Sarah Lidwell-Durnin was embarking on a doctorate in medieval history — 15th-century Poetry as a Political Tool for the Lancastrians — when she took a break to have a baby. She never finished her thesis, but instead set up her own business, Natural History, specialising in luxury homewares and gifts.

She said: “I have always had a passion for antique taxidermy and antiquarian books, so I have drawn up designs based on antique encyclopaedias and Victorian shopping catalogues."

A Sunday Times offer resulted in a sudden rush for her cushions, made in a workshop near Abingdon, and she has now received the ultimate accolade — having her goods accepted by London department store Liberty.

Designs based on coral, seaweed and hummingbirds may seem like a complete career change from medieval history, but she said: "Coming from a research background helps. You have to research how to have designs made, which is very satisfying. I really enjoy it."

She added: “I was having doubts about going back to my PhD after maternity leave and I said ‘I wish I could have my own shop selling homewares.’ “My family encouraged me. I was not planning to have many products made myself, but when I started the research, it turned out to be a bit of a challenge. It may have been perversity, but I have managed.”

She added: “I don't have a physical shop. I sell via the Internet and I sell to stores. I really enjoy finding new suppliers.”

She has also created an online blog, which aims to be like an interiors magazine.

"There are a lot of small businesses like mine and to be successful you really have to stand out. It is going very well, because I have been working very hard,” she said.

The name of the business comes from her childhood in Dublin, with frequent visits to the Natural History Museum.

Before having children she was a keen traveller, from Marrakech to Jaipur, and her designs are inspired by her experiences, including a trip on the Trans-Siberian Express across Russia to China, where she got engaged in the hills of the Guangxi Province.

The recession has meant fewer international buyers are visiting trade fairs, so the Liberty shop window is invaluable, she said.

"When you get picked up by a shop like Liberty, it is a stamp of approval, and it is very good on a practical level as well.

"Of course, it is really exciting for us to be carried in regional shops as well. London is not the be-all-and-end-all."

Based in Osney, Oxford, she has recruited four other 'very talented' Oxfordshire mothers with professional skills to work a few hours a week, including maternity cover while she had her second child, Honor.

Her first child, Beatrice, is now two-and-a-half, while Honor is four months old.

She reacts with horror to the suggestion that her collection represents ‘shabby chic’.

“Shabby chic has been and gone. I think the Victorian imagery is much less sickly sweet.”

She has a range of ‘entomology’ notebooks with Victorian insect drawings, and says next season's range will have a darker theme, connected to taxidermy.

Stockists include Burford Garden Centre and Licious Interiors of Walton Street, Oxford, and Summertown.

Contact: 01865 811136