A love of delicately patterned English china and hand-embroidered linens has led two retired educators into new careers as suppliers of vintage wedding decor.
Josephine and David Hoskins were spurred to start Vintage China Rentals after amassing enough china for the 2008 wedding of their daughter, Verity. As more friends borrowed china and other vintage items for weddings, the Saanich couple decided to launch a business.
There was another motive, too. “I don’t want to get rid of it,” Josephine confessed with a laugh.
Thousands of pieces of dainty china — everything from tea cups and saucers to dinner plates and tiered cake stands — are sorted and stored in crates, able to accommodate groups of 200 or more. When set on a table, the pretty mismatched floral patterns and intricate designs are suggestive of a traditional English garden and evoke an era of gentility. Depending on numbers, matched china is also available.
The china is an ice-breaker at weddings, when guests chat about patterns, often recognizing them from their own families, Josephine said.
David was a school principal and Josephine taught high school math before retiring. “We have always dabbled in other things. We don’t do the usual retirement things. We don’t play golf,” she said.
David said: “It’s nice to help other people put together something for their special day. It’s a very happy thing to do.”
The Hoskinses are among a growing number of Canadians not only working after retiring but also becoming entrepreneurs. A TD Canada Trust survey released in October found 54 per cent of baby boomers have started or considered starting a small business before they retired.
Retirees are motivated to be their own bosses, earn money and get a sense of personal achievement or pride, with many venturing into new fields, the report said.
Canadians are working longer and delaying retirement. This is happening as the number of seniors aged 65 and over rose by 14 per cent from 2006 to 2011 to close to five million, the latest Canadian census data showed.
Originally from London, the Hoskinses lived in Toronto for many years before moving to B.C. Josephine brought some china with her and expanded the collection for the 2008 wedding, working with a limited budget. “At that time, you could still buy things fairly cheaply in the thrift shops,” she said. “We are avid thrift shop people.”
Their collection is further enhanced by people who offer them china sets and remnants, pleased to know it will be enjoyed by another generation, she said.
Vintage China also rents a variety of other items such as parasols, picture frames, trunks, birdcages, candelabras, tents, tables, candlesticks, vases and baby prams. Prices include a cup and saucer for $2, napkins at 50 cents each, one piece of cutlery for 25 cents and vintage damask tablecloths at $4 to $6.
Josephine has a soft spot for the linens decorated by hand. “I cannot bear to think that somebody spent hours doing that and it just gets thrown out. You know how some people have to rescue kittens? Well, I do that with handiwork and linens.”
Luckily, Josephine loves to iron. She calls her 93-year-old mother in England to talk while ironing for two-hour stretches.
Josephine sewed pillow cushions for their 100-plus retro wooden school chairs, and made bunting as well, using remnants. “As well as not being able to pass up china or linen, I can’t pass up fabric,” she said.
Many of their patterned carpets were purchased from the Fairmont Empress hotel about 20 years ago, Josephine said. “We have had brides who visited to look at the china and ended up renting half of our living room and the rugs off our hall floor.”
Last year, the Hoskinses supplied 43 weddings, with about three per weekend during the summer. About 75 per cent of business is weddings, with the rest largely tea parties, showers and birthday celebrations. Vintage China Rentals also works with caterers and wedding planners and hopes to expand into catered teas.
Josephine is keen to branch out with other events, such as Downton Abbey dinners, based on the popular television show. The Hoskinses also store china for the annual Jane Austen Tea Party fundraiser for the Prospect Lake Community Association.
A vintage theme is popular at weddings, she said. Their other daughter, Sophie, had a vintage-inspired wedding in 2011.
Vintage China Rentals is one of many local firms serving weddings. Others include hotels and other venues, florists, photographers, salons, bakers, planners, caterers, jewelers, limos, and, of course, bridal stores selling gowns.
The weddingbells.ca annual reader survey, completed by nearly 2,500 engaged and recently married brides in Canada from December 2011 to March 2012, said the average cost of a wedding, including the honeymoon, is $31,100.
“We can see that in the midst of global economic uncertainly, brides are not prepared to sacrifice spending on their big day. Weddings remain a big business in 2012,” Alison McGill, the website’s editor-in-chief, said in a statement.
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