As you’ve probably worked out by now, I am a huge fan of afternoon tea. Really, what’s not to like? A meal in between ‘proper’ meals consisting of dainty cakes, pastries and sandwiches taken with sips of tea or champagne.

Afternoon tea is partly about ambience too and that’s where A Vintage Affair caught my eye. Today’s HOT Chat is with Melburnian Lee Elizabeth George who has just started a vintage crockery hire and events management business so that your next wedding, hen’s day, baby shower or photo shoot can be touched with some old world charm. Thanks Lee!

Lee, tell me a bit more about your background and how you came to start A Vintage Affair?

I developed a passion for all things vintage while living in London. My idea of a perfect break was to catch the train to Paris for the weekend and hunt through the little antique stores and flea markets in Rue Charlot. I would spend the length of the channel tunnel trip listing to Charles Aznavour albums on my iPod and arrive at Gare Du Nord completely transformed.

Then on one of those glorious weekends a handsome young man proposed with a vintage emerald cocktail ring. The next thing I knew we were married and I was back in Melbourne!

I managed to smuggle home a small collection of crockery and trinkets, which I was lending out to friends for hen’s days, weddings and High Tea parties. Then once I started to get requests from friends of friends, the idea for A Vintage Affair was born.

Now, no matter how big our collection gets, it still feels like I’m lending out my personal collection to friends as I hand pick every piece and each one has a set of memories from the day it was discovered.

Where do you source your vintage stock from – and where do you store it all??

When we first started out, having lots of vintage crockery was the perfect excuse to buy lots of vintage furniture to store it in! Then as we grew, we began storing our collection in antique French wine crates which we also use to deliver the crockery to our customers.

As for finding it, that’s half the fun. Regional Victoria, especially the Central Highlands, is an amazing patchwork of beautiful small towns, all dotted with quaint little antique stores and markets. My weekends are now mostly spent treasure hunting with my husband. We have so much fun driving around the countryside, listening to Charles Aznavour.

Where do you turn for vintage inspiration?

I’ve always loved things that are unique, with beautiful features that transcend whatever practical purpose they may have been designed for. Whether it’s a 1966 250 SL Mercedes (navy blue with white-wall tyres)…. or the interior of the Plaza ballroom, anything that embodies a beautiful attention to detail that is all too rare these days. Life is too short to be practical.

I am inspired by old world charm – when women had time to frock up in beautiful clothes, wear red lipstick just to feel good, spend days planning a dinner party and entertain friends often, drinking champagne from fine crystal.  I am inspired by being proud of your own style and making an effort to make everything you do beautiful.  I love intricate details and paying attention to the small details.

Most recently though, I have been hugely inspired by the incredible community of women running their own small businesses. To see the passion a baker puts into her exquisite cupcake flavours and intricate designs then to then turn that into a successful business is truly inspiring.  There are so many talented ladies producing beautiful work with such passion.

The internet is a constant source of inspiration for me and I am guilty of spending hours and hours scouring Australian and international sites for inspiration, seeing what beautiful and clever ideas event stylists, couture designers, bespoke stationers and caterers are producing , taking inspiration from colours, patterns and style.

What has been the most challenging thing you’ve faced in starting up your own business? What advice would you give to a small business owner?

No matter what you do, if you start your own business you will need to do a lot of hard work. That’s why it’s so important to love what you do – then it won’t feel like hard work.

So start by asking yourself what you love to do most. Then ask yourself how you can turn that into a profitable business. You’ll know you’ve found your true passion when you actually look forward to spending those extra hours working on it.

It is probably a great surprise to a lot of people that I managed to find a way to turn my passion for beautiful vintage pieces and buying hidden vintage treasures into a business.  I spent hours every day researching and developing the business which didn’t seem like work at all because I love every minute of it.

Once you have found your passion, if you can start out small with a business model that is scalable. Wherever possible, avoid the need for large amounts of up-front capital. There is no more certain way to take the fun out of your passion project than the pressure to make it to grow at an unrealistic rate just so you can pay your overheads. It’s much more fun to gradually scale up as you become more successful, enjoying every little step forward, constantly refining as you go.

What are your next plans for A Vintage Affair?

Our range is constantly growing and we are now catering for larger events and boutique weddings.  We are also refining the complete High Tea Experience, including beautiful bespoke invitations, catering, accessories, styling, beautiful cupcakes and of course the vintage crockery hire which is proving very popular for Hens Days and Baby Showers.

Most importantly, our expansion requires more stock so we will be able to justify a few European buying trips!

Where are your favourite places to visit or things to do in Melbourne, vintage-y or otherwise?

Madame Brussels (Level 3, 59-63 Bourke St Melbourne +61 3 9662 2775‎) – for Pimms and lemonade on a summer evening

Siglo (Level 2, 161 Spring St, Melbourne +61 3 9654 6631‎)  for a late night wine with rooftop vistas – you could definitely be in Europe with that view

The Max Hotel (32 Commercial Rd, Prahran +61 3 9529 1006) – for a little taste of France.

Cavallero (300 Smith St, Collingwood +61 3 9417 1377) and Min Lokal (422 George St, Fitzroy +61 3 9417 0333) – for coffee, baked eggs and people watching.

Botanical Gardens (South Yarra)- for a springtime picnic and stroll

Brunswick Street, Gertrude St, Smith St – for a lazy afternoon exploring the shops and people watching.