It’s been a busy weekend, especially this one past, the Melbourne Antiques Fair has been on, very different from my usual weekend when we are involved with family gatherings, friends’ luncheons, 40 and 50ths and riding and skateboarding with the kids.
On Monday’s I generally walk into my shop at Malvern in Melbourne, often feeling tired, battered and bruised, but then I am instantly surrounded by relaxing, exciting, classic and modern beauty. Being greeted by one of my beautiful staff too, always with a smile on their face and a calm, relaxing voice, is a happy experience. I’m so lucky – coming into work always makes me feel good, I love my work and adore antiques. I check my phone messages, usually none, which ensures a smile on my face because it means I have some space at the beginning of the week to catch up on what’s been happening.
After morning tea I often have an 11am appointment. Today it is advising a couple on how to downsize as they are moving into an apartment one-third the size of the home they have been living in for 30 years. They have an interesting collection of furniture, ceramics and books they need to sort through with me to help them make decisions about what to keep and what to let go.
Every piece has memories attached and so has its very poignant. They have a certain destination, whether it is a particular antique dealer or a specific collector, various specialist auction houses and occasionally, just occasionally, the odd piece for me.
Every now and then my long-term customers receive a nice surprise, something they purchased in the 1970s, say an English oak dresser that broke their bank at $500 is now retailing for between $20,000 to $30,000. These experiences make my business very satisfying.
The next day, on my way in to the shop, I have an appointment to advise on placing furniture and art with a leading decorator in a wonderful home that is still a blank canvas.
The interior of this 19th-century home has been redefined and modernized tastefully, generally just by using the right paints and flooring — it’s exciting
The visits to this home will be many incorporating my ideas, the decorator’s ideas and the customer’s idea. However it soon takes shape and we always end up with the most wonderfully decorated home interior.
When I return to the shop, I drop into my restoration and conservation workshop at the rear and go over the pieces that need to be completed that week, whether it’s a customer’s table or my latest international shipment destined for refreshment before taking up its place in the showroom.
This part of the business is also satisfying; like those who enjoy digging in the garden, working with your hands colouring, polishing or waxing can be like therapy and I really enjoy it.
In this case, it’s an incredible 18th century English oak dresser. I check the progress, sometimes spending some time myself doing a couple of hours’ colouring.
Some weeks ago, a recognizable AFL footballer in Melbourne entered the shop; his passion for antiques and the arts it seems were equivalent to mine. He longs to be shown a different way of life, a possible lead to a new career in the years to come.
Today is his first day of work experience with and by chance I am also quoting on some repairs at the Spanish Consulate.
We recently completed a dozen pieces for the consulate, including a 16th century carved Spanish icon. Repairing pieces such as these is very rewarding.
As often happens with international shipping, a lot of damage has been suffered during the journey and so I take him through, describing each piece and the repairs required as my new friend takes notes.
He still visits on his one day off each week and I always try to find something exciting to include him in; he, too, enjoys my customers and the interesting daily routine of the shop, where all sorts of people with stories to tell drop by.
We recently had a young man named Josh come for work experience from RMIT for two weeks. He had a passion for anything old and antique, so we enjoyed teaching him some basics — once again a rewarding experience.
When we make a sale in the shop it is usually quite enjoyable for both the customer and myself. Nine times out of ten the price is mentioned; haggling is not one of my favourite things. Usually a piece sells itself.
Talking about the continual enjoyment of having the piece in their home, the comments they will receive from friends and family, who will ask, “where did you get this is often the best way to go. How it will stand out among the often-modern surrounding décor and finish the room, entrance, etc becomes evident when it is delivered.
It’s always good to suggest that we try the piece in situ before concluding the sale, whether its furniture or art. If the customer is happy that the piece marries well with all his or her other possessions then it will more than likely stay and find a good home.
Dealers are funny about this sort of thing. They like their pieces to find good homes where they are treated well and then, if there is ever a problem, in years to come they might return and be recycled once more.
These are only but a few insights into my daily life. Other than my family and friends who I love dearly, I absolutely adore the antique trade; every day is different and offers a fresh set of challenges to surmount in what is a very interesting life journey.
Jamie Allpress, Guest Author, The Culture Concept Circle 2013
Jamie is a member of the Australian Antique & Art Dealer’s Association