As a designer, I get asked all the time what I think is trending in the design industry. The truth is, I’ve never been big on following the trends to the letter. Trends almost always date themselves. That said, there’s a strong trend that I’ve observed over the last few years now in the luxury residential design market: clients are increasingly in search of one-of-a-kind pieces for their homes. Pieces that have a storied past. Pieces that are truly unique and won’t show up in their neighbour’s house a couple of months later. Pieces that become conversation starters and engage the heart and mind in the art of discovery and wonder.
To say it simply, I think one of the luxuries clients are looking for is a home that tells their story – a story of exploration and history and beauty – and integrating antiques is a powerful way to help write that narrative. That’s why I was thrilled to have some time with Gail McLeod, the official UK representative of The Antiques Diva, on my recent trip to London. Gail graciously hosted us on a private tour of a shared, trade-only barn showroom in Lewes, co-owned by Martin D. Johnson and Fontaine Decorative. She also kindly agreed to do an interview with me on how to start collecting antiques like a pro, and I am so grateful to her for taking the time to share with us!
Many people are intimidated at the thought of investing in antiques. What words of wisdom would you offer someone who wants to start collecting antiques but doesn’t know where to start?
GM: There is a golden rule – always buy what you love!
Investment is something to consider when buying antiques or vintage pieces, but it shouldn’t be the main consideration. This piece is probably something you will live with and will probably serve you well for a long time and may well become a family heirloom. The point about buying an antique or vintage piece is that you have a very good chance that it will increase in value over time – unlike a purchase from a High Street retail shop which will be likely be on trend but by the time you get it home it will have lost 50% of its value at least!
If you are considering spending a significant sum, do your homework – there are so many websites of leading vendors to help you understand price points. Visit showrooms and attend antiques shows and see how those clever dealers merchandise pieces in room settings and get some ideas of how you can use these pieces in your own home.
The landscape has changed dramatically over the past 10 years and now ‘the look’ is everything and the provenance or period is not necessarily a key factor any more. People are mixing it up, a ‘century mash up’ is fun and can breathe new life into traditional pieces.
There is another aspect to buying an heirloom piece – the green footprint! Young home makers are more aware than they have ever been about the cost to the planet of cutting down trees and factory production methods for consumer goods. Think about the contrast between a piece made in a composite synthetic fibre looking like timber, constructed in a far away factory on the other side of the world, versus a piece made 100 years ago, in solid wood, with a meaningful life lived and a rich story to tell. The footprint it will leave on the planet is vastly different. For more reading on this side of buying antiques see www.antiquesaregreen.org
Trends in interior design come and go, and I know the same is true with antiques. What time periods or pieces are currently having their heyday, and why do you think that is?
GM: There is a cast iron fact about the antiques trade – it is a fashion led industry. There are some perennials but every few years one area of the industry will come to the fore and currently it is the turn of the architectural salvage and industrial chic style which actually covers many centuries up to the Mid 20th.
Architectural salvage dealers have played a big part in the trade over the last 40 years or so, largely due to the post WW2 building boom when old houses were torn down or restored in the style of the day and the period contents put in skips – dumpsters, and enterprising traders rescued this stock and started selling it, but were very much specialised yards and used more by architects and the bespoke building trade.
Around 10 years ago the reclamation and industrial chic style exploded and became mainstream and everybody wanted the look – out with the pretty painted look and in with factory lighting, iron and wooden elements, reclaimed doors and windows think huge iron windows converted to mirrors, mammoth workbenches used as servers in dining rooms. Belgian dealer Axel Vervordt is credited with inventing this look and others followed – including big manufacturers who copied the look and mass produced the pieces.
This look has been at the top of the list for our tours at The Antiques Diva over the last 5 years with around 75% of tour clients requesting items like original panelling, railway sleepers, shutters, floorboards, stone flooring, industrial and period lighting fixtures, huge railway and town hall clocks rescued from old buildings. One client bought an entire panelled room from a wonderful French chateau and said she would take as many as we could find!
What are some of the markers of a good quality piece? How can buyers educate themselves on the specifics of a piece or time period in which they are interested?
As we know websites offer so much information to check on what you should be looking for within periods of furniture but there are some key books which set it all out for you and here at The Antiques Diva & Co we recommend our dear friend Judith Miller’s books – Millers’ Antiques Guide being the bible!
Judith covers most topics in her pantheon of books but if you only buy one go for the Miller’s Guide because the book is refreshed every year and the production team visit showrooms and auction houses across the UK to check prices and take images of the samples referenced in the book.
What are the advantages of purchasing antiques on a buying trip with The Antiques Diva?
While The Antiques Diva & Co is the biggest antiques touring company in Europe, it has a very personal touch and anyone who wants to get on a plane and go shopping will find themselves wrapped up in the fun and excitement of the Diva World which takes all the guess work out of who, what, when, where and how!
If you are a decorator or trade buyer we are always aware that time is money and we work you hard but in a nice way! We aim to get in about 8 calls a day and make sure you cover the territory as quickly as possible. We have a number of repeat trade clients and our aim is to introduce them to new calls on each tour – this is how we keep ahead of the game! Anyone can Google ‘decorative antiques’ and find lots of shops, but they aren’t likely to find that dealer who only lets insiders into his private barn out in the orchard of his wonderful home. The Antiques Diva team are in that elite circle of insiders. Our trade calls are on farms, factory sites, industrial lock up units etc but there are a few very beautiful on street showrooms as well and given the nature of European roads we are often told “I would never be able to find this on my own!”.
If you are a private individual and want to combine a trip to Europe with some shopping, we tailor the tour for you so that you only have to be there when your Diva Guide arrives! The initial process of booking a tour with us is quite detailed and by the time you actually get in the car we will know a great deal about what you want to get out of the trip. You might be having a celebratory trip of some sort and want to go to some fun places and buy gifts for family and for yourself and see some of the glorious countryside or cityscapes or you may be having your home restored and want a number of key pieces to revitalize the interior – we see so many different clients in the private sector. A recent client was having fun project managing the build of their new 20,000 square foot new home and had highly detailed plans for which pieces needed to go where and we managed it to the last half inch and filled a 40 foot container with them in just 6 days sourcing all over Belgium, France and The Cotswolds in England!
The most common question we get is: “How do I get it home” from private clients or “which shipper do you work with?” from trade clients.
The answer is that we work with all main shippers and have excellent relationships with them, but as of Summer 2016 we now have our very own AD&Co Shipping Service based out of Belgium with our own storage facility for clients to stockpile until their next container goes out, if they wish to do so. We can manage our multiple country tours very easily so that buying in England and Europe, as our private clients with the new house did, is a smooth process and having this new arm to the business means we now offer a turnkey operation from the moment the initial tour enquiry comes in to the point where the client receives the inventory.
What pieces are currently on your “must have” watch list right now?
Architectural salvage and industrial chic remain hot but it is interesting to see pieces that were at the top of everyone’s list in the mid 90s coming right back into fashion and these would be French marble top chocolatier’s or butchers’ tables with the beautiful scrolled iron bases, Louis Phillipe commodes with their marvellous burl timbers and marble tops, and those yellow and green confit pots which everyone wants at the moment!
Gail, thank you so much for your generous hospitality in London and for so generously sharing your wisdom and insights with us today! I’m so grateful we met and absolutely cannot wait to experience my own full on tour with The Antiques Diva soon! You, me, Paris? What do you say!
PS: Be sure to pop back on Wednesday for Week One of the Fall 2016 edition of the One Room Challenge where I’ll be revealing the space I’m working on this time! The list of designers participating is stellar, friends. This is one you won’t want to miss!