Decorative Arts in Prague

Most of the ‘antiques’ shops in the centre of Prague close over the weekend, with the exception of the higher priced shops, and those in the Old City. That makes it the perfect time to go museum hopping and enjoy the fantastic and unparalleled array of Art Nouveau architecture that the city has to offer. By the time you board your plane home, your neck will be grateful for the headrest on the seat as you’ll spend most of your time looking upwards at the incredible architecture above the shops, all now fully restored after the fall of Communism in 1989. Act like a local, and just walk around stopping periodically for coffee or their delicious light Pilsner beer. First stop has to be the Municipal House, an Art Nouveau and Secessionist palace for the people. Selected rooms are open for a ‘walk-in-and-see’ experience, but there’s also a guided tour at 1pm which came highly recommended. Book early in the day on the day as, by the time we arrived at midday, it was fully booked. Paying a …

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Vintage Glass Hunting in Prague

A city centre with a shop selling glass on pretty much every street sounds like heaven for the glass collector. Not so, I wouldn’t give a second glance, let alone house room, to 90% of the cheap trash on offer! Apart from pieces by Moser or similar factories, and pieces sold at the swish Material or Artel, that is. They’re well worth checking out. If you’re looking, like me, for a quality piece of a vintage nature, then you have to look a bit harder. The tourist ridden Old Town (Praha 1) is a sensible starting point. Unsurprisingly, prices will be higher than anywhere else in the city, but it’s always worth bartering politely with cash – start at around a third less. Most tourist guides recommend Bric à Brac at Tynska 7 – there are two shops, one large and long emporium and one delightfully packed over-sized cupboard. I spotted a few good-ish things here, but prices were at the top end of what I’d want to pay in London. It’s also well …

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I’m an enormous fan of 20thC studio ceramics – and not just those produced in Britain. Studio potters in Germany and the Netherlands also produced some ground-breaking, important and strongly appealing work too. With this in mind, I was excited to read an email from Marcel Brouwer today. Marcel, who ran the Design department at Christie’s in Amsterdam for a decade, is now associated with an innovative new auction house called Gavelers. His first auction is of a large and important private collection of European studio pottery – you can view it by clicking here. Potters whose works are up for auction include world-renowned names such as Bernard, Janet and David Leach, Alison Britton, Karl & Ursula Scheid,  Nicholas Homoky, Wouter Dam, Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie, Richard Batterham, Beate Kuhn, and Richard Bampi. Estimates range from around €150-2,000, and the auction itself takes place in Rotterdam on 22nd June.

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Antiques In Sunny Cambridge

The fabulous sun this weekend meant that it was clearly too warm and welcoming to spend any time indoors. Sitting under a willow by a river seemed like a good (and cool) idea, so off we went to Cambridge to sit alongside the Isis in the picturesque college environs. On the way into town from the station, I stumbled across two rather good little antiques centres on Gwydir Road, off Mill Road. It would have been churlish not to pop in, just for a few minutes… The Hive Antiques, run by the friendly and enthusiastic Patty, was my first stop. Although it seems small, it’s packed with such an enormous variety , you’re sure to find something interesting. Everything from antique rugs, ceramics, glass, flatware and lighting can be found, with a dash of furniture at the back for good measure. I found their selection of 17th-19thC carved wood panels, many of an ecclesiastical nature, particularly fascinating. Prices ranged from around £40 upwards, with the best costing a couple of hundred. I opted to buy a …

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Antiques Roadshow in Beverley Minster

I’ve just got back from my second Antiques Roadshow of the season, at Beverley Minster in the East Riding of Yorkshire. I’ve never attended a Roadshow in a church before, and what a stunning first time it was – the Minster is truly breathtaking. Only if I had time to enjoy it properly though, as the day was as busy and fun-filled as I’ve come to expect. Thousands of people attended, forming an orderly queue from 6am onwards, meaning that pieces were still being looked at at gone 7pm! I didn’t film anything this time, but one thing I did see stuck firmly in my mind. This diminutive teddy bear (above) has quite a story behind him. Miniature bears are usually associated with Schuco or Steiff, but this bear was made in England, most probably by Farnell. Known as ‘soldier bears’, they were produced during World War One in this traditional mohair colour, as well as patriotic red, white or blue mohairs. They were given to young soldiers by their sweethearts or families, to wish them luck and remind them …

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Cracking Shopping Sources No.6

Well, in the words of Warner Bros – ‘That’s All Folks!’. Last night saw the final episode of the first series of ‘Cracking Antiques’, where we helped Roy and Katy create a mid-century modern style living room for their 1950s bungalow. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds, even with a budget of around £2,500, as this look is incredibly fashionable and popular now and prices can be high. Not only that, but Roy also had some particularly strong feelings about the sofa that needed to replace his much-loved (and much stained!) trusty old friends. Thankfully, his wife Katy saw the light! We began by travelling to colourful Margate to visit the marvellous Junk Deluxe. Owner Benjamin sources all his stock himself, and travels extensively. In my opinion, prices are incredibly competitive, and Benjamin prides himself on ensuring they’re as close to ‘trade’ prices as possible. After hunting around the labyrinthine rooms, we found a super 1970s leather ‘Falcon’ style chair, similar to those by Norwegian Sigurd Ressell, and a perfectly sized modular wall storage system …

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Retro & Vintage Hunting in Berlin

I’m writing this a little later than planned, but of course I couldn’t visit Berlin (or anywhere, indeed) without having a quick hunt for some new treasures. As time was a little tight on last weekend’s visit, I only had time to visit the excellent flea market at Strasse des 17 Juni, near the S-bahn station at Tiergarten. I arrived nice and early, just as stallholders were finishing laying their goods out. As usual, a quick recce told me I could have spent hundreds of pounds on the many bargains there, but the fact I don’t have hundreds of pounds, and only had limited luggage space left, meant that I couldn’t. So I limited myself to two pieces, the first shown here. It was designed by Petr Hora for Skrdlovice, and the spidery, root-like design is executed in pinky-violet and white glass that contrasts strongly against the amber. Skrdlovice pattern numbers are useful, as they identify the year when the design was produced. A quick hunt through my reference books revealed this to be pattern number 8317. The first two …

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National Glass Fair in Birmingham

Today was spent at the excellent National Glass Fair in the Motocycle Museum, just outside Birmingham. Organised by the innovative and impressive Oxbridge Fairs, this is perhaps their largest and busiest event, with three large rooms packed with over 100 dealers offering glass from the 17th-21st centuries. This time around, a friend had suggested that I ‘tweet‘ about what I saw there as I walked around the fair. Organisers Paul and Christina loved the idea, so off I went. There was plenty to tweet about with fantastic dealers such as Andrew Lineham, Mike Moir, Peter Elliott, Danny Walker, and Duncan Robinson all present. One of my favourite items was this Sèvres ‘Jade’ hand-carved cameo glass vase. Produced c1900, it just shouts about the Art Nouveau style of the day with its clear inspiration from nature in the curving lines of the leafy plant and the colours. There’s also a strong Chinese feel to it too, most noticeably on the rim. I didn’t have time for much more than half a …

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Cracking Shopping Sources No.5

Well it seems that all of you who tore yourselves away from the election coverage loved last night’s penultimate episode of Cracking Antiques – thank you for watching! Charlotte and David had the largest house and the largest budget of the series, so we could really go to town in equipping their Georgian dining room with suitable furniture and accessories. Following the ‘Cracking Antiques’ way, we weren’t slavish to the Georgian style, and added Victorian and Edwardian furniture to the mix, and we even managed to sneak in some 1950s-60s Italian glass display goblets and a Webb Art Deco decanter too! Thankfully, they were delighted with the overall look, which we think really works. So for those of you who want to know where we went, here goes. The furniture was sourced from the excellent Bushwood Antiques near Hemel Hempstead, run by the incredible Tony Bush. Bushwood is one of the largest and best places to source antique furniture in the country, with literally thousands and thousands of pieces on offer across three huge warehouses. Make the journey, …

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Grand Designs Awards Dinner

I’ve just got back from Grand Designs Live at the Excel centre, where I was signing Cracking Antiques books with Kathryn this afternoon. Kathryn had given a seminar on incorporating retro furniture in interior design, together with eco-designer Oliver Heath and Wayne Hemingway, the design connoisseur and founder of ‘Red Or Dead’. We were also lucky enough to be invited to the very grand dinner and awards ceremony in the evening, and this picture of Oliver, Kathryn and I was taken as we were going in. As ever, I look a little crazed whilst everyone else looks perfectly charming. You can see more of the other invitees here. As well as a delicious dinner prepared by Leiths, speeches from Kevin McCloud and others, I had a lovely chat with the lovely Linda Barker and her husband, who were sitting on one side of me. Lively and amusing conversation flowed easily, and we covered everything from interior design, to retro design, to people we both know in …

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Taking a Trabant Safari

After my visit to the DDR Museum, I tailed off my taste of Communist Germany by driving an original Trabant across the city with Trabi Safari. All I can say is – brilliant! Such fun, and such a ‘unique‘ car! Once you’ve got over the smell the special oil and petrol mix creates, and the noise of the two-stroke engine, and the shaking, and learnt how to use the gears, and learnt that braking requires quite some effort, it’s super fun. To be completely authentic, we chose an original light blue version, rather than the revamped versions painted with leopard spots. Apart from wholeheartedly recommending it, my only tip is that traffic is best managed in second gear, even though everything runs so much smoother and quieter in third gear. Despite being slightly ‘eccentric’, Trabants are quite drivable and are also very forgiving. My only complaint is that they weren’t designed for people over six foot in height, causing me to hunch over the steering wheel like a cartoon character. The trip lasts around an hour …

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DDR Museum & Communist Design

I’m spending this weekend in Berlin, a city I always find inspiring and fascinating to visit. There’s an edgy, progressive feel to the place, nowhere more so than within the contemporary art scene, which is truly ‘world class’. I’m also incredibly fond of design produced under the Communist regime, and love staying in parts of old East Berlin, such as Mitte. This time I managed to find a gap in my schedule to visit the DDR Museum. To be honest, I was a little shocked at how small it was, but don’t let that fool you – I spent a good three hours here perusing the every day objects found in the many cabinets. Quite a few of the objects looked incredibly fashionable and stylish, in a superb 1950s-60s way. But it’s important to realise that after the 1960s, most design pretty much stalled, so the same old designs continued to be produced into the 1980s. Progressive in their day, but no progression afterwards. Quality also often deteriorated and, later on, an all-pervasive very cheap feeling …

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