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Thirty years of The Decorative Antiques Fair

For three decades, The Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair has set the standard for antiques in interior design. It was the first in the UK to showcase a ‘look’ for decorating. This autumn, the fair is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

Changes to the Fair since its launch in 1985 have reflected wider trends in interior design: the traditional ‘country house’ revival of the 1980s; the growing interest in painted French and Scandinavian furniture (which was not available at other fairs), and, later in the 1990s, the Fair opened its doors to mid-twentieth century design classics at the demand of a new generation of younger buyers. The last ten years have seen a surge of interest in industrial and architectural salvage, rustic country antiques and mid-century modern.

The Fair’s embarrassment of riches spans decorative and painted furniture, Art Deco and post-war modern design, lighting (from 18th century rococo chandeliers to modernist 60s wall lights), mirrors, textiles, rugs and kilims, upholstered and leather furniture, garden and outdoor furniture and ornament, It also caters for collectors of 17th to 20th century antiques and objects. But many would argue that what makes The Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair really special is the quirky and the unusual: its dealers have a great eye for spotting objects that work as decorative highlights in a home.

Among the most unusual items sold at the fair in recent years are:
• A curvaceous leather and chrome 1960s recliner used in a James Bond film, £15,000
• A group of 14 taxidermy ducks to a retail buyer from Milan, £1400
• A 1920s Pearly King’s coat with ribbons to map all the places the owner had collected for charities, earliest 1926, latest 1933. £1650.
• An important C15th stone bishop’s hat (probably from a large figure)
• A striking piece of metal wall art in the form of a pair of giant lips, c1970s, £1200

An early Decorative Fair

An early, pre-1990, Decorative Fair

Decorative Fair, first fair in Battersea

The first fair in Battersea Park, January 1997

The Decorative Fair at Hotel Russell 1989

A very early fair at the Hotel Russell in 1989. Big hair, big shoulder pads, and a maximalist stand presentation!

Decorative Fair in 1993, John Bird's stand

John Bird’s stand in the marquee at Chelsea Harbour, 1993

Decorative Fair catalogues

History of the Fair

Back in the 1980s, the design trade was looking for the more unusual sort of antiques that were rarely available at the major London antiques fairs, and Patricia Harvey, a dealer in decorative antiques, came up with the idea of giving decorators and designers everything they wanted under one roof.

From Kensington…

The first-ever Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair took place at London’s Kensington Hilton Hotel in September 1985.  Its marketing pitch – targeted at interior decorators and trade buyers – was something altogether new. There were 44 exhibitors selling fine and decorative antiques, textiles and art. None of the exhibitors specialised in post-war 20th century design. Most dealers at the time didn’t carry stock dating past 1930!

Amongst exhibitors were several dealers still trading today: Helen Linfield of Wakelin & Linfield, Joss Graham from his textile emporium at 10 Ecclestone Street (still his shop today), Robert Barley with ‘unusual decorative furniture and objects of all periods’, Robert Young, Jonathan Potter Ltd with antique maps and atlases (whose current shop in Marylebone is shortly moving to Bath), and Talisman Antiques.

In the introduction to the first catalogue,  Charles McCorquodale, author of The History of Interior Design (publ. 1983) said: “After the post-war period’s fascination with the ‘less is more’ aspects of avant-garde thinking on the domestic interior, the last decade has been distinguished by designers’ eagerness to evolve personal styles fluently combining old and new – a welcome eclecticism… adding to the impression that a room evolved with time and care rather than a few rapid visits to a department store.”

The Fair proved such a hit that a second annual edition was launched in March 1987, and ‘the Decorative’ soon became established on the international buyers’ map.  By September 1988 lots of private buyers were attending each event, as well as trade. Regent St, Hammersmith and Chelsea…

The Fair moved to the Café Royal, then the Novotel in London W6,  then to a purpose-built marquee at Chelsea Harbour – a riverside industrial area being developed into apartments and shopping areas since the late 1980s and which was to become home to the Design Centre. It was the first time a major, central London fair had been held in a tent!

…to Battersea – its present home

Due to further development of the Chelsea Harbour site, another new home was found in September 1993 – the marquee moved to the grounds of King’s College, opposite the north end of Lots Road. After the difficult economic interlude of the early 1990s, the economy seemed on the up again: exhibitor numbers reached 100. By the end of 1997, the Kings College site was being converted to luxury apartments, and the Fair moved once more, taking its marquee to Battersea Park, beginning a new tradition for events in that location. By 1998 the fair featured 140 exhibitors, and had settled into the pattern of three Fairs each year in January, April and September.

In September 1999, the foyer featured a special roomset designed by Nicholas Haslam and Mark Humphrey which set out ‘to demonstrate how successfully both modern and antique pieces can be used together to stunning effect’. A few 20th century dealers began to exhibit, like Fiona McDonald (a regular at the Fair today) and Plinth.  These days, there are  several dozen specialist 2oth century dealers, and it’s quite the norm for decorators to pair, for example, an 18th century painted dresser a with a 20th century industrial table.

Future dates

The Fairs are held in January, April and October. Over 140 dealers exhibit from the UK and Europe.

29 Sept-4 Oct 2015
19-24 Jan and 19-24 April 2016
The Marquee, Battersea Park, London, SW11
Tel: 00 44 (0) 20-7616 9327
For more information and free tickets visit



Down at the deVOL cabin

Paul O’Leary, owner of deVOL Kitchens, took an ugly old 40ft trailer carcass and transformed it into a beautiful cabin that sits right by the river Soar at deVOL’s Cotes Mill showrooms. Paul documented the whole journey in pictures and in writing, from the bare bones of the old curtain sider truck, right up to the beautifully finished little cabin complete with a mini deVOL Kitchen, a pristine little bathroom, large wooden deck and even an Esse wood burning stove. It really is an amazing transformation…

deVOL Cabin

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Toiles de Mayenne

Prêt à Vivre has teamed up with the French company Toiles de Mayenne and their beautiful fabrics are now available in the UK.  Toiles de Mayenne was founded in 1806, and (still independent) is one of the last remaining French weavers. The company offers a wide range of luxury fabrics in a varied palette of colours and textures, and is known particularly for its beautiful stripes.

Prêt à Vivre are offering a large part of Toiles de Mayenne’s current range of stripes and patterns plus their Trevira range. Any of the fabrics can be bought by the metre or made up into curtains and blinds.

Toiles de Mayenne striped fabrics

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Leather-clad balustrade by Topp & Co.

Bespoke architectural metalworkers Topp & Co. have recently completed this stunning 30 metre leather-clad balustrade for a house in Hampstead, North London.

Leather handrail by Topp & Co

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Kitchen chic with Waterworks

Waterworks – the luxury bathroom brand from the USA – is launching its kitchen brand with over 200 pieces that give customers unrivalled choice. Selected products are available from the King’s Road London showroom in advance of the retail space’s official opening in early autumn.

Waterworks kitchen

Henry high profile one-hole bar faucet with cross handle, £1,481
Kerr custom stainless steel farmhouse apron sink, £2,363
Keystone 3cm Danby honed raw slab, £912.88
District Modulus field tile, £485.

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Ochre’s new leather furniture

Ochre designs are born through intensive experimentation and research, but above all are guided by an instinctive love of material and a fascination with form. We prize a subtle glamour that emanates from innovative techniques, visceral patinas and handcrafted detail. It is with great pleasure that we introduce our 2015 collection.’

 Arctic Pear lamp by Ochre

Ochre‘s new Willow dining table is an oval interpretation of their Whippet table.  It has granite grey steel legs and a polished plaster top, and looks beautiful with their Sable dining chairs in hand-dyed leather and the Arctic Pear single wave chandelier.

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Skinflint’s vintage asylum lights

Among Skinflint Design‘s latest reclaimed and salvaged lighting are some intriguingly named ‘Asylum lights’. It turns out that they actually were used in a Victorian lunatic asylum in the Midlands, c1950…

If you had walked into a hospital ward sixty years ago you might well have seen lights like these  mounted above the beds. They are pictured here in the infamous derelict Cane Hill Lunatic Asylum poised over the beds or bent and broken hanging down the flaking paint of the water damaged walls.

Installed in the late 1950s their clean lines and elegant shape mean that they are now considered a classic of mid-century design, from a practical point of view the articulation of the arm and head enabled the bed and patient to be easily illuminated by the resident medical staff. Unfortunately many of these elegant lights were lost during 1980s refurbishment programs, simply discarded as being ‘old fashioned’ and ‘out of date’. They are now highly sought-after stylish collectors items, and make for beautiful wall mounted bedside lamps with a rather unusual history.

vintage asylum lights from Skinflint

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Tiny Houses

The theme of this year’s architectural salvage and reclaimed materials Salvo Fair is Tiny Salvaged Spaces, an exhibition of shepherd’s huts, summerhouses, reclaimed sheds and livings wagons. A fantastic display of various small buildings which could be used as garden offices, sleepover cabins, festival accommodation or places for relaxing will make a grand entrance to this year’s Salvo Fair.

Salvo Fair

This is the tin tabernacle which will be brought along by LASSCO Three Pigeons. Teaming up with Love Lane Caravans, they recreate these semi-permanent structures that were popular in Victorian Britain. With a steeply pitched roof, pierced carved gable ends above the rectangular hut, a central door to one long side, the interiors are often decorated with vintage wallpaper and can be fitted with beds, kitchens and a small dining area. The fittings and fixtures are created from salvaged sources. As it’s on wheels it it doesn’t require planning consent and you could move it to a new position every weekend!

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Bert’s Barges

Bert & May, known for their distinctive reclaimed and new tiles, have just launched Bert & May Spaces,  and Phase 1 is ‘Bert’s Barges’, in urban and country versions. This one, unveiled at the recent Clerkenwell Design Week, is their City Barge: the ultimate bachelor/bachelorette pad, providing the city dweller with a one bedroom luxury floating suite. With its matt black exterior and its Scandinavian style interior, the city barge creates the perfect blend of sophistication and simplicity. Made to order, it comes  complete with a hidden foldaway double bed for guest stays, and a spacious rooftop terrace for entertaining.

Bert & May barge

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An interview with John Stefanidis

John Stefanidis established his design practice in Chelsea in 1967, attracting a discerning international clientele with his carefully considered, vibrant and beautiful transformation of homes worldwide. He currently works on a consultancy basis and is passionate about cultivating his design blog, ‘The Developed Eye’. We were delighted to catch up with the peripatetic Stefanidis in his London home.

John Stefanidis

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