Max Rollitt on his 18th century farmhouse and antiques collection
The highly respected antiques dealer, furniture and interior designer chats to Rachel Nott about the ebbs and flows of his 25 years in the antiques trade
Our house was built in 1780 using ruins from a 12th-century priory. It’s a modest farmhouse, and I’ve had quite minimal intervention since I bought it 10 years ago. I’ve had to de-modernise areas, mainly bathrooms, and I have reinstated fire surrounds. Most of the work has been decorating. The oldest thing in my home is a fragment of a Roman capital that was found while excavating a floor in one of my old houses. I think it dates to around the 3rd-century AD. The newest thing in my home is a Chris Riisager sculpture in my garden.
To create flow between the spaces in my home I make sure there is a natural progression of colour from one room to the next. It’s easy to design individual rooms, but it’s getting the movement right from one to the next that’s the tricky bit. There needs to be a rhythm.
I started collecting polychrome Delft plates, English and Dutch, a long time ago. I remember buying my first plate for £370 from a dealer in Dorchester, which to me was a fortune, but it has given me great joy.
The best £50 I ever spent was on a beautiful pair of English rush seated provincial armchairs at Newark antiques fair. They were covered in paint so I dry-scraped them back to their original soft grey lead paint. I sold them to Christopher Gibbs. The item I most regret selling is a walnut cabinet on stand, dating from 1680. It’s absolutely beautiful, with the brass work stamped by William Ward of Adle Street, London. I first saw it at a clearance sale at Sotheby’s but I was unsuccessful in buying it. It appeared again 11 years later at Christie’s South Kensington in 2011. I bought it, and had every intention of keeping it, but it was the perfect thing to finish an interior design job, so I sold it to a very good client. I am still working on that particular house, so I have to look at it fairly often – it’s painful!
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If money were no object, I’d love to own a painting called Window-Sill, Lugano by Winifred Nicholson that I saw at the Tate St Ives years ago. I’d also be happy with anything by Christopher Wood. If I could go back and advise myself when I was starting out in the antiques world I’d say, ‘Concentrate on selling and the buying will look after itself!’
All the bespoke furniture we make is enjoyable to design, but I especially love our centre table, which is an adaptation of a Robert Lorimer table with an oak base – we make it with a raw sycamore top. We have recently made its smaller cousin in oak for a well-known art designer.