On Tuesday 23 May, we are pleased to present our auction 'Guinevere: 60 Years on the King's Road', offering decorative furniture and works of art from the beloved antique dealers 'Guinevere', located on London's famous King's Road. As we build up to this very special auction, the team at Guinevere look back at its history since it first opened in 1963, on becoming the go-to destination for wonderful antiques and one-off works from around the globe, and catching the eye of collectors and celebrities alike.
This special sale marks 60 years of our presence on the King’s Road and an important milestone in the history of perhaps London’s most beloved and venerable antiques emporium. As we prepare for the next chapter of the business, we wanted to celebrate all we’ve achieved during the past six decades.
For those who haven’t ventured into the enticing warren of interconnected shops, Guinevere Antiques is a mecca for interior designers internationally and those interested in art and antiques. It’s a must visit stop on the international Grand Tour of modern times and an establishment name. But Guinevere is also a story about the vision of a talented and headstrong Frenchwoman arriving in the post-war austerity London of bad food, toxic fog and a weary populace.
Our founder, my mother Genevieve, married an Englishman and settled down to raise a family on Portobello Road. It wasn’t long before she was caught up in the infectious enthusiasm of the antiques trade operating on her doorstep. Although she had no formal training, she had a natural flair for design from her time as a milliner and could instantly spot something that was inherently good. In 1963, she decided to open an antique shop and found one for £4 a week in the unfashionable end of the King's Road – Fulham, not Chelsea.
Genevieve started with painted pine chests of drawers, which she stripped and sold on the forecourt to emerging homemakers in a reviving London. Her timing captured the zeitgeist: the stripped pine boom of the late 60s and 70s coincided with a resurgent consciousness of design at home, swinging to the beat of cultural revolution on the streets. Antiques stopped being the preserve of the wealthy collector and the design and interiors magazines of the day eschewed the traditional pastiche of a mahogany-filled drawing room for brighter, forward-looking homes.
With an unrestricted taste and eye, Genevieve searched for the unusual and provocative, driving her van around England and France. She brought great French provincial furniture back to the Kings Road, often selling on to American dealers and designers who soon had Guinevere down as their first port of call.
A period of quick expansion followed: Genevieve bought neighbouring shops to make it four in a row. In search of eclectic antiques to fill the expansive space, Genevieve travelled to India, Singapore, Hong Kong and the USA. We became known for our inventory of juxtapositions: old with new, East with West, grand with modest.
Marc and I joined “the firm” in the early 80s and were quickly caught up in the hustle and bustle of early morning markets, auction houses, unloading trucks and dealing with the furious pace of activity. Genevieve gave us free rein to make our own mistakes, and although she was never demonstrative with praise, you knew if you had bought (and sold) well.
What made us stand out were two attributes: the melange of what we were buying and our unique presentation. These principles remain with us today. Everything that we buy must have visual appeal, originality of design and quality of manufacture. Our presentation follows the same ideals: it draws on influences, certainly, but with our own irreverent treatment which is unconstrained by convention.
Heather had joined the Guinevere team in the late 1980s and married Marc a few years later. She infused the company with professionalism, looking after clients properly and adding interior design qualities to our repertoire. Heather transformed our textile department, expanding the range of antique dhurries and developing a bespoke design service. She also introduced a range of lampshades made from vintage fabrics; these have become a mainstay of Guinevere today.
By the 1990s, Genevieve had taken a back seat at Guinevere and let Marc and I run the business. She was still avidly interested in travelling and sourcing antiques, as well as creating theatrical, eye-popping stands at the Olympia Art and Antiques Fair. Genevieve passed away on a plane to Hong Kong in 2000, while traveling with myself and her partner, John, on a buying trip where we planned to visit a re-awakening mainland China in search of the spectacular. She died with her boots on, as they say.
The fabulous Dean joined us 20 years ago and his experience of styling completed our development into a 21st century antiques Wunderkammer. Visual presentation courses through his veins and he often says that he lies awake at night dreaming up the next window transformation. Vitally for us, Dean can swiftly sift through a plethora of incoming pieces of divergent eras, cultures and scales and conjure up three-dimensional masterpieces with the results.
Marc and I have run and developed Guinevere Antiques, staying true to the ideals established by Genevieve. The proof of our success has been in our longevity: we have remained on the King's Road while similar dealerships have long gone, moved online, or downsized. There are no shops like Guinevere around today and the time has come for us to plan a new future. However, we like a celebration, or an excuse for a party, and we’ve had many in our long history. Our 60th year on the King's Road is a fitting occasion to pause and reflect, while letting the marvellous Dreweatts run amok with their pick of our best pieces - both old, new, important and frivolous - to put together this celebratory auction, and to appropriately acknowledge the end of an era.
Highlights of the auction include: the best tapestry we ever had - a historical Brussels masterpiece dating from 1570 depicting Hannibal escaping entrapment by the Romans; a stunning Italian Art Deco parchment sideboard with marquetry inlays depicting scenes from Greek Mythology; some jaw dropping antique dhurries; a complete Indian carved sandstone window and surround, looking like it just popped over from Jaipur; and acres of lamps, bejewelled photo frames and coloured glass boxes. In summary, the extravagant, the opulent and the simply gorgeous.
We hope that, with this auction, we can share some of the symbols of the wonderful era of Guinevere with old friends and new.
Tuesday 23 May, 10.30am BST
Donnington Priory, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2JE
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