Old, dusty and fabulous
A stroll after brunch ended up in an antiques shop. Men always love the brunch, and raise their eyebrows at the antique shop. My advice is to never attempt this in reverse order. I scanned the potential swiftly, then I swear it winked at me as the light hit its brilliantly cut glass edges. “What is it?”, I asked the sun burnished and proudly camp antiques dealer, in his all-season Riveria get up that said “I stepped off a super yacht in 1970”. He lowered his black Ray Bans’, Jack Nicholson style, paused for effect, then said, as a smile washed over his face, “it is simply an object of loveliness’. Husband sniggered. I was sold. It’s only probable use is as a decorative paperweight.
I have always been a sucker for worn out leather, old wicker, sun bleached oak, dusty, crystal ‘objects of loveliness’ and bashed enamel roasting dishes that look like some mother has dutifully fuelled her army with home cooked (still visible) nourishing meals.
I have had to restrain myself and draw the line at old lacrosse sticks and oversized wooden rowing oars, which bear no connection by any stretch of imagination to our lifestyle or heritage. Shame. They are so pretty on a wall. Ditto an old gramophone and Parisian vinyls – would I really get them out to accompany a last summer game of boules with a glass of rose? Great notion.
I love a good wood basket, a bashed watering can, straw hats of any kind and have had a recent fetish relating to ancient umbrellas. The handles. The stitching. The exquisite mechanisms. While the ladies at Goodwood Revival were clambering over vintage tea frocks and furs, I was knocking through the crowds with a quiver of smart black brollies like a props assistant for Mary Poppins. I love their bamboo handles (so Gucci) and their pointy little tips (like a James Bond weapon imbedded in your brolly). Put them next to a promotional golf umbrella and you’ll never look back. Unless it is raining, and you have no umbrella.
Back in the 80s I remember playing in the fields of my grandparents’ farmhouse. Beyond the corrugated iron hay sheds and the weather-board laundry house was an old four legged cast iron bath tub, missing a leg, and an old Wolsey car. Even as an eight year old girl from rural New Zealand I was fascinated by both of these ‘objects of loveliness’. I always had fantasies of reclaiming the bathtub, probably used as a water trough for farm animals, until I read an article about how much they cost to repair.
The car had a beautiful walnut dash and leather seats that were like going to the cinema. It had fold out trays and I used to take a picnic and sit in the car imagining all the places we might go to. I guess it was our own version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It was so incongruent with their lifestyle. Ten kids on a sheep farm 20km from the nearest, tiny, rural town. Rumour has it, the car was acquired before the devolution of export credits when wool was at an all time high and my grandfather decided rather than lose them to spend them on an ‘object of loveliness’ from the motoring genre. Like so many things of a by gone era the workmanship was apparent in every stitch and contour.
Nick Jones, the creator of Somerset’s Babington House, the mother ship of aspirational country house design, was recently interviewed in Country Life on pulling together their famous home away from home offering, and revealed they had a formula of one third antique or reclaimed pieces. The Soho House Group has nailed the art of layering modern pieces with objects fostering a perceived sense of gravitas and history as well as texture to avoid anything being too contrived or new. Whether it is a four legged bath, an old refectory table, or panelled bar, they choose pieces which in a way protect the investment of their newer pieces by rendering the look un-datable and making it easier to replace worn or broken pieces and recycle items throughout their sites.
The Pig, in Hampshire has a foyer that sounds completely bonkers when listed: old table, boots, umbrellas, croquet set – yet it is utterly fabulous, welcoming and instantly disarming.
There is no such joy as finding the item you never knew was missing from a room until the moment you lay eyes on it. Like a fireguard from Provence that I insisted be wedged behind the leather seats of my new husband’s sports car, which was perhaps a first true test of love. Or the piece of marble from the surgeon’s dining table at the former St George’s Hospital in Hyde Park that three generations of men in my husband’s family have moved from house to house over what must honestly be six decades, now finally transformed into a bar.
Perhaps our most humorous acquisition was a pair of stone dogs from outside an antiques shop in Hindhead on our weekly commute to London before the Hindhead tunnel was completed. We must have passed these dogs from a distance twice a week for nearly three years, regularly commenting on their handsomeness. One day, barely believing that these poor dogs hadn’t sold, we decided we would need to rescue them. Only upon actually getting out of the car and getting up close could we see that they were ‘repro’ and were amused the proprietor had been doing a roaring trade from his half full stock room rammed with of the same pairs of dogs. They came home anyway and are a cheerful addition to the entrance of the boot room.
These ‘objects of loveliness’ fold together the romantic fantasy version of our lives with the reality of our day to day our lives. The impeccable manufacturing, exquisite engineering and beautiful detailing serve as a reminder to buy less, but better quality. Or buy old. I’ll never find it easy to not ‘pop my head in’ and I am sure my husband will continue to raise his questioning eyebrows.
Locally I am big fan of Myriad in Clarendon Cross London, Robert Grothier in the Kings Rd who makes new things in old styles out of old wood from interesting sources such as monasteries, barns and castles, Drummonds and EBay. In Hampshire I love Chesapeake Mill and Wickham Antiques and the odd find from Long Barn in Alresford and I also love Brownrigg Antiques.