma Ellis restoring furniture

The time she spent on furniture restoration proved valuable in more ways than one. “It’s amazingly therapeutic,” she says. Griffin begins her process “by spending hours on online marketplaces and visiting local charity shops. When I see the right piece, whether it’s a table or an old cabinet, I know instantly what I’m going to do with it.” She then sands the item down, primes and paints or renovates it, a process that probably takes around a week.


“I do everything with proper love and devotion, except the priming, which is the only stage I hate,” she says. “But, for example, if there’s glass that needs replacing, I’ll go to a traditional old-fashioned glassmaker. When I’m working on furniture I am so absorbed, and my hands and my mind are occupied. It’s incredibly enjoyable.”

She also loves bringing tatty or damaged pieces back to life. “I think about who has owned it before and how many years they lived with that furniture and used it. Pieces from the 1920s and 1930s were probably someone’s prized possessions at one point. It’s a great feeling to reclaim them, stop them being considered junk and for them to go on and become a prized possession for another family. As I’m working with one-off pieces – people tend to buy them because they love them rather than because they’re after furniture that fills a practical gap. So the pieces go off to homes where they’ll be valued.”

Griffin is also still in contact with most of her customers. “It’s partly because there’s a little community, and partly people coming back and saying: ‘Could you do me some bedside tables?” It wasn’t meant to be a business; it was honestly just something to keep me occupied. But now it really is starting to become a business.”

Most of her income still comes from her work in the fashion industry, but furniture is increasingly part of her working life. “I am getting personal commissions, such as one for a shop in Carnaby Street that I delivered and placed in situ myself.” she says. “Then there’s an art gallery that takes my furniture to sell alongside their art. And they don’t sell it as old furniture, they sell it as statement pieces.”

An art deco bathroom cabinet
Quote: “When I see the right piece, whether its a table or an old cabinet, I know instantly what I’m going to do with it”
Detail of fabrics

Her new website, built after a consultation with GoDaddy, should help her take Ten:09 Furniture even further. “I want to expand into ceramics, vases and crockery and anything I can help to look amazing again. A proper website really helps, because it means people can search properly and that I can group things by type – vases in one place, bedside tables in another. Instagram is great as a showcase, but you need a proper site if customers are going to be looking for specific things.

“Interiors are a massive passion for me, they always have been. I love hunting and foraging and finding things, then being able to make a new space in the world for them. So I would love to make this an ongoing business, and getting a new website is a big part of that. Restoring furniture really does make me happy.”

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