I live in a cottage that dates to 1827 and is a typical Cotswolds build, all Bath stone quarried locally. The walls are about 2ft thick so it’s very cool in summer and warm in winter and is as dry as a bone. It’s surrounded by an arboretum and sits on the canal in 27 acres. We film Countryfile Diaries here.
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I started collecting Brooke Bond tea cards when I was six or seven. I was potty about them. At around 14 we moved to Cornwall and I started getting into Troika pottery. I also used to collect small snuff boxes and tea caddies.
My most treasured possession is a full-size Edwardian skeleton of a horse, c1910. It stands about 7ft high and is beautifully assembled and held together so you can’t see the wire and rods. It’s on a huge black plinth with brass carrying handles. It’s just so sculptural and dominates an end wall in my barn.
Everything in my home has harmony, presence and balance. I do like juxtaposition, say a bit of Peter Blake above a country house dresser or an old bureau showing its worn interior. It’s got to look slightly brutal though; it can’t be pleasing.
The oldest pieces in my home are some late 16th-century walnut cabinets. I’ve got an escritoire and a Charles II collector’s cabinet. I’ve also got quite a bit of Queen Anne furniture that we use every day. The newest piece is my drum kit. I’m teaching my kids to play. Any time you’ve had a frustrating day you can come home and play your heart out!
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Buying antiques is about giving choice pieces light and space to enjoy them and being able to put your wine or cup of tea on them without feeling guilty. One of my favourite things I ever sold was a beautiful French table from Normandy. It had a thick slab top and the rust stain of a pair of scissors that had been put down in the early 1900s. When you know something is made by a skilled craftsperson there’s a story behind it and a region and a use and it’s that story that brings it alive – it’s a document of social history.
If you live in a small country cottage or a townhouse my advice is: buy a bureau. Leave the fall open at the front, fill it with your knick-knacks, put your laptop and mobile on it and a vase or piece of sculpture and you’ve got the most wonderful little work unit.
As a dealer you have to part with your best pieces. Everything I buy I love. I don’t mind selling pieces for what I bought them for because it’s about getting that portal on the past. Seeing something that’s well made and incredibly rare – being reconnected with traditional skills and methods – that for me is the buzz.