Michael Clifford on his inspiration for Trading Boundaries, his love for music and art and future plans
- Credit: JIm Holden
He may have lived in Sussex for most of his life but Michael Clifford’s influences span the globe, as Alice Cooke found out when she met him at home near the Ashdown Forest. Photos by Jim Holden
Michael Clifford decided on a career change 19 years ago while admiring the enviable Sussex view that he enjoys from his dining room table. As the early morning mists faded away across the edge of the Ashdown Forest his mind was made up – no more Brighton property development, he was going back to his roots.
“My maternal grandparents were missionaries in India and my mother was born there,” says Michael as we sip coffee and take in the very same view that inspired him that day nearly two decades ago. Although brought up in Crawley, he says that he’s always known that his heart lay elsewhere. “I visited India with my parents when I was 14 and the place made a huge impression on me. That was why I decided to start importing their furniture.”
Based a few miles down the road in a beautiful Georgian building near Sheffield Green, his business Trading Boundaries, once a pub, is today a veritable Aladdin’s cave of treasures. Originally it sold just Indian furniture, but today there’s room after room of treasures from around the world – upholstery, carpets, cupboards, wallpaper, trinkets, jewellery, cosmetics – the list is seemingly endless. And although I was there for a while I could have easily been absorbed for hours. To be honest I was slightly rueful of the fact that I didn’t have an empty house to decorate and furnish.
“When I sat down to think about what I wanted to do, this seemed to be the obvious answer,” says Michael. “With my Indian connections, knowledge of homes and properties, and experience in moving things from A to B, I was ideally placed to do it, and at the time there was a real gap in the market for importing furniture from India – no-one else was doing the same thing.”
The experience Michael speaks of is his freight company, Aerial Boundaries (the name of which inspired Trading Boundaries). When he was offered good money for the business he traded in, and it was then that he decided to go into property with his business partner Tracy Thomson, who owns and runs Trading Boundaries with him today. “It was good timing really,” he says. “I bought my first flat in Brighton on a credit card. Can you imagine being able to do that today?”
His portfolio expanded rapidly, as did the business, but it wasn’t the life for him. “It put a strain on me and affected my relationships with everyone around me,” says Michael. “My work/life balance was out of kilter.”
It strikes me that this description provides a stark contrast to the man that sits across from me at the table, who seems busy but also at ease. And why wouldn’t he be?
The majority of the furnishings that surround us are of course from Trading Boundaries, picked out by Michael himself from markets and shops across the world. With his partner Lindsay and two sons Ollie and Ben, who all live with him in Sussex “when the boys aren’t at uni or off travelling,” he seems to have found contentment.
As well as interiors and furnishings, Michael has a profound love for music and art, the latter of which has seen him team up with the internationally renowned artist and designer Roger Dean, whose logos, posters, album covers and books “have inspired a generation”. In 2002, readers of Rolling Stone magazine voted the album cover Tales from Topographic Oceans that he designed for the progressive rock band Yes as the best cover art of all time. Trading Boundaries remains one of only two retail galleries in the world to sell Roger’s work.
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But not one to rest on his laurels, Michael says that there are major plans afoot. Trading Boundaries not only deals in furniture, art and things of beauty from around the world, but alongside it there is a charming courtyard of independent shops, which sell things ranging from wine to clothing. This has recently expanded to encompass two new retailers who both open their doors this month. There’s also a great little restaurant, The Elephant Café, which doubles up as an intimate music venue that can be hired out for private parties. But we’re not talking a rickety stage and a squeaky microphone here – internationally acclaimed artists from across the world have performed to lucky audiences that number 150 at most. These include The Blockheads, The Brand New Heavies, Toyah Wilcox, Steve Hackett from Genesis and Rick Wakeman to name but a few. And it doesn’t end there – this summer there are plans to host concerts aplenty out on the lawn. These will include jazz, opera, rock and folk, and there is even talk of a full orchestra paying a visit.
This might sound ambitious enough but it’s just the tip of the iceberg – there are plans to create a music label, a Trading Boundaries album and also a publishing company. Well, why not?
“I have always been the sort of person that seizes an opportunity when it comes along,” says Michael. “If there was ever a party happening when I was growing up, I wanted to be there to experience it, and if there’s ever a venture that I can get involved in, I want to hear about it.” This go-getting attitude is nothing short of admirable, and it certainly seems to have served Michael in good stead to date, as Trading Boundaries continues to go from strength to strength. n
01825 790200; www.tradingboundaries.com
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