Antiques experts share their favourite places to visit
From sun-soaked Sicily to an Oxfordshire reclamation yard, six antiques aficionados tell Ellie Tennant about the places they love to visit…
Expert: Lizzie Gordon, The Oscar Collective
I first went to the Provençal town of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue as a dealer four years ago, although I’d been before while on holiday in the south of France. It’s a magical place. The town itself is lovely – there’s a canal that snakes through the centre with lots of beautiful water wheels and it’s really charming – plus, it’s a real hub for antiques. It’s almost entirely made up of antiques shops and markets. You can combine it with Avignon, which is 40 minutes up the road and has a huge fair several times a year with international sellers from all over the world.
Because L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a town that’s dedicated to antiques, a lot of the prices in the shops are retail prices. As a dealer, to get the best trade prices, you need to look behind the shops and in the streets at weekends when the whole town comes to a standstill and travelling French traders just set up trestle tables to sell. At 6am, with croissant in hand, you rummage through. The key is to get there while they’re still unpacking and hang around the van doors to see what comes out – and always carry cash! It’s best to go on your own because you can steam around without anybody distracting you.
I never fail to find lovely things there. It’s wonderful. I once found an incredible pale oak 19th-century haberdasher’s table that had come from a Paris couture house – it had the most fabulous patina and the makers had carved their initials into the wood. It was 3m long and I sourced it for a client of mine who has a beautiful Georgian house in the Cotswolds. I also bought a really special compact Pier Luigi hammered bronze console table there. I sold it within five minutes of putting it on Instagram.
Noto, Sicily, Italy
Expert: Adam Calvert Bentley
I first went to Sicily three years ago and I’ve been going a few times every year since. A good friend and client of mine is furnishing a palazzo in a beautiful town called Noto. I source and install pieces for him and while I’m there I take the opportunity to do a bit of shopping.
In the 17th century, the town was destroyed by an earthquake, so they rebuilt it slightly closer to the sea and, because it was all constructed at the same time, most of the buildings are in the baroque style. It’s famed for palazzos with beautiful balconies on huge corbels and the food and wine is a big draw too. I’m not sure why the food in Sicily is so much better than in mainland Italy but even in Noto, which is quite a small town that’s only recently become popular, you find some really chic restaurants. Caffè Sicilia is the place to go for amazing sweet cannoli.
It’s not traditionally known as a hotbed of antiques but there are a few really good French dealers, so there are lots of French antiques alongside the Italian pieces. There’s also a dealer in town who is obsessed with Swedish antiques, so you can pick up quite a diverse range of finds in one place. On a recent trip, I bought a pair of terracotta Wedgwood wine coolers, dating from about 1800. They’re English, sold by a French dealer who bought them in Sweden! So they’ve obviously moved around quite a bit but they’ve survived remarkably well.
I don’t have a specific taste – I just buy unusual things that I find interesting. Having a broad range means I can put together my own look. I hate the word ‘eclectic’ because it’s overused but I suppose that is how best to describe it. My pieces suit a ‘country house’ setting. Closer to home, I can’t wait for The Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair in Battersea to be open again, too, because that’s such an inspiring event.
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Pastorale Antiques, Lewes, Sussex
Expert: Laura Dadswell, Westland London
Lewes is a beautiful town in the South Downs with a lovely mix of architecture. It’s home to one of my favourite places to visit: Pastorale Antiques. I buy from a lot of incredibly uninspiring dreary warehouses, but Pastorale is in a Georgian townhouse – an elegant setting with sash windows and a courtyard cafe where you can unwind amongst flowers and antiques.
It’s a real asset because it’s so diverse. Dealer John Wiseman has a large stand there and he’s the highlight for me because he always has great architectural items for the garden, lovely lighting and beautiful mirrors. He has an unerring eye for quality and has been one of the trade’s best-kept secrets for years – until Instagram!
Instagram is an amazing platform for the trade and it’s really changed the game for dealers. Now, you can sell an item in five minutes that would have taken years to sell before. You used to have to wait for the right person to walk through the door but now they’re just a hashtag away. However, it also means that sometimes an item I’m interested in has already sold by the time I see it online, so going to Lewes in person ensures I can pick up pieces before they’re even photographed.
I recently bought an amazing Regency-period stoneware urn from John. It’s enormous, 1.5m high, with snake handles and a Bacchic frieze. It was a bit damaged but we have a fantastic restoration department [at Westland London] so knew we could restore it to its former glory. It’s now living in a beautiful chateau in France.
LASSCO Three Pigeons, Oxfordshire
Expert: Paul Martin, The Table Gallery
I buy a lot from auction rooms and country house sales, but at this time of year I love going to salvage yards and looking for architectural, outdoorsy pieces to make the windows of The Table Gallery look attractive. LASSCO Three Pigeons is one of my first ports of call. I’ll set out not knowing what I’m going to come home with. That’s the beauty of it.
Even the drive there is lovely – through the chalky Chiltern Hills – so I’ve got a smile on my face by the time I arrive. The staff are friendly and you can do a good old-fashioned deal with them. It’s quite a big place, so you can spend three or four hours there. Only half the stock is on the website, so if you go there in person you can find stuff nobody else has seen yet.
For me, it’s all about texture – stone, terracotta, weathered iron and wood, to bring warmth to your look. At LASSCO there are lots of wonderful olive oil jars and confit pots, hand-forged gates, salvaged stone troughs, birdbaths and architectural embellishments – things you can dot around your garden.
I recently bought some hand-thrown, tall Victorian rhubarb forcers there. The ones to look out for have a rolled top and bottom. They vary in price from £180-£220 in good condition and they look like little chimneys on an industrial landscape – so statuesque. I turn them upside down and use them as planters. When you’re buying, don’t be blinkered. I like the Picasso quotation: ‘Taste is the enemy of creativeness’. Look for a one-off – something strange that nobody else has got.
Tennants Auctioneers & The Decorative Home & Salvage Show, Ripley Castle, North Yorkshire
Expert: Karen and Chloe Rymer, Molly and Maud’s Place
Karen: Chloe is good at making snap decisions so she loves buying at antiques fairs, but I prefer to buy at auction. With an auction, I have the chance to view beforehand, think about it, do some research and then buy. I talk my way around the room, too – it’s a social occasion and there’s always a real buzz when people are bidding.
We’ve probably bought from every auction house in the country, but Tennants is my favourite. It’s probably the biggest in the north of England, so there’s always lots of choice there but, while it’s large, it’s a really friendly company and there’s always a bit of banter. I’ve bought a lot of lovely rugs there over the years and pieces of art. I particularly like early oak country furniture.
Chloe: I can’t wait to go back to The Decorative Home & Salvage Show at Ripley Castle. I first went five years ago in the early days of the show and I think the organisers at Arthur Swallow Fairs do a really good job – there’s always a nice fete-type atmosphere there and it’s a brilliant place to source furniture and architectural items. I take a transit van and get there early so I can go in as soon as the doors open.
Fairs are fast-paced, so you have to be impulsive or you might miss things. One of our favourite purchases at Ripley was a set of 24 early 20th-century wooden bottle moulds complete with a stamp saying they were made by: ‘J Lumb, Castleford’. We did some research and discovered that Castleford had a very long tradition of glassmaking and the Roman name for the town was Lagentium, which means The Place of the Bottles.