Brocante style: a way of life

Sophie Bateman visits the West Sussex home of Lucy Haywood and discovers a bucolic vision of real country living, with galvanised watering cans, stoneware jugs, enamelled teapots, floral quilts and vintage French linen. Welcome to Country Brocante, which you can experience for yourself at the interiors lifestyle fair which is coming to Bruton in June.

A visit to the West Sussex home of Lucy Haywood, the author of Country Brocante Style, is a little like stepping back into a different era. As I make my way up the country lane and turn into the driveway of her picture perfect tile-hung cottage, I am struck by a sense of place and a real sense of a person for whom country living is somewhat of an art form. This place feels like a hidden treasure, a secret garden of rambling roses, surrounded by fields, complete with a tiny spinney filled with delicate fritillaries, small hens picking their way through the long grass of their enclosure. It is a bucolic vision of real country living, not the neat and sanitised version we are often presented with, but the natural, rustic reality.

In pride of place in the garden is a shepherd’s hut, an original, which Lucy has painstakingly restored with the help of a friend. Around the garden are the signs of a life of early mornings spent at garden sales, boot fairs and flea markets. Lucy has a the skilled eye of a collector. There are beautiful objects aplenty, from collections of Victorian terracotta pots and garden tools to old rustic gates, galvanised watering cans and even a very early wooden hay feeder for lambs. The latter is an object I would not have paid much heed to, but here it is elevated from a practical farm item to an object of simple beauty.

Everywhere I look there are signs of creative industry: borders are being planted up, a trellis is being fashioned out of hazel sticks found in the woods, the shepherd’s hut is getting a fresh coat of paint. The garden alone gives the strong impression of a deeply creative person who loves a project. When Lucy emerges from the cottage to welcome me she is flanked by an elegant lurcher and a small terrier. I am invited in for tea in the pretty kitchen fashioned from reclaimed wood by talented friends. Tea comes in a classic enamel teapot served in mismatched cups, and I am offered buttered hot cross buns on a charming sponge-ware plate.

Tea comes in a classic enamel teapot served in mismatched cups, and I am offered buttered hot cross buns on a charming sponge-ware plate

Although Lucy began her antique and interiors fairs inspired by the French Brocante style, her home is quintessentially English in style. “We have such a rich history of English style”, she explains, “I am really keen to reintroduce people to our own style heritage, from beautiful Welsh quilts, to simple farmhouse furniture to Sponge-ware, which are all essentially folk art pieces”. Indeed casting my eye around the kitchen, there is a wealth of English style, from an early stoneware jug dating back a hundred years, to the work of current day ceramicists. The mantlepiece above the small log burner is piled up with collections of bowls and cups, an abundance of colour and pattern.

Lucy’s passion for all things vintage was ignited at an early age. “My parents spent all their free time at antique fairs, and I grew up in a home where old things were really valued; it sparked an interest in treasure hunting that has stayed with me ever since.” Lucy has an eclectic style, which is by no means limited to what we would consider things of ‘value’.

“I love the story of an object and I love getting a sense of its previous life, I often like to imagine the maker or the previous owner who treasured it.” Lucy tells me she is as excited by a mundane find just as much as by one of antique value. “House clearance sales are so interesting to me; as well as beautiful furniture or precious chinaware, one might look in a box and find an immaculate collection of vintage cashmere or even more mundane a collection of hundreds of lolly sticks carefully packaged up to use as plant labels from the greenhouse of an avid gardener. Also evident in the cottage is Lucy’s love of antique and vintage textiles, from piles of simple French linen sheets to floral bedspreads and pretty patterned scraps of fabric or pieces of vintage lace ready to be repurposed.

It is this eclectic eye that led Lucy to leave a career in design and follow another creative path. Initially putting her huge collections of china to use, hiring them out for weddings and parties, work that she could combine with bringing up her young daughters. This led to opening a little shop in Sussex, at one point opening in a large and draughty rustic barn, inviting other collectors to sell alongside her. Word of mouth made the stores a destination for vintage lovers in the know. Lucy began to host sales in gardens and on village greens and The Country Brocante was born. Over the last 12 years the business has evolved and grown from humble beginnings to hosting large seasonal interiors and lifestyle events in stunning locations around the UK.

But the original vision is still held in mind, and Lucy has always wanted the event to be accessible to all. She values the small artisan starting out just as much as the big established dealers. She hopes that every visitor will be able to visit the fair and leave with something they love, whether a basket full of plants, a simple jug or a Swedish dresser. Lucy’s style is not precious, or rather, perhaps, everything is precious. Exquisite treasures sit alongside humble, simple ones, and everything is cared-for, used and loved.

Visit The Country Brocante Summer Fair 2023, from 9–10 June at Roundhill Grange, Charlton Musgrove, Bruton BA9 8HH. Tickets: £18.50 pre-booked, £20 on the door, children under 16 yrs free, and 50% off for Bath Magazine readers.