Door into other worlds... - Sunday, April 24, 2016

Keith Michell, Laurence Olivier, Joan Plowright, Michael Redgrave, Sybil Thorndike – and more – have passed through these doors. Now it’s my turn!

When not running Mia Bella Casa, I volunteer for a small charity called Children On The Edge. I had the opportunity to help out at ‘Spotlight On The Edge’ – which involved local youth groups performing at Chichester Festival Theatre.


This was an evening of fundraising through music, song and dance by some of the most talented children in our locality. They came together to make a difference to children globally.

The one-off cast included – Chichester Festival Youth Theatre, Dance Innovation, Arabesque School of Performing Arts, West Sussex Music, Dance Industry and Chichester Music Academy.

It was a magical two hours. And I was given the opportunity to work front of house. I sold programmes and was buddied up with one of the employees – a former Broadway dancer.

The performances were amazing. I came away buzzing. What an honour to be in such a prestigious theatre – and for such a great cause. I also learned that the theatre was looking for new staff.


My time is limited. But the draw was too much. When the role of usher came up, I couldn’t help but apply. I was so excited to receive the phone call to say I’d been successful.

The worry is that I have to commit to four performances a week. So I work during the day, six days a week, and I rehearse for Acorn Antiques Mondays and Thursdays. Is this going to be too much?

Well, let’s see. I’m looking forward to taking on an additional challenge. And I get paid, which is a bonus! I’ll let you know how I get on. (Pictured Audrey the dog and I outside the stage door).

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Join our jamming sessions - Friday, October 30, 2015

Let’s take the lid off a local issue – like jam! We enjoy supporting local artists at Mia Bella Casa, and one of our favourites is Rustington jam maker ‘Mrs Badger’, also known as Lin Jones (pictured above).

An accomplished playwright and director, Lin makes cards, jams, chutneys and fudge from her base at Badger’s Cottage Kitchen in Rustington. Her jams and chutneys are packed full of locally grown fruit and veg. Her marmalade is made with Seville oranges.


But something a little different is Mrs Badger’s Tayberry Jam. Tayberry is a cultivated shrub in the genus Rubus of the family Rosaceae. The fruit was patented in 1979 as a cross between a blackberry and a red raspberry, and named after the river Tay in Scotland. Lin’s fudge is delicious, too. We’ve just taken delivery of her Pumpkin Pie fudge.

And there’s even more drama behind Mrs Badger’s empire. I’ve performed in many of Lin’s plays. We did an Alan Ayckbourn play It Could Be Any One Of Us back in 2012 for Rustington Players (pictured below).

It’s always great fun rehearsing and performing shows with Lin. It’s a great way to unwind after a hard day as we always have a laugh. Sadly, having the business means I don’t get as much time as before – but I still like to do at least one show a year.


We also worked together at the Rustington summer fayre. Lin set up her stand outside our shop, and has publicly thanked us for our help.

And if all that isn’t enough, Lin also has a graphic design service for theatre, music and events. She’s currently designing this year’s Rustington Christmas Fayre poster and programme.

So come to us for a taste of true theatre. In a jar.

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Some like it hot - Saturday, September 19, 2015

The heat was on. Not only was I playing a part in the musical Blitz!, but also I was running a stall at the Chilli Fiesta.

I’m involved in amateur dramatics in my spare time, and scooped the part of Mrs Josephs in Littlehampton Musical Comedy Society’s production (pictured below). It meant I had two big events in the same week.


We moved into the theatre on the Sunday. Rehearsals followed every evening until we opened on the Wednesday. On Friday I was up at six to set up my stall for the Chilli Fiesta at West Dean Gardens, Chichester (pictured above).

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, this annual event is a big draw for devoted chilli fans. I’ve been part of it for the past four years with my shop Mia Bella Casa. Appearances by Brendan Cole from Strictly Come Dancing and Dragons’ Den champion Levi Roots turned up the heat.

The weather was glorious. I was next door to L’ailOlive, who make amazing gyozas with chilli sauce. I lived on these Chinese dumplings for the next three days. My stall’s special feature was chilli earrings. They became one of the hottest items.


I’m not sure what folk thought of me, but I was looking even more vintage than usual! I had to have 1940s hair for the musical, but knew I wouldn’t be able to do that and get on stage on time. So I decided to sleep with my locks in victory rolls!

On the last day, I saw the fabulous Steel Strum on the stage. This dynamic duo have played outside Mia Bella Casa. One of the musicians is the son of the owner of Café Oasis near our shop.

It took me ages to cool down from a hot and hectic week. I loved every minute. More events are coming up to Christmas. Oh no, it’s not panto season, is it? Oh yes, it is!

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Vintage va-va-voom - Friday, July 10, 2015

Closing roads, moving taxis and redirecting lorries sounds like a job for Wonder Woman. She wasn’t around, so I had to do it.

The project seemed huge. And it was a bit of a learning curve. But my logistics background certainly came into use, as I helped organise the recent Rustington Street Fayre.


I’ve never been very good at saying ‘no. And I always like to be involved and, dare I say, take control of things. Since having the shop Mia Bella Casa – first in Ferring and now Rustington – I’ve helped organise a couple of events to create a community feel and to increase awareness of the villages and their local businesses.

Since locating my store in Rustington, I joined the local Chamber of Trade and Commerce and became their membership secretary. Earlier this year we were approached by the Littlehampton District Lions Club to help with an event.

Usually there’s been a carnival in the village. But as health and safety becomes more complicated and insurance goes crazy, the carnival has become smaller. There were five of us who decided to do the street fayre. We needed sponsorship, entertainment, stalls, business involvement – and, of course, people – to be there.

The big day (20th June) arrived. The village was teeming with stalls, musicians, fairground, arts and crafts, and oozed with community atmosphere.


There was some amazing talent. We were fortunate to have vintage vocal trio The Silhouette Show performing outside the shop. Chloe, Sarah and Karen sing the songs of the 1940s, 50s and 60s – and dress for the era. It was like seeing the Andrews Sisters in Rustington, and their presence fitted the retro feel of many of our products perfectly.

As you can imagine, the whole day was buzzing. It exceeded our expectations. The event was in aid of the Chestnut Tree House. It’s so heart warming when people give their time and talents to such an event. We have yet to receive confirmation on the final total, but it’s looking to be more than £2,000.

I’d love to see more local businesses helping with the fayre. We’ve learned a few lessons along the way. And that will make sure next year’s event will be even bigger and better. (Photos of Justine and The Silhouette Show: Matt Gover)

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Don't forget the corkscrew - Thursday, May 21, 2015

More than 80,000 people converge on one of Europe’s biggest flea markets. And on a damp spring morning, my partner Tim and I set off to join them. We were headed for Amiens to La Grande Réderie.

This was a trial run for Mia Bella Casa. We packed and left home to catch the 10am ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe. Four hours at sea meant a chance to relax and read. We couldn’t do much else. There was no Wi-Fi. And actually, it was a treat to be away from it all.


After docking, the first thing was to fill up with fuel. The Euro was good against the pound, and we paid just 90p a litre for diesel! Then we stocked up on essentials from the local Intermarché – baguettes, fromage, jambon – and of course, vin rouge. But we forgot the corkscrew. France being France, all wines were cork, not screw top, so we had to buy a box. Honestly, the things you have to do!

The clouds cleared and a rainbow welcomed us to our destination. Did you know Amiens is twinned with Darlington? We found somewhere to park for the night. We have a generously sized van and made a bed in the back. It might sound like roughing it, but we slept comfortably. It was cosy.

Up and out by 6.30am, we tagged along with the tens of thousands who make the ‘réderie’ the second most important event of this type after Lille. More than 50 streets were lined with stalls and filled with people looking for a bargain.

We started with trepidation and excitement. Would we find anything? Would the prices be ridiculous? Would we be able to haggle using our limited linguistics?


We needn’t have worried. There was everything from bric-a-brac to grand antiques. Some stalls were very expensive, others more reasonable. And we managed to discuss purchases with a mixture of our school French and a pen and paper.  

Twenty minutes later, we’d purchased our first piece. Phew! We also bought beautiful coffee grinders, French street signs, house numbers, vintage scales and an amazing oak coffer.

What an experience. The rain held off and it was such fun. Everyone was so friendly, it was a real pleasure to be there. We’ll definitely go to the next one. Maybe we’ll see you there? Don’t forget the corkscrew!

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The paint revolution - Saturday, March 28, 2015

It’s been a revolution. Upcycling furniture with chalk paint might have been popular for a few years now – but it’s still going strong. It’s ideal if you’re anything like me, and having to watch every penny.

I love being able to transform pieces of furniture instead of having to spend money on new pieces. I must admit, I’m not a fan of modern furniture. It always seems to fall apart in no time at all.


I love the rustic and vintage style. Older pieces tend to be nice and sturdy. My particular favourites are tables. I always wonder who has sat round a table in years gone by – chatting, laughing, maybe shedding a few tears.

Before chalk paint appeared on the market, you had to spend so long sanding the wood down and priming, before finally being able to paint. Okay, so you still need to spend time sourcing beautiful older pieces of furniture and painting – but that’s the enjoyable part, and rather therapeutic!

However, if you’re working on very dark wood, it’s wise to prime it first. I have found that sometimes bleed marks appear. It’s cheaper to prime and then use the chalk paint.

I use Autentico paints and waxes. They boast 140 different shades, so no need to mix to get the colour you want. I could never get the hang of that. The paint is a great consistency, quick drying, without the odour of regular paint and eco-friendly – something I’m passionate about. 


It’s so easy to do yourself. You just have to be brave and give it a go. My home looks bright and refreshed. The great thing is, if I get a little bored with the scheme, I just go and choose one of the many colours and start painting.

I’m going to take a trip to France in April. I’ll be visiting La Grande Réderie in Amiens in the search for something unusual. It will be the first time that I’ve looked for furniture abroad. But I’m looking forward to the adventure – and sharing it with you! (Photo: Clive Price)

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My fairtrade treasure trove - Sunday, December 21, 2014



Dosed up on allergy tablets, I looked like a cowboy with a bandana over my mouth and nose. I was trying my best not to inhale horse hair, which I was really allergic to. But I was determined to see through my visit to one of the poorest communities in the Americas. And that was part of the beginnings of Mia Bella Casa, my fairtrade and ethical furniture and furnishings business.

It was 2001 and I was working for The Body Shop at the time. They were buying sesame oil from farmers in Achuapa, Nicaragua. Treasured by the women of ancient Babylon as a beauty secret, sesame seeds are sown and harvested by hand, then carefully pressed and filtered to make the oil. The opportunity came to visit the region, and I raised the fare with raffles and cake making.

After arriving in Nicaragua, I slept in a barn with a duck and its ducklings. A huge pig lived in the toilet. I was wary of animals, so it was quite a challenge to stay there. There was no electricity and no running water.

We were up about four every morning, milking the cows, ploughing the fields and processing the sesame seeds to extract the oil. Our staple diet was a cheese made with milk direct from the cow, corn tortillas and beans. I feasted on that unusual menu for three weeks. To this day, I still don’t really like corn tortillas!

The villagers had formed a co-operative. That meant they could get credit to invest in essential farming equipment, set up training programmes, a natural health centre and a model farm to employ local people. They were also able to fund a local school so their children could receive an education. The money they made from selling sesame oil for a fair price to well known companies like The Body Shop has transformed their lives.

I had the most amazing experience. The warm welcome I received from the community was incredible. I saw how people’s lives were changed, simply through others buying responsibly. So when I decided to start my own business, I knew it had to reflect those same values. I wanted to sell good quality, gorgeous things that were generous to the communities who made them

‘Mia Bella Casa – My Beautiful Home’ started in 2011. My partner Tim and I offered items for the home that were not only beautiful but also biased to the poor. Producers are paid a fair wage and have safe working conditions. Our range includes beautiful handmade throws, cushions and hearts. All the glass is 100 per cent recycled. We stock great items ranging from oil pourers, tumblers, wine glasses and vases.

Having real life stores behind the products we sell makes our business stand out from the rest. I’m so proud that however small, we can make a difference. The world would be a better place if every single one of us tried to do our bit. And as we approach the festive season, I always say, ‘Give twice this Christmas and buy fairtrade’.

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Etc. Magazine August edition - Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Come and pick up your free copy.


Great articles including a star interview with Steve Coogan and Dame Judi Dench talks about the arts in schools. There is also a piece for men and how to dress to impress for the Goodwood Revival.


So don't wait too long to get your free copy from Mia Bella Casa, Rustington, BN16 3DA just behind Barclays Bank.

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July Edition of etc. magazine available - Saturday, June 29, 2013

Come in to Mia Bella Casa, Rustington, West Sussex and pick up your copy of the etc. magazine. Lots of great articles including Shoreham Airshow, Cowdray Polo, Fontwell Showcases and an interview with Hugh Jackman.

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Candles, Melts, Diffusers & Room Sprays - Thursday, May 30, 2013

We have just taken delivery of a new range at Mia Bella Casa. We have a beautiful range of hand poured candles made from soy wax. Produced in the pretty village of Slindon, West Sussex they are made drawing knowledge from the village wise woman. Natural herbs and essential oils are combined to produce some amazing natural aromas.

We also have melts, diffusers and room sprays to compliment the range all made lovingly by hand. Every time I walk into the shop I am greeted by this amazing aroma of herbs and oils, beautiful and very calming. 

At the moment these are only in store but we are planning to have them on the website in the next few months.



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