On Tuesday 23 May, Dreweatts hosts the auction 'Guinevere: 60 Years on the King's Road'. Spanning four shop fronts at the western end of London’s famed King’s Road, Guinevere is a fixture of the antique and design world. It is quite an achievement to stay at the forefront of an industry governed by the shifting sands of taste and fashion, yet for 60 years, Guinevere has created an alchemic recipe of continuity and change to maintain its position as the place to go for intriguing objects of the highest quality.
Guinevere was founded by Genevieve Weaver, who came to London from Normandy in the early 1950s to pursue her career as a hat designer and fell in love with the son of her English teacher. With two children – her sons Marc and Kevin now run the business – the family settled in Chelsea where in 1963 Genevieve, seeking a change from millinery, decided to open an antiques shop.
Her interest had started when she bought a Spanish table in the late 1950s and discovered that, unlike more modern pieces, its value increased when she sold it. Genevieve found premises at what was then the less fashionable quarter of Chelsea, initially selling simple pine pieces. She was fortunate to acquire, for just £140 pounds, the entire contents of a London workhouse, which she restored and sold, allowing her to acquire further stock. The premises were renovated, transformed by Genevieve using wrapping paper on the walls, a white vinyl floor and examples of furniture and decorative arts, beautifully restored and displayed.
Guinevere’s pioneering approach to selling antiques meant it quickly became a place for the fashionable trend setters of the 1960s to decorate their homes. As Genevieve recalled some of the icons of the sixties such as Mick Jagger and Jean Shrimpton regularly visited: “Some of the glamour they brought with them began to rub off on us, and the name Guinevere became synonymous, not so much with antiques as with antiques with attitude”.
Genevieve undertook intrepid sourcing trips around the country, uncovering everything from Jacobean oak furniture to French commodes. As the shop grew so too did the range of those journeys, bringing back exquisite works from India, China, Pakistan, Thailand and Singapore. This unexpected, international mix was a ground-breaking approach and one of the keys to the enduring success of Guinevere, which changed how antiques were perceived. Different eras, makers and styles were combined in a manner that showed that antiques and artworks should be enjoyed and lived with. Buyers came from around the world to see what rare and unusual pieces Genevieve had found. They were only ever things that appealed to her – she famously observed “if something was ugly in the 19th century, it’ll be ugly now.”
~ Genevieve Weaver
Guinevere thrived, expanding to encompass the neighbouring premises it still occupies. Genevieve’s sons both came to join the business, as Kevin remembers: “My mother… was our mentor and teacher in this business. She showed me that good taste can be learned, but style is something you are born with.” Sometimes the lessons were more practical, as Marc recalls of his introduction to the business at the age of 20: “I was not doing anything except having a good time, and my mother suggested, rather uncompromisingly, that I could either work or get out. She did, however, offer me work scrubbing pine furniture outside. Eventually I was allowed to help in the shop and, well, the rest is history.”
When Genevieve passed away in 2000, Kevin and Marc, together with Heather, Marc’s wife, were running the business. They maintained the renowned combination of originality and unconventionality, making Guinevere the place to discover that perfect piece. It is a regular stop for interior designers and celebrities, from Gwyneth Paltrow to fashion designer Valentino, who once observed: “I own so many items from Guinevere I can now open my own shop.”
~ Genevieve Weaver
Lighting, furniture, textiles, decorative arts and contemporary works combine in the King’s Road premises, all displayed with the company’s signature flair and style. The late Sir David Tang, another of the company’s regular clients, recalled: “The Guinevere windows have always been irritatingly titillating for passing cars. So many times I had passed them and regretted not having stopped. Therefore, one day 20 years ago, I forced myself to stop, and made an effort to get out of my car to go and see what the shop was all about. What I discovered was an Aladdin’s cave. Not one vase, but 20 of them; not one obelisk, but columns of them, and not a couple of decanters, but a whole room full of them…” This tradition continues with in-house stylist Dean Robinson responsible for exuberant and flamboyant displays.
After six decades at the forefront of interior design, this curated sale is a celebration of all that this family run business has achieved. As Marc explains: “It would be impossible to let our anniversary pass without a celebration. For us this means an auction, a big party and a chance to reflect on the past and consider what lies ahead.”
The works offered distills the essence of what has made Guinevere so successful – intriguing pieces of the highest calibre, selected for their character and interest. Dates range from the 1960s to the 1500s with everything from picture frames to portrait busts, contemporary chairs to pietra dure console tables. That Guinevere touch is epitomised by the seamless juxtaposition of a 16th century Flemish tapestry depicting scenes from the life of the Carthaginian general Hannibal with a 1940s Italian sideboard by Paolo Buffa with marquetry work and inlaid vellum depicting scenes from Homer.
This auction also marks a change as Guinevere adapts to the opportunities and demands of the future. Although it by no means signals the end of the company, it is the last chance to buy from the Guinevere shop that has been held in such affection. It is a chance that should not be missed. As Genevieve herself said: “If you see something you absolutely love, then you should buy it – for the simple reason you
might never find it again”.
Tuesday 23 May, 10.30am BST
Donnington Priory, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2JE
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