Moving an antiques business from England to rural France
PUBLISHED: 13:04 08 October 2020
When Sheryl Mills turned 50 she moved her life and antiques business from rural Herefordshire to rural Mayenne, and her decision has proved to be more midlife miracle than midlife crisis
Sheryl Mills looks at home inside her cider barn brocante as she sits on a French-style metal school chair with wooden back and seat, writing up price tags on Kraft paper for new gardenalia and linens. To her left is the barn’s main opening, which leads out to a courtyard filled with old farm equipment including butter makers, carts, cider flagons, fruit picking ladders and milk churns.
Sheryl lives in Mayenne, in the northern part of the Pays de la Loire region which borders southern Normandy, and these faded historical items are a reminder of this area’s cider- producing and dairy-farming roots. The courtyard leads to Sheryl’s farmhouse with its hexagonal tiled terrace, galvanised steel flowerpot trays and decorative white tables and chairs. To the right of where Sheryl is sitting is the main shop frontage, which displays antique furniture, chandeliers, mirrors, rugs and vintage kitchenalia. The lighting is warm and highlights the natural wood grains of the many bedside cabinets, cupboards, dressers, sideboards and washstands that line the thick stone walls.
The brocante sign, written on a broken roof slate and resting on a beautifully upholstered armchair, encapsulates the shop’s tasteful look. This barn still houses the old cider press and is one of the many outbuildings here that keeps the property’s history alive. The cider barn brocante opened its imposing wooden doors to antique bargain hunters last year and is a natural extension to Sheryl’s online antique business that she started in Manchester in the 1990s, after spending a decade studying at Manchester Polytechnic College.
“The best source of goodies to stock the cider barn brocante and my online antiques shop is the vide-grenier, which is a kind of car boot sale but one that takes over the streets of a whole village or town for a weekend,” says Sheryl. “The locals empty out their attics and cellars and the villagers are joined by dealers and brocanteurs so it’s a great mix. This really is the thrill of the hunt, unearthing a quirky gem and bargaining to get a great price. Much of what I find ends up in the brocante and I post interesting items on Facebook and Instagram too.”
Sheryl decided to move to France after celebrating her 50th birthday in Normandy. “A friend lent us the use of his French holiday home in Normandy. That first morning I opened the shutters and looked out on a bucolic scene, blossom-filled orchards with sheep and cows grazing beneath. The sudden realisation that I could be happy living in France enveloped me. The countryside of Normandy is very similar to the surrounds of my English home, and property prices are so cheap, it feels like a step back in time. I returned to the UK and set about telling everyone that I was moving to France so that I couldn’t chicken out.”
Sheryl gave herself a year and after internet searches and several house-hunting trips, she extended her search area to include Pays de la Loire. Her eye for a hidden gem is what made her buy a home on the outskirts of Lassay-les-Châteaux – she chanced upon a farmhouse with a photograph of a beautiful cherub-decorated ceiling in one of the main rooms.
“That settled it, I knew this was the house I would buy,” says Sheryl. “The reality was even better and I put in an offer, signing the compromis de vente a year to the day from that first visit to France.”
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