‘Houses take so many lamps, tables and chairs,’ says Rita Konig, discussing the merits of online shopping, particularly antiquing on Instagram.‘I buy a lot of antiques on Instagram. It’s such a great way to find dealers and a great way for dealers to sell. I use it all the time, especially when I’m not looking for something specific.’
Speaking on the phone from her farmhouse in the Durham Dales during lockdown, Rita recalls how she was destined for a career in interiors growing up with Nina Campbell as her mother. ‘When you look back, you can see the path was there. Of all three children, I was the one who spent the most time in the shop and I really liked having my bedroom decorated. Mum and I shopped together and I really enjoyed working with her.’ Today, a highly regarded and sought-after interior designer herself, Rita is known for her relaxed, ‘undone’ style layered with antiques.
She began her career in writing, starting out as a research assistant for the European editor of Harper’s Bazaar while also working for her mother in her shop buying and merchandising. She published a book, Domestic Bliss, in 2002 and went on to write for Vogue, Telegraph Magazine, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and House & Garden imparting advice on interior design.
In 2005 she moved to New York where she worked on the newly launched Domino magazine with Deborah Needleman. ‘I adored Deborah and we became great friends,’ she says. ‘I saw America in this amazing way.’ Rita travelled around the States finding the best independent shops to feature. ‘At first, I would go into shops and people would not have heard of Domino. After a while, when I turned up, people would scream and burst into tears at the thought of their little shop being featured in such a big magazine.’
Rita returned to London in 2012 and started her own interior decoration business, holding workshops at her home and undertaking large projects. ‘A lot of people wanted to decorate themselves. They wanted their house to be their own with their own taste.’
This year, Rita has launched an online interior design course with Create Academy so anyone can learn how to decorate an interior. As part of it, she reveals where best to shop for antiques. ‘Shopping in independent shops is always more interesting. I’m always amazed by how much it costs to buy something in an ordinary high- street shop compared to what buying an antique costs. It’s so much cheaper, better value, better made and, if you get bored of it, you can sell it.
‘Antiques bring warmth and individuality. Sometimes your granny leaves you a table. It’s not what you would have bought yourself, but you’ve seen it all your life and it fits in a corner and it works. That’s a good piece of furniture as far as I’m concerned and it has some meaning. I think it’s more important it works in a corner than whether it’s beautiful or not.
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‘I love going to auctions at Tennants and I’m always looking on the-saleroom.com for bits of china. Wherever you are, you will always find an antiques shop. You might just find a plate but what I love is that plate could become a soap dish in the bathroom or used on a bedside table for drinks. It’s extraordinary that you can buy a chest of drawers for £150 if you look.
‘You can fill a house very cleverly. Brown furniture brings a lot to a room – you get traction and weight with proper bits of furniture. If a room is filled with all new pieces, it feels light. It doesn’t have to be all antiques. You need to crisp it up with a pretty lampshade and new pieces. When I bought my first antiques and first went to Kempton, I came away with small things. Be careful of buying too many small things otherwise you end up with a whole load of nothing. When I need something specific, I’ll go to Decorative Collective, Vinterior and Lorfords.’
In the last year, as well as numerous projects, Rita has designed a paint collection for Plain English kitchens and curated an interior sale as tastemaker for Christie’s. ‘We styled and photographed the catalogue at Burghley House – it was so much fun hopping over the ropes. I also styled the room set at Christie’s for the sale.
I decided it would be a bedsit as I had this long narrow room – the most amazing bedsit with a four-poster bed. I imagined a girl who inherited all this furniture she had to fit in one room.’
While Rita and her beautifully rich interiors are endlessly inspiring, she too continues to be influenced by designers past and present. ‘I adore Bunny Mellon interiors. I always look to a John Fowler interior when I want to learn something. My mum trained with him so it’s part of my background. I’m also inspired by friends – Henrietta Channon has wonderful taste – it’s the undecorated room that is much more exciting. I learn as much from my friends who have lovely taste and style as I do from other decorators. When it comes to decorators, their own house is always the best.’
Interview: Rosanna Morris