One of the best things about being fabulous is when other people realise you’re fabulous. Particularly if it’s someone whose taste and style you admire.
Yes, I know one can be quietly excellent in one’s field in a low-key, taupe cashmere sort of way. But quite frankly, if I’m putting on a show, I like a round of applause. Nobody notices the quiet ones in this game.
So, when I do a display for Guinevere I want pizzazz (it’s a Diana Vreeland word) and I want plenty of it. Show stopping backdrops with beautiful furniture as center stage. Off-white walls and quiet good taste? Leave that for the estate agents brochures please.
Sir David Tang is the sort of client who understands this approach, no shrinking violet himself in the style stakes, he knows what he likes and if he likes it he tells you. Successful people don’t have time to faff about or be indecisive.
I’ve recently been using bold horizontal painted stripes as the backdrop for our window displays. I love the immediacy of paint and the transforming power of colour.
It started with two windows I did at Guinevere in collaboration with Interior designer Alidad. He has used stripes as a foil to his beautiful multi layered exotic schemes. Alidad’s stripes are controlled and meticulous, Alidad is controlled and meticulous. Now, about me.
Ask anyone who knows me and I’m actually very shy, but when it came to doing striped backgrounds, we are talking bigger and we are talking bolder.
Broad bands of darkest chocolate brown with gold contrasting with the softest ivory. Against this I placed a set of French gilt chairs upholstered in delicious red velvet and enough ormolu accessories to make Louis XIV blush. The other window was in the same broad stripes, this time café au lait, gold and the same ivory with a monumental pale grey painted ivory bookcase filled with plaster casts and a v.chic travertine centre table.
I think Alidad liked it, at least he said he did. I hope we managed an okay fusion of Alidad taste in the Guinevere style.
Sir David certainly did and he called me from Hong Kong on his mobile to tell me so and ask if we could replicate the effect in his “country residence”, a charming lodge within the grounds of Hyde Park.
Now, a lesser man might have gone down the chintzy, pale painted grey, shabby chic route with a lodge in the park but thankfully Sir David is more chic than shabby.
Working to a tight schedule of a looming party as our completion date we began the transformation.
Painting horizontal stripes is actually much trickier than you’d think, it all about proportion, getting the thickness right for the space and deciding on the sequence of colours, you just know when you’ve got it right, but it takes time. Luckily I work with Guinevere’s in house man Rafi, he manages to translate my ideas into reality, usually without too much complaining. Drawing out and masking up the lines takes ages but once the painting starts it was wonderful to see the Lodge’s library and sitting room assume a whole new character. When we finished I styled both rooms back up; the library took the chocolate and gold scheme which proved to be an excellent background for a book-laden mahogany round table surrounded by caned library chairs.
The sitting room looked incredibly glamorous with light wood mid-century modern pieces Sir David had chosen at Guinevere and a beautiful oil painting he already had.
The wonderful thing is that nobody would expect any of it from the outside, but when you walk through the door the effect is dramatic and that, of course, is the best of it.
I suppose that is what I aim for with the displays at Guinevere, to be predicable would be the worst thing in the world.
Wednesday morning flight to Boston with BA. At least we left from Terminal 5 which is normally efficient. I was with Hannah, my daughter, who had a couple of appointments in Boston, so we combined our trips.
Anyway, we left on time. I had some wine and watched two mindless films to while away the hours. I can't even remember what they were. Hannah did give me the look about the wine as it was only 11.30 am. We also landed on time and then hit American customs….. Two hours later we exited….
We were met at the airport by our friend Nancy. Nancy lives outside of Boston in a lovely mansion filled with beautiful pieces which she collected with her late husband over the last 40 years. This is the view from the pool past the fountain up to the main house.
Thursday and Friday were spent in Boston for Hannah's appointments, but in the morning's I was able to catalogue some of Nancy's pieces, part of the reason for my trip.
Friday afternoon we left Boston in rush hour (deep sigh) and headed for Pawtucket, a small town just outside of providence, Rhode Island. We have a share in a large building there which was formally a car showroom and has a theatre on the 1st and 2nd floors. The main showroom has been divided into smaller showrooms and two of these are antique shops.
We were with our friend, Paul, who co owns the building, and had dinner that evening at Al Forno in Providence. The food and wine was delicious, even if the staff were a little too pleased with themselves!!
Saturday morning was spent in our building as there are repairs ongoing and so there were decisions to be made. I also looked at some Mid century pieces that were offered at a good price in one of the shops.
Then it was back to Boston, where I was able to catalogue some more items. This is the living room with just a little bit of malachite.
Sunday was much the same cataloguing except we had take away ribs Sunday afternoon, which were delicious, whilst Nancy watched the football (?) Then a rather sleepless flight overnight to London. I now know what they mean by red eye.
Working at Guinevere for so many years I have been spoilt by looking at gorgeous items on a daily basis. Every now and then something new is purchased which really over exceeds all our expectations and excites the senses. This week we have a stunning Pair of Russian Malachite tables with Silver mounts and hoof feet. They ooze elegance and would work in a truly modern space or a traditional one.
I am currently working from a Large Louis XV style Bureau plat in Kingwood with Ormolu mounts. It has great scale and a wonderful old leather top, which really tells a story. Not many people are able to work from a desk with so much history and character. Lucky me!
We are always shopping for the un-usual. Yesterday it was a cheerful red 1950’s English cigarette box in snake skin with bone edges. In all my years I have not seen one this colour.
Today I have been playing with the Antique textiles in the conservatory. Fabulous Block printed, hand quilted bed covers in gorgeous Indigo . All shades of blue are always a winner.
Otherwise the coat to wear this winter is the FUN coat made from Indian ceremonial throws. They are embroidered with bright coloured flowers with little mirrors. While everyone one else was wearing Black to an opening of an Art Gallery I wore one of these coats and was the ONLY person looking bright and cheerful. If nothing else I was different.
Tomorrow is another day….
As an Olympia virgin I was not entirely sure what to expect. In my mind I saw it as a large, lavish and beautifully presented space, with the best pieces the dealers have to offer. In most respects I was completely right, but it was smaller than I expected.
Champagne on arrival was accepted willingly, as my partner in crime Roger, a previous Guinevere Stylist, and I started our journey round. Roger had a very particular way he wanted to go around the fair; apparently there is a method to these things. Unfortunately this fell on somewhat deaf ears, and I managed to convince him to be a bit more haphazard. This may or may not have had something to do with the champagne… but was most definitely to our detriment. I am pretty sure I saw the same stretch 4 times over.
There were a few pieces that caught my eye, including these amazing prints by Raoul Dufy print called ‘La Fée Électricité’.Unfortunately a bit out of my personal price range at £27,000, however it is safe to say I fell in love.
Another stand-out piece was “Mao Two Faces” by Ren St Hong on Tanya Baxters stand.
However the area in which we lingered the longest, not only because of the sheer size it took up but also because of the subject matter, was Chen Dapeng’s. A very renowned artist in China, although personally I have to say I haven’t heard of him or seen his work before, so another first. It was all very big and very bold…However, not necessarily to my taste. His grand unveiling of his homage to the Queen, immediately caused a stir and I could see on my twitter feed comparisons being made between the sculpture and Tom Hanks. In my opinion it had more of a resemblance to Mrs Doubtfire. The bust was created to commemorate the ‘gesture of reconciliation’ between Britain and China.
I was subsequently blown away by the rumours of the value of one of his pieces representing Chinese history, with Ying and Yang embodied by a sculpture of balanced male and female counterparts. The price tag doesn't bear to be mentioned.
Overall I had fun, the company was good and although not all of it was to my taste (art not company)…I guess you can’t have everything!
The antiques fair at Montpellier, which is a one day trade only event, happens around 5 times a year. I remember first going there about 30 years ago when the hangars seemed to me to be brimming with amazing pieces, and I wanted them all – I’ve calmed down a bit now, but the energy and enthusiasm generated by Montpellier continues to inspire the next generation of young dealers who are looking with open minds, not hampered by the blinkers of experience.
Montpellier is a lovely historic Provencal town, with a lively atmosphere helped by it’s young university population. As I had a walk round on Monday afternoon, checking the local antique shops for anything interesting and affordable, I couldn’t help but pick up on the subdued atmosphere after the horrific incidents in Paris a couple of weeks ago – the fountain of the three graces in the main square was festooned in floral tributes and candles to the fallen of Paris – but the French seemed determined to go on as usual, and the outside terraces were vibrant.
The fair starts at 8am at the sound of a klaxon as a couple of thousand eager buyers from over 50 countries rush into a series of empty hangars – empty, because the exhibiting dealers get in at the same time, so nothing is out yet. This doesn’t stop us all from rushing around like headless chickens, peering into the back of trucks as the exhibitors try to unload.
I like to find something worth buying in the first half hour or so – it’s like scoring an early goal – the pressure’s off, and I can slow down a bit. Luckily I spotted a lovely 50’s coffee table by Maison Jansen with a Chinoiserie lacquer top, after 20 minutes or so, did the deal, and was on my way.
My haul for the day ranged from a beautiful and classic Bureau Plat to a quirky beaded glass chandelier in the shape of a sailing ship – if you go to Montpellier with a shopping list, it’s probably better to throw it away before starting. Expect the unexpected.
It was a good opportunity to catch up with some French dealers, and they confirmed that the events in Paris had pretty much closed their businesses down, especially the Paris Flea market dealers – The Flea market is actually in the district of St.Denis – so prominent in the violent events as they unfolded.
But at the end of the day, antique dealers are quite resilient individuals, and they don’t stay inside waiting for things to improve – as an Italian dealer who had driven through the night from Venezia to set up her stand told me “You know, we are all addicts”, which is as good an explanation as any!