When Olivia Bernardoff saw the “funny old garage” on Braidwood’s main street about 25 years ago, it was little more than a ruin – but there was something special about it.
Today that garage is better known as Bernardoff’s – the place to go in Braidwood if you love furniture and authentic collectibles.
Selling everything from rare antiques to one-off furniture and modern hats, it is also “the place that sometimes felt like a waiting room for the pie shop next door” according to Olivia, referring to the other must-stop shop for Canberrans in Braidwood.
Olivia and her husband Gilles have sold the business and are moving on. “It’s time I had a life,” Olivia said.
After working weekends in the shop and most other days behind the scenes and both turning 70 this year, Olivia said she had been pressuring her husband for some time to sell the business.
“I loved doing it but we’ve been here for so long, working all the time. Gilles eventually came around to it when he thought it was his idea,” she joked.
They have survived bushfires, COVID-19 lockdowns and people’s changing tastes from authentic furniture and antiques to mass-produced pieces in flat boxes.
The couple met when Gilles worked as a chef in France and Olivia was learning the language.
They came back to Australia and stayed with family at Gundaroo before finding their first home at Braidwood where Gilles, a cabinet-maker, set up a furniture restoration business in a shop near the park in Wallace Street.
When the “funny old garage” came on the market a few years later, they snapped it up because of its prime position next to the bakery in the centre of town.
“It was a lovely old place, it used to be known as the Free Trade Store, but it was a ruin,” Olivia said.
“It took about five years to bring it back to life.”
The shop has been a must-stop for Canberrans over the years, with its eclectic mix of original furniture, antiques and pieces you’re unlikely to see anywhere else.
But according to Olivia, people’s tastes for collectibles have changed dramatically over the years they’ve run the shop.
“When we started, everyone wanted rustic cedar pieces – now we can’t give them away,” she said.
“There is so much made en masse these days; it’s sad to see pieces lose their specialness.”
Olivia said she would be sad to leave, although they will retain their connection with Braidwood as their two sons and their families still live there – and she’ll keep her “dream studio” and apartment behind the shop.
“But it will be good to get some new blood into the business,” she said.
It is understood the new owners, who also have a Braidwood connection, plan to set up an emporium-style operation in the ample space with a variety of traders.
The downside is packing up 25 years of collecting, but the Bernardoffs have “two big strong sons” to help with that.
The family held a clearing sale over Easter and will continue to sell some of their pieces in the shop until they leave town.
Much of it will go into storage so the couple can enjoy a good break before deciding on the new phase of their life.
“It’s sad to leave but sadder when you think about the amount of stuff we’ve accumulated over the years; I think I’m almost verging on hoarding,” Olivia said.
“We sold a lot of stuff over Easter but there’s still a fair bit left. But we’ll take some stuff with us, the more obscure and rarefied pieces because normally what people don’t like, we like.”
First on the post-retirement agenda is a holiday down to Bermagui and then they plan a trip to Europe.
“Gilles has forebears in Bulgaria so it would be wonderful for us to go there to meet them,” Olivia said.