New life breathed into former Norfolk Wildlife Park shop and tearoom

06:00 29 March 2014

Fran and Clive Osborne have opened up a new business called Country Modern in the former Norfolk Wildlife Centre tearoom in Great Witchingham. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Fran and Clive Osborne have opened up a new business called Country Modern in the former Norfolk Wildlife Centre tearoom in Great Witchingham. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2014

It used to resonate with the sounds of bleats, squeaks and squawks of its noisy neighbours, but now the once busy tearoom and shop at the former Norfolk Wildlife Park is a hive of industry for a new reason.

The building, which has stood empty for three years since the Great Witchingham tourist attraction closed, is now full of hand-painted furniture, lovingly given new life by husband and wife team Clive and Fran Osborne.

The couple, who live in nearby Sparham, have given up their day jobs as IT consultant and teacher to start up their own business, Country Modern, which has grown out of a garden shed hobby.

Mrs Osborne, who was a primary school teacher for 23 years, said they started the business full time 18 months ago when her husband was made redundant from Aviva.

“We have really been doing up furniture for 25 years together, for ourselves and friends, after we bought our first house and couldn’t afford anything expensive. We ended up with a lot of old brown furniture which I painted and it grew from there.”

Her husband added: “There comes a point in your life where you feel like a change and I think we have quite complementary skills because I can run our website and Fran can do the art.”

The couple now scour auction rooms, car boot sales and house clearances for vintage or unloved items which they can upcycle or repurpose with Mr Osborne using his self-taught carpentry skills where necessary and his wife picking out and applying the perfect paint treatment.

“We really needed bigger premises,” said Mrs Osborne. “We had been driving past this site every day since we moved to Sparham and wondered what was going to happen to it and waiting for someone to do something with it. When I found out who bought it I wrote to them speculatively and they agreed to let us lease it.”

From an empty shell it is now full of unique items from shabby chic dressers to dining tables, cupboards to cabinets, either hand painted or distressed, some with touches of decoupage or given new handles and knobs. Mrs Osborne will also take on commissions, maybe taking a set of furniture and tieing them in to a co-ordinating scheme or sourcing particular items for clients.

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