Antique London: An Insider’s Guide

Antique London: An Insider’s Guide – The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles – November 2005

Text and Photos by Kimberly Jayne Gray

London conjures up images of Buckingham Palace, The Tower of London, Shakespeare’s Globe, elegant shopping, musicals and theatre, but there is much more to this ancient city than its famous tourist attractions. Named “Londinium” by the Romans in A.D. 43, modern day London is built – both literally and figuratively – on an historical bedrock spanning two millennia. No matter how many glass skyscrapers and modern restaurants sprout from this foundation – and at last London is getting good at both! – London will always remain the epitome of old-world charm.

A true London home will forever reflect this history, and my own mock-Tudor Arts & Crafts apartment came complete with a Jacobean fireplace, coal cupboard, original tiles and huge brass hardware. It is not a home one should fill with store-bought things, which makes it the perfect home to furnish with London’s huge array of antiques. And what a choice I have!
London’s 350+ antiques venues are clustered around 10 antiques districts, and these are complimented by a couple thousand dealers displaying at London’s regular fairs and markets. Between them, every conceivable antiques taste and budget is catered to. With apologies to Samuel Johnson, it has to be said that when one has tired of antiquing in London, one has tired of antiquing in life!

An ideal week antiquing in London would run something like this:-

Sunday

Arrive in London and relax at a quintessentially English hotel. Have an early dinner at the Quality Chop House, a Victorian worker’s cafe which serves traditional food in period style with straight wooden benches, tiled floors and walls and simple electric lighting.

Monday

London’s dealers make this a day for “viewing the rooms,” and you should do the same. Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonham’s all tend to have weekly antique sales which can be previewed by any member of the public.

In between viewings, be sure to visit the Fulham Road dealers, in particular Godson & Coles at number 92, Anthony James and Michael Hughes at 88, and O. F. Wilson across the street to see some of the best of Britain 1700 to 1800! Just a few doors down from Christie’s South Kensington is an authentic French cafe, Fileric at 57 Old Brompton Road, which is the perfect stop for a Continental coffee and croissant.

Top off the day with a visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum, London’s main museum dedicated to decorative arts. The museum is a short stroll from South Kensington Station, and you can see how well your purchases hold up to the national collection.

Tuesday

Make an early start and head off to Kempton Park racetrack for the bi-monthly Sunbury Antiques Fair. Free to the public from 7 a.m., there are always hundreds of indoor and outdoor dealers selling an inexpensive array of antiques including furniture, textiles, architectural, jewellery and all kinds of smalls. This is a great place to find your own treasure for well under £100.

After the fair, head to Hampton Court Palace, the countryside lair snatched by Henry VIII from the disobedient Cardinal Wolseley in the 16th century. Remodelled and extended in the late 17th century, Hampton Court makes the perfect place to enjoy the a real “Lord of the Manor” feeling with acres of good interior design inside and fantastic gardens outside.

If energy and time permit, Lillie Road in southwest London is on the drive back from Hampton Court. The cache of shops there are a treasure trove of inexpensive decorative antiques with a huge choice including pretty 19th century French furniture and objects.

An early dinner at a relaxed London pub is well-deserved after such a busy day. A favourite is always the Churchill Arms, at 119 Kensington Church Street, with tasty Thai dishes, a chatty Irish publican and waterfalls of flowers from hundreds of hanging baskets, all for under a tenner.

Wednesday

Explore some of the best trade streets in London. Islington’s Camden Passage is in full swing on Wednesdays and Saturdays with indoor and outdoor vendors in addition to the selection of antiques shops. Expect a little bit of everything – furniture, prints, ceramics, oriental, coins, jewellery and vintage clothing at this street of eclectic finds. Mix with the locals at a trendy Islington restaurant Elk in the Wood, 37 Camden Passage, which boasts vintage tiles, Arts & Crafts wallpaper and a single ipod for the music.

For the afternoon, hop on the tube or take a short taxi ride to London’s best kept secret, Church Street NW8. One of London’s best ‘trade calls’ (a place that dealer’s go to buy) Church Street always has a surprising selection of antiques, not least at Alfie’s. This huge indoor antiques centre is home to over 100 dealers in everything from smalls to furniture, and a real strength in 20th century design, and textiles can be found on the top floor. The other shops on the street, also proffer up a great selection of decorative antiques. Don’t miss Horneman for fine 18th century French pieces, Tara for fabulous folk art or Andrew Nebbit for stylish finds and unique displays of antiques spanning three centuries.

For a dinner befitting an Edwardian gentleman, take a short cab ride towards Marylebone High Street and visit Odin’s at 27 Devonshire Street. With a fantastic collection of paintings bedecking the walls and excellent Anglo-French food, a sophisticated evening always awaits.

Thursday

For more glamorous, more expensive antiques, Pimlico Road and King’s Road do not disappoint. The shops on these streets are an experience in themselves, with brilliant displays and unusual items to tempt interior designers with hefty budgets.

On Pimlico Road, objects range from the eclectic: Roman busts to 50s Fornasetti (try Lamberty at number 46 and Gallery 25 at 26), the important: Louis XIV chandeliers to Chippendale chests (try John Hobbs, 107A Pimlico Road and Christopher Gibbs, 3 Dove Walk), and the seriously stylish: country house cool furniture with original upholstery to elegant 20th century (try Humphrey Carrasco at 43 and Alexander von Moltke at 46 Bourne Street).

In the afternoon, move on to the King’s Road and explore the selection of fine and funky, decadent and decorative and fresh and funny. Be sure not to miss King’s Road staple, Guinevere at 574 to 580 King’s Road. Guinevere is an Aladdin’s cave of must-haves with room after room of brilliantly coloured and opulent antiques including furniture, objects, dinnerware, textiles and art across a range of periods and styles for a bit of good old fashioned “rah-rah” British style.

Also a highlight of King’s Road is the gasworks at Core One, Gate D, 2 Michael Road. The five dealers here cross the lines between antiques, design and theatre, placing Core One squarely on the cutting edge of antiques. From the 17th century to the 1970s, Core One has it all.

For a relaxed dinner, try Riccardo’s at 126 Fulham Road, with its huge menu of freshly prepared Italian dishes and an outdoor patio from which to watch the world.

Friday

Even if you’re not building you own mini-Versailles, London’s premier architectural salvage dealers LASSCO at Brunswick House, 30 Wandsworth Road is well worth a visit. Located in an amazing 18th century riverside house and stocked with salvage, lighting and stained glass, you may find anything from a 19th century carousal to a 17th century plasterwork ceiling. This is the perfect call for anyone remodelling anything from one room to a whole house.

To continue the theme of the 18th century house, head to the Sir John Soane’s Museum at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Soane was an all-round 18th century Renaissance man. The epitome of English 18th century architecture in its interior and exterior layout and decoration, the Soane museum houses rooms and rooms of his collection of Greek, Roman, Egyptian and medieval artefacts as well as 18th century British paintings and sculpture. You get the feeling Soane would have loved LASSCO had it been around then! For the evening, walk through central London over to the National Portrait Gallery when Friday is late night opening until 9 p.m.. You can wander through the who’s who galleries from the 16th century to modern times, often accompanied by live music. Head up to the top floor for drinks and/or dinner where you will be surrounded with some of the best panoramic views of London’s skyline from the ultra-modern restaurant and bar.

Saturday

Rise and shine for London’s most famous market, Portobello Road. The serious arrive before 7 a.m., and you need to get there before 10 a.m. to avoid the worst of the crowd while perusing the several blocks of indoor and outdoor antique offerings. This is your premier call for smalls including silver, boxes, textiles, jewellery and ceramics. One of the star arcades is the Admiral Vernon at 141/149 Portobello Road where you find some of the best quality offerings across genres and periods.

After finishing Portobello Market, it is only a short walk to the upper end of Kensington Church Street. A street of specialist dealers in furniture, ceramics and Asian antiques, Kensington Church Street has some of London’s premier dealers in these three genres. Three highlights of each speciality are Butchoff at 154 boasting big, bold, glamorous furniture, Jonathan Horne at 66c with early English pottery, and S. Marchant at 120 with Chinese and Japanese porcelain.

For the evening, if you’re hankering after authentic Indian food, head to Brick Lane in London’s East End. There are dozens of restaurants to choose from, so take a taxi to one end of the street and walk towards the other.

The area around Brick Lane known as Spitalfields has attracted migrants for centuries. First came the French Huguenots in the early 18th century. The Huguenots were not members of London’s guilds, and were thus unable to practice their crafts – mainly silk weaving – within the ancient City of London. Instead, they settled just outside its eastern border, leaving behind many of the street names and much of the excellent early 18th century houses. Sash windows, elegant fan lights and charming porticos abound! Then came the Irish followed by Eastern European Jews – explaining the famous 24 hour bagel bakery on a street best known for curry. The current Bangladeshi community arrived only in the 20th century, and on the corner of Brick Lane and Fournier Street you will see a house of worship built as a Huguenot chapel, but then converted successively to a Methodist chapel, a Synagogue and now a Mosque.

Sunday

Several times a year on a Sunday (including November and January), there is an excellent antiques fair at North London’s Alexander Palace, affectionately known by locals as “Ally Pally.” The Victorian “people’s palace” fills with hundreds of dealers in antiques and collectibles. Trade admission is from 8 a.m. and becomes less expensive at 10 a.m.. While there is some furniture, Ally Pally’s real emphasis is on smalls with decorative objects, jewellery, ceramics and vintage clothing. This fair, more than many others, has a good range of dealers in 20th century items including Art Deco, Art Nouveau and 1950s.

In the afternoon, head to one of North London’s best Arts & Crafts dealers, Art Furniture located at 158 Camden Street. The several friendly dealers here have been specialising in Arts & Crafts for over 15 years and have a great range of affordable furniture, art and objects from the late 19th and early 20th century. This is one of London’s few antiques shops open on a Sunday, so take advantage!

On Sunday evening choose from a selection of pubs and restaurants in near-by Primrose Hill. A particular favourite is Lemonia at 89 Regents Park Road with authentic and unpretentious food served in an open foliage draped dining room.

Where to Stay

London’s accommodation ranges in price and quality almost as much as its antiques. For less expensive options try B&B’s or the recommended budget hotels below. Remember that space is always at a premium in London, so bathrooms may be small, and a single room will always be the smallest in the hotel. Wherever you stay, be sure to check the reviews at www.tripadvisor.com.

The Main House
6 Colville Road
London W11 2BP
Tel: +44 20 7221 9691
www.themainhouse.com
Sumner Place Hotel
5 Sumner Place
London, SW7 3EE
Tel: +44 20 7584 7586
www.sumnerplace.com
The Darlington Hyde Park Hotel
111-117 Sussex Gardens
London W2 2RU
Tel: +44 02 7460 8800
www.darlingtonhotel.com
Premier Travel Inn County Hall
Belvedere Road
London SE1 7PD
Tel: +44 870 238 3300
www.premiertravelinn.com

On a bigger budget, the Langham is conveniently placed for all of London’s attractions, and the Landmark is positively sumptuous. Alternatively, for hotels with an antiques theme try Miller’s Residence or The Rookery.

Langham Hotel London 1c Portland Place
Regent Street
London
W1B 1JA
Tel: +44 20 7636 1000
www.langhamhotels.com
The Landmark Hotel
222 Marylebone Road
London NW1 6JQ
Tel : +44 20 7631 8000
www.landmarklondon.co.uk
Miller’s Residence
111a Westbourne Grove
London W2 4UW
Tel: +44 20 7243 1024
www.millersuk.com
The Rookery
Cowcross Street
London EC1M 6DS
Tel: +44 20 7336 0931
www.rookeryhotel.com

Kimberly Jayne Gray

Originally from the United States, Kimberly’s fascination with art and antiques began with childhood trips to local museums and auctions. Before setting up her own antiques business, Kimberly worked at the front of house for Christie’s Mayfair venue, and then managed the gallery for Michael Lipitch, one of London’s premier dealers in English 18th century antiques.

The London Antiques Guide Street-by-Street, Style-by-Style By: Kimberly Jayne Gray Publisher: Thames & Hudson Price: $19.95 www.london-antiques-guide.com.

A must-have guide to the best antiques shopping in London, packed with information for beginners and experts alike. A dealer herself, Kimberly Jayne Gray has drawn on her personal experience to evoke the atmosphere and charm of over 350 individual antiques sources, from Chelsea’s perennially stylish King’s Road to Islington’s quirky Camden Passage. Beautifully illustrated in color, with clear and attractive maps and an extensive glossary, this guide pinpoints the essentials in an attractive and accessible format. It provides firsthand insight into London’s best antiques dealers, with addresses,Web sites, contact details, and specialties for each; organizes the information street-by-street, with special sections on antiques markets, auction houses, and antiques fairs; gives advice on collecting in London style-by-style, from Georgian to contemporary; includes practical information and maps for getting around directions, places to eat, and neighborhood points of interest; and features detailed additional reference material, including the basics on restoration and on exporting.

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