Where do you go to find a fabulous mid-century couch? Or an elegant Georgian sideboard? We’ve asked antiques expert and author Mark Hill, homeware designer Sophie Conran, vintage specialist Wayne Hemingway, interior designer Nicky Haslam and Antiques Roadshow expert Katherine Higgins to raid their little black books and reveal the UK’s finest antiques and vintage emporiums.
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‘This is a gem of a shop,’ says Wayne. ‘Tucked away in those lovely serendipitous York streets, it has a brilliantly edited collection of classic vintage and is always worth a visit.’
Prepare yourself for the largest antiques centre in Europe. Set in a pretty area of Lincolnshire countryside, Hemswell has been going since the 1980s and plays host to around 400 dealers. It would be impossible not to find something amid the vast array of stock.
One of Lancashire’s best vintage clothes shops, Wayne and his wife Geraldine have been visiting since they were young. ‘We grew up in East Lancashire and learnt to dress second hand (as it was called then). Revival isn’t a million miles from where ‘rags’ have traditionally been recycled, which might explain why the stock is always so wonderful. 01254 382316
‘For beautiful women’s frocks, this is hard to beat,’ says Wayne. ‘Catherine definitely has an eye for vintage.’ Stock ranges from Victorian dresses and collectable bags to 1980s garb so there is something for all costume-lovers in this pretty boutique.
Mr Ben’s, which was founded in the 1990s, is a stalwart of the Glasgow vintage scene. ‘I have picked up some brilliant Loakes brogues, a super Wigan Casino-style canvas shopper and a truly individual tweed jacket all from this Glaswegian institution,’
The word eclectic might have been created for RE. Vintage German beer steins sit next to dainty gilt candlesticks while old woodwork catalogues lie atop vintage tea trollies. Some of the stock is re-worked salvage, other pieces are vintage and there’s some new too.
‘Just as it does in a designer fashion store, it really makes a positive difference when the buyer knows how to edit,’ says Wayne. ‘The owner of this shop can certainly do just that.’ Herman Brown stocks high quality 20th-century fashion sourced on buying trips to everywhere from London’s Brick Lane to Amsterdam and Seattle.
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‘Worthy of a day trip, you’ll need the whole day to do the numerous large centres spread across this complex of barns properly,’ says Mark. ‘Whether you are a collector or decorator and whatever your budget, you’ll be able to fill a display cabinet.’
‘James Gooch operates Doe & Hope from a lovingly restored historic barn and his business livesup to the romantic address. He has a unique selection of antiques, from neoclassical to Victorian gothic,’ says Mark. ‘Each tempts our senses and has a fascinating back story or romantically conjures up styles and desires of the past. It’s food for the eye and mind.’ Viewing is by appointment.
The Boule-in has two shops, one in Suffolk and one in Kennington, London. ‘Here you’ll find a perfectly on-trend, highly appealing selection of French decorative antiques,’ says Mark. ‘With a focus on the easy to live with, beautiful and affordable, everything on display is sourced in France and curated by a charming husband and wife team. Its ideal gifting territory – self-gifting included!’ By appointment.
‘The emphasis here is on rather striking, decorative antiques that can stand alone and whose quality and style shines through,’ says Katherine. ‘Stock ranges from 17th to 20th-century pieces but my favourites are the 19th-century mirrors.’ By appointment.
Rob’s stock tends towards pieces with patina and a good story, often linked to old trades. Find 18th-century House of Commons journals, skittle alley signs and 1900s dairy creamers. He is in the process of opening a new space in a 19th-century former Royal Ordnance building where stores were kept in anticipation of invasion during the Napoleonic wars. By appointment.
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The wooden floored Vintage Showroom feels more like an old world museum than a vintage clothes shop. ‘You can find proper high-quality old menswear here,’ says Wayne. It specialises in early 20th-century pieces with a fantastic collection of old sports and country wear.
Alfies appeared on most of our panellists’ lists. Wayne heads there for 1920s pieces while Mark’s first stops in this heady bazaar of an antiques centre are Beth Adams and Geoffrey Robinson on the ground floor, followed by Angry-Agent on the first floor for ‘eye-wateringly scarce 20th century design’. Owner Bennie Gray is the driving force behind its success.
Rellik has made appearances in all the big name fashion magazines from Vogue to Vanity Fair, and with good reason. ‘It’s hidden away in Portobello Market,’ says Wayne. ‘You might need to ring the doorbell but once you are in…’ Its New York-style interior is covered with stunning fashion from 1920s onwards.
‘When you venture into the world of classic movie posters, you need to know you’re buying something that’s authentic,’ says Katherine. ‘Simon’s expert eye means you can snap up a striking film poster, and rest assured that it’s right.’ You can view his stock online or book an appointment to see the posters first hand.
‘I just can’t resist this shop,’ says Mark. ‘With a selection that’s refreshed every week, and regular sales to clear the decks, shelves are packed with everything from glass to ceramics, lighting and metalware. Check out the basement for furniture and larger homewares. There’s something to suit every pocket, starting from a couple of pounds upwards.’
A specialist in outstanding mid-century furnishings and French and Italian design, Gordon Watson has been in the trade for 30 years and sources pieces for an A-list clientele. If you’re in the market for a striking investment piece, his showroom on Pimlico Road is an absolute treat.
Among the many dealers on the Pimlico Road, Christopher Butterworth stands out. Specialising in French decorative pieces, Nicky calls him ‘the best antiques dealer ever’. ‘Christopher has a faultless taste and eye and amasses a panoply of desirable things,’ he says.
The dealers of Lillie Road have recently formed a collective – not a surprising move given that, as Nicky says, ‘the whole of this stretch of antiques dealers is well worth nosing around in’. Nicky’s favourite haunts include the shop of James Jackson, who, he says, ‘has an eclectic knack for finding interesting pieces’. Another favourite there is Quindry, whose owner Gwen specialises in 20th-century objects and furniture.
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The best antiques shops in the South and South East of England
John has had a long career in antiques and often exhibits at Battersea decorative fair. ‘You’ll find mostly furniture and larger pieces here,’ says Sophie. ‘John has a great eye and picks up really unusual and quirky pieces.’ Expect plenty of garden furniture too.
‘Probably my favourite shop in the UK,’ says Wayne. ‘It’s tiny but the owner has immaculate taste. She understands the true essence of ‘vintage’ and her items are always timeless and transcend fashion.’
‘The clue is in the name,’ says Wayne. This collective of vintage boutiques and designers is a sumptuous hunting ground for those who enjoy nostalgia. With antiques, vintage and bric-a-brac galore, it’s good for a bargain.
With more than 30 antiques shop in this small Sussex town, it’s not easy to choose a standout but Sophie considers this her go-to place. ‘It’s a veritable cornucopia of dealers,’ she says. ‘It mostly has smaller items with a particularly good choice of ceramics, textiles and small pieces of furniture.’
‘This shop is a real resource for anyone who wants to delve into vintage fashion,’ says Katherine. ‘Fashion enthusiasts will find an impressive range of stock running from the 1920s to the 1980s. You’re almost certain to find what you want as well as a period accessory to match.’ Established for 20 years, it is one of the largest vintage clothes shops on the south coast.
‘Great things often come in small packages,’ says Katherine. ‘Though it’s diminutive in size, Old Barn Antiques is packed with goodies from mouth-watering blue and white china to quirky first editions and vintage toys. It’s a proper old antiques shop where you can hunt to your heart’s content.’
‘This is one my top little black book shops for mid-century modern and retro,’ says Mark. ‘Over the past five years, Ben has grown it, starting from what was essentially a corridor, to become a larger shop hidden at the back of the packed and stacked RG Scott Furniture Mart, which is itself well worth a browse.’
Mark calls this antiques centre ‘a sparkling jewel’. It is located on West Street in Dorking, which is famous for its antiques shops. ‘What marks Christique out is the not only the high level of quality and variety from more than 60 dealers,’ he says, ‘but the way it’s so beautifully displayed and merchandised. It’s just so easy to imagine these things in your own home.’
‘Stuart and Kiel who run Fontaine are veritable alchemists when it comes to display,’ says Mark. ‘Their innate skill and eye at sourcing objects of beauty and desire are unparalleled, but it’s what they do with it that marks them out as truly top-flight dealers and decorators.’ By appointment only.
‘I miss the times when every town had its bric-a-brac shop, so I was delighted that Norman Gibbs recently revived the tradition by opening one in my local village,’ says Nicky. ‘It’s cluttered with anything, from rare books to boulle, which catches his fancy. He knows his onions – and prices ensure a regular turnover.’
Highly-respected dealer Max Rollitt (who has also begun to dip his toes into design) is well known for combining quality pieces with extraordinary textiles, unusual ceramics, pictures and lighting. ‘Instead of upping sticks to London, Max has stayed put in his barn in Lovington where he displays his finds in an equally ravishing setting,’ says Nicky. The showroom is open by appointment only.
Glass etc is Britain’s largest antique and vintage glass shop. ‘If you stopped to count the range of glasses, decanters, decorative 20th-century vases and other vessels in Andy McConnell’s shop, you could be there for a year or more!’ says Katherine. ‘It’s a one-stop shop for antique and vintage glass that’s both home-grown and European. Andy has a special interest in Scandinavian production so you’ll find plenty from the key factories here, along with my favourite firm, Whitefriars.’
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Both Mark and Sophie nominated Lorfords, which occupies two cavernous aircraft hangars at Babdown Airfield. ‘Lorfords has become the place to source decorative antiques, with buyers coming from across the world,’ says Mark. ‘It‘s filled with exotic and stunning pieces,’ adds Sophie. ‘The staff are really helpful if you are looking for something specific.’ There is also a Lorfords in Tetbury itself.
The interior of a stunning old Georgian town house is a hub for decorative European antiques and elegant vintage pieces. ‘There’s a great collection of classical furniture,’ says Sophie, ‘and fantastic paintings and sculptures too.’
‘Filled with Victorian kitchenalia and high quality household goods, Below Stairs has a wealth of domestic antiques,’ says Sophie. ‘There are spectacular antique doorbells, doorknobs, knockers, taps and fireguards.’ Stock is largely 19th and 20th-century and the stock runs over five themed showrooms.
Tucked away in the antiquing hub of Tetbury is this arcade of dealers. You can easily spend a morning browsing its eclectic mix, including furniture, paintings, prints, china, kitchenalia, clothing and antiquarian books. ‘This is a great
arcade with a lots of little dealers,’ says Sophie. ‘Don’t miss the vintage textiles on the first floor.’
One of the first antiques centres in the UK, Hungerford Arcade proves experience pays, and is home to over 100 dealers. ‘A wonderful place for a rummage,’ says Sophie, ‘with dealers selling everything from silverware to timepieces as well as some proper bric-a-brac.’
Among Hay-on-Wye’s many bookshops are a smattering of top-quality antiques shops too. ‘Hay is such a sweet town to wander round in and my favourite place is Hay Antique Market, a really lovely little arcade with vintage treasures and antique goodies,’ says Sophie. ‘I always find something I fall in love with.’
‘Who doesn’t love to bring a ray of vintage into your home with some fabulous retro styling?’ says Katherine. Organised into room sets, What Katy Did is more vintage experience than shop. ‘Here you’ll find it all, from a 1970s fondue set to a pair of 1950s curtains. There’s always a good dollop of mid-century furniture too.’
Drew Pritchard is one of the country’s best known antiques dealers by virtue of his eternally-popular TV programme, Salvage Hunters. His warehouse is, as you’d expect, a wealth of quirky finds, solidly-made furniture and other, mostly British, pieces. The business is about to move to a new space so it’s worth making a call in advance when planning a visit.
LAPADA member Tim Bowen specialises in Welsh and English country furniture and folk art, which he sells from a gallery in Ferryside on the mouth of the River Towy. Everything from spongeware pepper pots to beautifully-patinated Welsh stick chairs to cricket tables and oak chests are on offer.
* Tim Bowen Antiques, Ivy House, Ferryside, Carmarthenshire, SA17 5SS. 01267 267122; timbowenantiques.co.uk
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In a picture book thatched cottage in County Fermanagh, Rosemary Cathcart curates and sells a stunning collection of antique and vintage lace, wedding headpieces, fans, dresses, embroidery and cards. It’s a fairytale world. Next door you’ll find Rosemary’s lace museum, which showcases around 700 exhibits.
In an expansive showroom just off the main road between Antrim and Ballymena you’ll find a hoard of high quality walnut, mahogany and rosewood furniture. Other than his specialism in wooden antiques, David also holds a stock of fine porcelain, silver, jewellery and the occasional piece of Clarice Cliff, which all makes for some pleasurable browsing.