A CUP OF TEA WITH ANTIQUES BUYER ELIZABETH FELL
I follow a lot of antiques heads on twitter and randomly came across Elizabeth Fell. Elizabeth interested me as she wasn't a dealer, but rather an advisor and buyer to private clients, something I'm very interested in myself. Last week I headed over to Battersea Park to meet with Elizabeth at the antiques and textiles decorative fair to have a cup of tea and pick her brains about the life of an antiques buyer!
Do you remember when you fell in love with antiques?
Yes I remember it well! I did an arts history degree at university, and I had to do a year's work placement in an arts related field. I chose to get any work I could in the same city that my now husband was, so I worked at an auctioneers for a year. I went in there with no knowledge whatsoever and left an antiques dealer.
How did you start your business?
I spent my whole last year at uni buying antiques and shipping them back to my parents in Suffolk and selling them. I finished my degree and I had 3 units in East Anglia and some in Oxfordshire to sell antiques whilst still doing the odd job for the auctioneers. I started out as a dealer and then after moving to London and having my children I wanted something that would fit more around my home and family life so I moved into the world of buying, using my experience and contacts as a dealer. I set the business up to gain ultimate flexibility. I'm a mother first and work comes second!
What's an average day like for you?
There is no average day! On a Kempton day (well known antiques market at Kempton Raceground) I'll be up at 6am stomping about in my wellies, then another day could be more relaxed, working from home and doing lots online. This morning I've organised a delivery and having meetings here at the Decorative Fair.
Are you a fan of online auction sites like eBay?
Yes I use them a lot, especially the US version. I won't leave my kitchen until I know I've found the right product. I don't want to spend my time and the client's money driving to see objects if they might not turn out to be right. I'll ask the seller for loads of photos and talk to the seller as much as I can about the item before I go to see or buy it. The honesty between dealers is key to learning about products and it helps to keep your knowledge fresh. Standing with a dealer and turning a piece upside down and lifting the top off to say 'well I think this could be 1830' and he will say 'well, maybe not as if you notice this...' really helps to learn loads about the products and make sure that you are constantly remembering information!
What kind of objects do clients want?
The look that a lot of people wants is blonde, painted, effortless, sometimes bit 'crusty'. I try to buy specifically off-trend, as that's where you can find bargains for clients. I'll try and encourage them to buy something like 18th century oak furniture as it will come back into fashion one day and then they will have an item of real value. Then I show them how to use these pieces alongside a modern home or pieces that are more trend led. Trends come and go so it's likely to come back around.
Are clients looking for investment pieces then?
Definitely. Sometimes that's part of the original remit, and I can't promise it but as a general rule it won't end up being worth nothing like flatpack furniture does. It will have a resale value.
What is 'on trend' right now?
Bleached wood, bleached Oak. Things that look a bit like they are peeling off. 1930s treacly varnish that has been rubbed back. They look great but they have been made to look very 'now' so might not hold value as much as an antique in its original condition. Stuffed things, taxidermy, a gentlemen's library look, 20th century things... It's not so much about a time period or movement that will be in trend but more of the look. I struggle with items that are poorly made. For that reason I'm not really a fan of Clarice Cliff!
Any tips on what to buy at the moment?
Arts and crafts have some really well made pieces that are going for cheap at the moment. Gothic revival pieces too. You need to look a bit deeper and perhaps pay a little more to get an item from a specific movement. If there are pieces from a certain period or style that you can nail down to a ten year gap then you've got yourself a antique that will be worth something in the future.
Where do you source items?
I specialise in going outside of London and across the UK. It opens me and my clients up to things that can't really be found in London. I give them three options, low value, medium and a stretch value and then they make the decision as to what they want to go for. Thesaleroom.com is a great site, you can set up alerts for the things that you are looking for and it will show you anything that's coming up for auction in the next few weeks. It's amazing.
What inspires you?
I Love 18th century British furniture. I'm passionate about Chippendale. Proper Chippendale is enough to make me weep! I recently got in trouble with my kids and they nearly disowned me when we visited the Brighton Pavilion. I saw a piece that I loved and I said 'I could lick that'. They were like 'God mum, that's it, you've gone too far'! I really love that period. I have books and books about it. When my friend comes over to buy it I follow him around like a puppy.
Do most dealers have a certain movement or period that they love?
Much more people here are more about the 'look'. I love coming to the exhibitions as every stand has a really distinct look and it can be very inspiring to walk around and take photos and go home with some new ideas.
What's your own house like?
It's not as full of antiques as I'd like! My own house is a Victorian semi in South London. It's a mix of both modern and antique items. Our bed is modern for example, as we couldn't find an old one that was big enough. I did have to stand outside the shop as my husband went inside to get it though, as I couldn't watch! I've got a modern kitchen with a refectory table and 18th century chairs. I buy single chairs as I the full sets are too expensive. Sometimes I'll buy things that are a bit broken but are in the shapes or materials that I love and then fix them up a bit. I've got things that we did sort of break the bank for, like my kitchen dresser. It isn't the best one in the world but we bought it when we were young and it was all of the money we had, and then some! But it's in my kitchen every day and is so ingrained in family life. My kids take their plates off of it every morning. It lifts my spirits daily. Things like my car which we spent way more on, don't!
Are your children interested in antiques?
They have recently got into buying and selling antiques or old things. They'll buy a tin of marbles and then split them into smaller lots and sell them, and they are learning a lot about the value of money. They have to work out the postage and the effort it takes and will maybe then realise that they shouldn't then spend all of that money on a dress at Topshop. It's great that they are learning about the value of things.
If you could have any antique item or object in the world, what would it be?
I sold a painting probably 20 years ago that was £1000. If it came up for sale again now I'd buy it in an instant but I couldn't afford it at the time. Looking back now I should have done anything to have it, I should have sold my car! I really regret it. At the time I thought it was out of my league but I really regret it. I've never met anyone who has regretted buying an antique. It was a Swedish interior painting, looking through a doorway. It was big, beautifully painted and airy and light. It's absolutely seared into my mind! It would have made my life a little better each day. I still look for it online!