On 23rd June 1995, Drew Pritchard, the star of the Discovery and Quest’s Salvage Hunters, moved into a Methodist chapel in the Conwy countryside in North Wales. He was then just 25 years old and it was the first property he’d ever owned. ‘Oh, it was a total mess,’ he says. ‘Completely derelict. There was no water, no drains, no planning permission. A friend told me I’d be better off pulling it down and starting all over again.’
But he wasn’t to be put off. ‘It’s the highest church in the valley and was built in 1812. I was determined to turn it into a home even though I had no money at all. My bath, for instance (a Victorian claw-footed affair) came from a friend who was using it as a planter in his garden. I bought it for 80 quid.’
You might also enjoy:
- Drew Pritchard launches sofa collection with Barker and Stonehouse
- Drew Pritchard: ‘Why patina is king’
- Drew Pritchard: ‘How to be a sucessful antiques dealer’
- What to watch on TV if you love antiques
- Angel Strawbridge of Escape to the Chateau launches an afternoon tea collection
Over twenty years later – with the chapel now completely renovated and every corner crammed with lovely things – and the man the press calls the ‘junkyard genius’ has now sold this property and moved elsewhere. ‘I’m not sentimental,’ he explains. ‘It’s a mistake to be sentimental in my business. You end up hanging on to things you should be selling, with the result that you make no money at all.’
Pritchard’s Conwy chapel was filled with all manner of extraordinary antiques, including a lavatory that once belonged to Mick Jagger (Pritchard bought it from his plumber). A beautiful late-Victorian painted screen with a large flamingo on it (discovered in the kitchen of a house he was clearing, where it was stuck between cooker and fridge to protect the latter from spitting fat).
But above all, a vast amount of reclaimed ecclesiastical pieces: crosses, statues, pews, kneelers, even an altar. ‘In the last 20 years, I’ve cleared more than 500 religious buildings. I own so many kneelers, I hardly know what to do with them. When my kids were small, they would use them to climb up to the dining table,’ he laughs.
Pritchard grew up in Glan Conwy. His father was a sign writer. ‘The family would go away in our VW camper van and, from the age of eight, my parents would take us around museums. It was my father who taught me how to look at things. Even as a young child I couldn’t understand why people would buy new things. I used to think, “Are you mad? Why not buy something old?”’
He left school as soon as possible and was apprenticed as a stained-glass restorer. It was this trade that led him, eventually, to the antiques business. He began working for himself at 23. His clients now include Ralph Lauren and the chef Marco Pierre White.
He also sells via his website and North Wales antiques showroom. Among the recent arrivals are a 19th-century pawn brokers sign, exquisite antique plaster masks and a magnificent mahogany breakfront bookcase, plus his recent collection of heritage-inspired sofas and armchairs designed in collaboration with Barker and Stonehouse.
Antiques-hunting tips from Drew Pritchard:
- Behind-the-scenes at an antiques fair with Drew Pritchard
- Drew Pritchard: ‘How I became an antiques dealer’
- Drew Pritchard: ‘The thrill of an unexpected find’
- Drew Pritchard: ‘The antique that got away’
How does he know what he likes? It’s a gut thing. ‘It’s hard to explain. I just have to have something. It’s a Christmas-morning feeling. I have an imaginary house in my head and when I see things, I put them in it. I’m not an antiques dealer so I’m not interested in an object’s age; it could be 16th century or 21st century. I’m not interested in its value either; it could be worth £50 or £50,000. All I care about is how it looks. The patina of something or how tatty it is, that’s all part of what I’m looking for. When it’s right, it’s right and you do get better at knowing that over the years.’
He gets what he calls an ‘artistic kick’ out of odd juxtapositions, the placing of unlikely objects next to one another. So what would he most like to own in all the world? ‘I collect old cars, so it has to be a type 35 Bugatti.’ For a practical man, he sounds almost dreamy at the thought…