Iconic Design

Valerie Thornton Hunter set up her vintage home deco shop Iconic Design in Edinburgh around eight years ago. A former senior curator at the National Gallery of Scotland, she has always loved design and finally decided to set up shop with her husband. Here, Valerie tells us what it’s like to run a vintage shop, the challenge of making your business a success, and she shares her top tips for all those dreaming of opening their own vintage shop.

Tell us all about your business
“My business is called Iconic Design – and I have a little shop in the Grassmarket area of Edinburgh – with glorious views over to Edinburgh Castle.  I am responsible for acquiring all the items for sale in the shop, as well as designing and maintaining the shop’s website. I often work in the shop which is great as you can chat with customers about their own collections and up and coming vintage events in Edinburgh.

I run the shop with my husband, Robert – who I actually met at a jumble sale back in the Nineties. He also has the collecting bug – so he doesn’t really mind me turning our house into a stock room. We have both very different tastes – he is very interested in the Arts and Crafts period and vintage lighting – whilst being an ex-student at Edinburgh College of Art – I am more interested in design from the Fifties – right up to the contemporary period.”

How did you get into vintage?
“We have always been collectors so have had no problems with starting up the shop, as we have a loft full of things from my singleton days. When I married, a lot of this had to be put in the loft – so it was great  sorting a lot of this out and passing some things on.

Being a student at Edinburgh College of Art  in the Eighties  – I always had to be careful with budgeting my grant – it was then that I discovered how you could dress very snappily by going to Thrift Shops and Jumble Sales. I did use to have some amazing clothes, one of my friends at a recent college reunion reminded me of my dayglo orange fur coat that I used to wear to college – a unique item that you would not have found on the High Street – which was perhaps a blessing!

Although I studied drawing and painting,  I was also very much interested in design, and had originally planned to go into designing textiles and wallpapers. In the early Eighties you could still pick up Fifties iconic pieces for very little money – I was always  fascinated by the stylised shapes and fantastic abstract patterns on Fifties ceramics.

I have always  been interested in both collecting and collections. Before setting up my own business I had worked for 22 years as the Senior Curator in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Scotland – where I was responsible for a collection of over 30,000 graphics works – as well as the famous Turner watercolours in Edinburgh.  This was a fantastic job and it allowed me to travel the world and visit some of the finest museums. I also managed to find time to visit flea-markets and vintage shops in a number of countries, how I managed to fit so many items into a suitcase is still a bit of a mystery to me!”

Read on to find out Valerie’s top tips for prospective vintage shop owners!

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