Shopping for Antiques

by Albion Nord

Albion Nord, London-based residential interior design and project management studio was founded in 2018 by Ben Johnson, Anthony Kooperman, Camilla Clarke and Ottalie Stride. They describe themselves as the new-generation design house delivering serious design with a youthful approach, highlighting antiques as viable options for the home instead of buying new. The creative directors, Ottalie Stride and Camilla Clarke love to source the most interesting, rare, unique pieces for their clients' homes. The expanding Albion Nord portfolio is defined by an appreciation and adept interpretation of European Classicism and British style. Many of the projects are set in architecturally rich sites and feature a mix of exquisite antiques and contemporary design pieces for an overarching aesthetic that is eclectic yet refined. 

Shops to visit

This very much depends on your price bracket, but there are four major routes to choose from. If you fancy a roadtrip, the most affordable antiques can be found in the European Flea Markets (Lille, Munich and Amsterdam are the most famous). Brussels has a wonderful selection of antique shops selling very reasonably priced antiques and mid-century pieces.

If you’re looking for something slightly closer to home, the IACF (International Antiques & Collectors Fairs) are held in seven locations across England (Ally Pally, Newbury, Newark, Shepton Mallet, Peterborough, Runway and Ardingly). You can find a calendar highlighting when and where the next fair is, and there is something usually every month. For the best
sweep, it’s good to arrive early (6am) and bring a trolley. The grounds are vast and there are so many stalls you risk forgetting where you bought things if you collect at the end of the day. Antiques here are incredibly affordable and there is a real plethora of stuff. They are also great for decorative objects, glassware and ceramics. 

For a one-stop-shop, you can’t do much better than visiting the Battersea Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair. There are three a year (Spring, Autumn and Winter) and most of the most prominent antiques dealers from across the country have a stand, exhibiting their latest stock. The prices here really vary but the quality of antiques is unquestionably higher than those of the flea markets. Buying competition here is rife so ready your elbows, have a clear plan of the dealers you want to see first and arrive as early as possible to be first in the queue (you also get a glass of champagne while you wait). Our absolute go-to stands are Lee Wright, Brownrigg, AntiqBR, Catherine Despas, Foster & Gane.

The thousands of antiques dealers are available to visit by appointment or you can just drop in; there are many wonderful pockets to discover all over the country where dealers congregate; Lillie Road (Catherine Despas, Dorian Caffot Defawes, M.Charpentier, Puckhaber, Streett Marburg) & Pimlico Road (Howe, Gallery 88) in London, Arundel (Spencer Swaffer) and Petworth (John Bird, Augustus Brandt, Kiki Design) in Sussex and Tetbury in Gloucestershire are all places we regularly visit.

Auction houses are another obvious avenue to explore. Again, depending on your price bracket you can narrow your search and choose accordingly. There are hundreds of fantastic auction houses across the country offering a variety of specialities from inexpensive (but beautiful) antiques at places such as Stride’s auctions to more high-profile auctions such as Sotheby’s who sold the contents of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé’s home.

Things to look out for

  • Things in pairs, such as plinths, side tables, obelisks or stools. They tend to be more valuable in the long run.
  • Well-known makers in the description of a piece. Jacques Adnet, Edward Wormley, Pierre Jeanneret, Giacometti, Maison Jansen are all names we regularly look out for.
  • Pieces associated with or relating to a specific period or movement. Motifs can be a really helpful indicator.
  • Quirky features that set the piece apart from other similar articles you may have seen before. It could, for example, be an animal foot in the place of a bun foot, or a desk with an unusual scalloped edge or secret drawer.

How to mix antiques with new pieces

Antiques can work well with contemporary pieces of furniture, but the key is to ensure there is a contrast between the old and the new. When they aren’t clearly offset from one another, it’s harder to find cohesion. Our top tips to achieve this are:

  • Put a contemporary piece of art in an antique gilt frame.
  • Place a modern stool beneath an ornate antique writing desk.
  • A mid-century dining table and chairs look fantastic with an ornate, Spanish antique Chandelier.
  • A pair of contemporary lamps on antique tables work particularly well. Similarly, antique lamps on contemporary side tables.
  • A modern floor lamp beside an antique armchair can create a curated look.
  • Upholstering an antique sofa in a jewel coloured velvet can bring the piece to life and will work well with other contemporary pieces.
  • Contemporary art in a room predominantly filled with antiques will create contrast. Similarly, ornate masters-style artworks in contemporary rooms work very well.

Tips for shopping online

  • Ensure that what you’re buying is something that you love. Antiques are hardy and have endured the elements this far; they are likely to fail you now. By choosing something that you’re really fond of from the off will likely mean that you will be pleased with the piece for years to come.
  • Check the credibility of the seller by reading reviews and confirm if they have affiliations with large, regulated bodies such as LAPADA or BADA. Trustworthy dealers are likely to help with condition reports, will gladly impart their extensive knowledge on the piece and provide videos to help you with your purchase.
  • Make sure that what you’re buying works with the other pieces in your house. The last thing you want is to get home with your purchase and realise that it doesn’t fit with the rest of your scheme.
  • Consider hidden costs when buying online; shipping, restoration and re-upholstery are the most common costs that you should look out for.
  • Always get a receipt when you buy online. This will protect you should anything go wrong with the piece you bought.
  • Always check the size of a piece and whether fits the space you have in mind. A helpful tip is to cut out a card or paper template and put it in the spot you have in mind for complete peace of mind.
  • If possible, always try to see the piece you hope to buy in person. The quality of an item may not be accurately portrayed in a photograph and seeing it up close will give you a peace of mind before you make the purchase.
  • Check the condition of the piece as far as possible. Reports and detailed photographs should be available to you as a buyer and you should request a video or additional photograph if there are angles which haven’t been covered. Key information should be provided in the description of a piece such as age, timber, condition and if any restoration has been conducted over the years.
  • Value often reflects quality. Buy cheap, buy twice.

Visit Albion Nords website for more information