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English Antiques

Olympia Fair in London

Dear Diva Readers,

Come one come all.  The Summer Season is Set to Start! It’s time to go to London for the 42nd annual Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair!

Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair, London, Antiques Diva

Thursday, June 5 through Sunday, June 15 art and antiques lovers from around the world will flock to London’s Olympia Exhibition Center to peruse the offerings of 180 top quality antiques dealers.

Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair, London, Sourcing antiques in England, Antiques Diva,

Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair, London, Sourcing antiques in England, Antiques Diva,

First time buyers will rub shoulders with seasoned collectors and connoisseurs.  While this fair is considered one of the most prestigious fixtures in London’s summer season, it also has strong international ties, particularly with America. A social as well as cultural experience, Olympia attracts a strong US VIP following, with guests in recent years including Oprah WinfreyDustin Hoffmann and Kanye West. Design legend Mario Buatta, otherwise known as the “Prince of Chintz”, will be jetting over the pond to promote his book “Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration”.

Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair, London, Sourcing antiques in England, Antiques Diva,

Gillows of lancaster drum table. c1860, Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair, London, Sourcing antiques in England, Antiques Diva,

Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair, London, Sourcing antiques in England, Antiques Diva,

One of the things I most enjoy about attending fairs is the opportunity to not only see the best inventory in one location, to meet vendors and make vendor relationships but also to have the opportunity to be educated through the lecture series.  Meeting Mario Buatta would be a dream come true for me.  Okay… want to hear a Diva Confession? You know a Diva Never Kisses and Tells and that our client list is absolutely confidential.  Well… while MB has never taken a Diva Tour he has bought some Swedish Antiques through one of our clients whom we help stock their stall at an antiques fair in Nashville!

George III mahogany 6ft wide four poster bed, Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair, London, Sourcing antiques in England, Antiques Diva,

In addition to meeting Mario I’m particularly interested in hearing about Aimée van Kranendonk Duffels’ talk on Post-War American Jewellry.  Red, white and blue definitely is the theme this year at Olympia with American art and antiques being tributed again in a talk entited  American Impressionism – A New Vision.

Enjoy the Fair!
The Antiques Diva®

At Home with the Lord of Antiques

Dear Diva Readers,

Have you seen the current issue of Antique Shops and Designers Magazine? In this issue you’ll find an article by me titled “At Home with The Lord of Antiques” featuring one of my favorite antique dealers. Spencer Swaffer is known by many names.  Some call him The Flea Man. The French refer to him as “L’inévitable”because it’s inevitable he’ll be the first in line at the best antiques trade fairs buying the best pieces of stock. His look is old money grandeur with a humorous twist – effortlessly glamorous and achingly stylish. I simply bow when I address him as “The Lord of Antiques”.

English Antiques, Buying antiques in Europe

For forty years Spencer Swaffer has been holding court in a tiny market town in West Sussex fifty miles southwest of London. His business today is one of the most celebrated in the world of decorative antiques with his client list reading like a Who’s Who in the world of interiors. Top antique dealers and designers consider Spencer a compulsory port of call.  While his clients are from both trade and private sectors – Spencer describes himself as a dealer’s dealer. His dog is even named “Dealer” though he claims that was the name the pedigree association gave the puppy and that destiny simply intervened, bringing them together.

Antiques Diva

Despite the store’s exalted position at the top of the trade it remains what it has always been – the place where the antiques trade comes to buy. In short Spencer Swaffer prices his merchandise to move. “I own my building,” Spencer explains, “I have no borrowing, and overheads are low in the countryside. If I buy something for £2,000 I am happy to turn it over for £2,200 – and I always have been. I always say I can’t wait to buy it – and then I can’t wait to sell it!” And sell it he does. One of the most successful decorative antiques dealers in the world,  his total annual sales are rumored to top £4m with 85% of his business coming from overseas buyers.

Buying antiques in Europe

Spencer thinks the secret of his success as an antiques dealer comes from paying close attention to the antiques trends. “I am in the fashion business, not in the antiques business,” he explains. He doesn’t just watch the trends, he sets them. Spencer stills does all the buying for the shop himself and his exclusive eye choreographs not only his own collections but with so many dealers buying direct from him he has shaped the stock found in some of the top antique stores around the world.

He’s candid about the business, explaining the only way to learn what sells “is to buy something and listen to why the dealers won’t buy it.”  He notes with a wry grin, “The professionals will tell you why they aren’t buying something, but they will never tell you why they are!”

Spencer is the consummate professional. He should be – he’s been doing this job since the ripe old age of 11. As a child, Spencer trawled the hills around his home looking for Neolithic flints and shards of Roman pottery and after amassing an impressive collection he dubbed his childhood bedroom.  The Swaffer Museum charging friends and family admission. When BBC radio got wind of Spencer’s museum, they featured him on the air, giving the young lad his first brush with fame. By chance, an antiques dealer from Brighton heard the program and made an appointment to visit Spencer’s collection. He paid his admission fee but then offered Spencer another 50 quid for two pieces of Egyptian pottery. Realizing he would rather have the money than the exhibits, Spencer didn’t miss a trick. He instantly converted his bedroom from museum to antiques shop. And the rest is history.

Buying antiques in England

Today clients purchasing from Spencer buy with the same speed and enthusiasm. Spencer’s stock changes so fast it will make your head spin.  Spencer remarks, “If you love it, buy it. Trust your instinct – buy what speaks to you.” Every piece is unique and impossible to repeat. With the constantly revolving inventory and parade of international buyers his showroom décor changes nearly every two weeks.

Buying antiques in England

Spencer’s rambling 6000 square foot showrooms range over four floors in an Elizabethan bow front dating back to the late 16th century. The building meanders as invitingly today as it did when it was an inn nearly 400 years ago. Coffee and tea are always ready to be served. And if you arrive late in the afternoon a glass of wine is sure to be offered. Behind the store a walled garden is tucked below Arundel Castle – a restored romantic medieval castle that gives one fantasies of the Knights of the Round Table. His courtyard beckons invitingly with a Roman font and garden statuary.

Antiques Diva

Spencer’s home – like his shop – is equally inviting. He and his wife, Freya, live in a double fronted Georgian townhouse located a short stroll from his shop, convenient for meeting clients by appointment after opening hours. For years he lived in an apartment above his shop – but occasionally clients would accidentally wander up the stairs and begin labeling their desired purchases with shipping stickers. Today Spencer and Freya ‘s house has a shiny red door no one can miss. It’s flanked with white columns and has a walled garden set into the hillside where Freya lends her hand nurturing English herbaceous classics and cultivating a kitchen garden. The palm frocks dotted around the property give a touch of the unexpected – a sense of the English Riveria – owing to a micro climate created by the walled gardens.

Antiques Diva

And while Spencer might be The Lord of Antiques, Freya is clearly the Lady of the Manor. After purchasing the property they immediately began a renovation process that spanned 6 months stripping centuries away to uncover the period details. The result is inviting and comfortable nodding slightly towards the rustic with its unvarnished original wide oak floorboards and an 18th C limestone fireplace Spencer sourced in France. While Freya handled the day-to-day management of the renovation project, she concedes that Spencer did take a keen interest in the decorative aspects.

Antiques Diva

Perhaps the most striking difference between Spencer’s home and his store is the paired down approach. Freya explains, “Less is more.” The couple allows each piece in their home to breath – using muted colors on the walls and casual fabrics on upholstered pieces. While the shop is constantly changing, Spencer and Freya’s home stays reassuringly the same, save for the odd object getting replaced now and then. Their home is sparser, cleaner and a tad more ethnic than you’d find in shop. And while there is a country influence in the decor, this 200 year old home feels decisively contemporary with open spaces and light filtering from the southern coast of England into the windows. The kitchen kitted out with the most modern of fittings juxtaposing the 18th C with the 21st reminding one of how the grand country English manors layer time over time.

Where to find him:

Spencer Swaffer Antiques
30 High St, Arundel,
West Sussex County
BN18 9AB, United Kingdom

Web:
spencerswaffer.co.uk

Bonne Shopping,

The Antiques Diva®

Antique Shopping in Sussex England

Dear Diva Readers,

A true diva is only as good as her contacts…. And I must confess my little black book is bulging with great names and addresses! The success of my company – The Antiques Diva & Co European Tours – depends entirely upon the contacts my Diva Guides & I make in the field.  After all, it’s our job to take you to the best antique, vintage and flea market shopping on this side of the pond!  Recently I’d posted a comment on Facebook about our English Antiques Diva Tours and a Facebook Fan wrote me a note sharing a few addresses she thought I should check out in the UK.  As Julia and I chatted back and forth I gave her my email address and asked – “Would you mind sending me an email with your favorite places to antique shop in England?”  Expecting only a few lines, I was delighted by Julia’s response!  She wrote,

Dear Diva, 

If you are planning to come south in England on any of your antique trails, I can recommend Sussex as a great spot to visit.  Ardingly Antiques Fair is a good starting point – I am sure you know it, but if not it has around 1,000 stalls and runs over two days on a Tues/Weds. 

Stable Antiques is in Storrington which is a pretty village at the foot of the South Downs.  The building is literally an old stable complete with flagstones, cobbled floors and is packed with items.  There are around 30 plus dealers in there and we get visits from the trade, shippers and the general public.  It’s open every day from 10am-6pm, except Bank Holidays when it opens from 11am-5pm.  Stock changes all the time but includes painted furniture, garden and home items, vintage items, French antiques, pretty china, glass, silver, jewellery – pretty much anything!

Close by is the village of Pulborough where you’ll find a very pretty shop called The Corn Store which is next to a bridge over the River Arun.  Again, it has a lovely mix of dealers and also a lovely little tea shop.  But take note, they do not open on Mondays and their hours are 10am-5pm during the week and shorter on a Sunday.

From Storrington, it is a short trip to Arundel which is a stunning small town with a castle and cathedral.  The iconic Spencer Swaffer has a shop on the main street in a gorgeous Georgian building – and they have 4 floors packed with wonderful, eclectic items.  You could spend half a day in there quite easily.  There are lots of little shops in Tarrant St, some are antiques shops and others are more craft oriented. 

The town of Petworth is another well known antiques destination – you’ll find higher prices than elsewhere, but if someone has the budget, it’s definitely worth a look.  The town has one antiques centre and quite a few individual shops, plus tea shops etc.

There are also great boot sales on a Thursday and Saturday at Ford – the old airfield, near Ford prison.  A huge amount of people sell here, including house clearance and antiques and come from all over England to do so.  It is a real dealers’ market, very hectic and aggressive.  Not for the faint hearted – but bargains abound.

Other places of interest include:

Denmans Gardens – good cafe and a lovely nursery to visit near Chichester

Architectural Plants – nursery specialising in unusual, tropical and other plants

Petworth House – National Trust owned property with lovely old kitchens – often have events running there as well

Back into the heart of Sussex, some friends have opened a vintage shop in an old country barn – Swallows Brick Barn, near Shipley.  They are on Facebook and have lots of painted furniture, vintage clothes, pretty china etc.  Open Thurs-Sunday but if you Facebooked them they may open for you on another day!

Another market which I sell at is Sunbury Antiques on Kempton racecourse – again, I am sure you know this well but it is a fantastic place to visit and is held twice a month on a Tuesday. 

I hope the information is useful.  I would love to come on one of your French tours someday – I love your blog and hope to see you in Sussex some day soon!

Regards

Julia


I was so touched by Julia’s email I had to share it with you! I want to give a huge SHOUT OUT to Julia.  She’s so MODEST that in her letter she didn’t even toot her own horn! 

Julia trades as Gazehound Vintage at Stable Antiques situated in Storrington, W Sussex, UK.  Please visit Gazehound Vintage on Facebook or follow @tatmeister on Twitter for more information.

Happy Shopping in England!
The Antiques Diva®

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