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Hints & Tips

Cracking Advice from Antique Expert

As a familiar face on the BBC Antiques Roadshow and co-presenter of the antiques and interior design show, Cracking Antiques, which aimed to inspire viewers to seek out style and glamour in vintage furnishings, antiques expert Mark Hill has a passion for all things Preloved.

We caught up with this dapper dealer to ask him why he believes looking to the past is the way forwards and the older ones to watch in the future.

What are your top three mid-century ones to watch – the next big things?7081084-951-300x400

Away from the top end Georgian, Victorian and earlier antiques, the mid-century modern market is still one of the fastest developing. Despite being quite expensive already, Postmodern pieces made during the 1980s & 90s designed by Ettore Sottsass, Alessandro Mendini and their peers, seem good value for what they are and represent. At the other end of the spectrum, 1950s-70s British mass-market furniture has the potential to grow even further as the look is appealing and supply is plentiful, but demand grows consistently. Look out for names like Lucian Ercolani at Ercol, and Ib Kofod-Larsen for G Plan. I also see a great future for postwar Czechoslovakian glass. Although the names seem strange to us today, the designs and quality are truly outstanding – and eye-poppingly gorgeous. Today, I see the area being where Murano or Scandinavian glass was two decades ago.

Any really good current bargains that have the potential to grow in value?

I’m keeping a very close eye on post-war British metalware. Look out for designers such as Gerald Benney, Stuart Devlin, and Robert Welch. If your budget doesn’t quite stretch to their works in silver or gold, many of them also produced ranges in stainless steel for the likes of Viner’s. Good examples, that are also practical to use, can still easily be found for under £30, and often much less.

How do you explain the current appeal of mid-century furniture and interior items?

It’s a clean, very easy to live with look that’s gentler on the eye and offers more comfort than cold and stark Minimalism. For the past few years Minimalism has affected the way we live, however, as we’ve been told to ‘chuck out our chintz’ and get rid of the clutter. But it’s all about fashion and a reaction to the past – both change over time. An eclectic country cottage or country house look was popular for decades before the 1990s, and I’m sure that the mix-and-match look will return as we ‘nest’ more during this recession and fill our homes with memorable and beautiful things we love and that make us smile. Maximalism is the new minimalism!

If money was no object, what would be your dream pieces of twentieth century antiques and why?

If money really was no object, it would be a house, even though that doesn’t strictly count as an ‘antique’ . I’d chose one of the fabulous mid-century modern pavilions around Palm Springs, or a Frank Lloyd Wright house nestling in a lush valley. Living in one of those surrounded by furniture from the period or, even better, made for it, would make my heart sing for the rest of my life.

Why do you believe vintage and antique pieces offer better value for money than their new equivalents?

I don’t just believe it – I know it. Unless you pay a considerable sum of money on the high street, you simply don’t get the quality that antiques and vintage items offer. Construction quality is typically superior, and pieces were made to last using solid woods that are largely unavailable today. Highly appealing and practical Victorian chests of drawers in solid mahogany can be found for as little as £300 today – try matching that on the high street. It’s also the ‘ green’ thing to do – my Cracking Antiques co-presenter Kathryn Rayward called it ‘the most glamorous form of recycling’ she knew. And it’s not just us, as thousands are signing up to the ‘Antiques Are Green‘ campaign.

Would you rather have £1000 to spend in a certain Swedish homewares superstore or £500 to spend on Preloved or at an auction?

Knowing the value I could get, I’d choose £500 at auction for sure. And it’s not just financial value either, but value in terms of history, quality and individuality. Pieces bought from out of town superstores just can’t offer you the wonderful memory of that perfect piece plumped for at a fair, a surprise stumbled upon whilst on holiday, or a treasure tracked down on a site like Preloved. Every November sees National Antiques Week, which celebrates the vintage, retro and antique, and makes buying easy and fun. This year hundreds of antiques shops, auction houses, fairs and websites across the country will be holding special events to help you buy the best – check out for more details.

How would you spend your £500 to give a room the real wow factor?

As it’s my home, I want it to make me go ‘wow’ before it makes anyone else do that. It’s not hard. I’d go to a large antiques fair, like those run by, or an auction and look for key objects that ‘shout out’ to me. A vintage poster, a couple of small side tables, a vintage sideboard, and a lamp would be my first targets. I’d also build up a small collection of something vibrant and colourful to catch the eye, say Murano or Czech glassware. Odd numbers united by a single theme such as colour work best, and as few as three pieces can create real impact. Thanks to the internet, I could also do the same from my armchair by browsing Preloved!

How can people give old furniture a stylish new lease of life?

Be bold, even though I personally prefer the natural and time-aged warmth of wood.  It’s better to paint a standard Victorian chest of drawers or a 1970s teak sideboard if you want to give it a modern make-over, rather than throw it on a tip. Plenty of professional interior decorators are doing exactly that. If you’re concerned you might be ruining a national treasure or a design icon, ask someone in the know first. Flick though some interior magazines and consider vibrant textiles as well as paint.

What’s the best find you’ve ever had and why?

Undoubtedly an unusual cased and cut glass bottle vase painted with abstract motifs, and rescued for £10 from a ‘bargain box’ outside a shop in Brighton. As soon as I saw it I knew it was something special due to the amount of work that went into making it. Unfortunately it was cracked, but I knew that I could never afford one in perfect condition. I’d also never seen one before. A few years later, I found it in a specialist publication – it was part of an eye-wateringly rare range made for the Czechoslovakian pavilion at the 1958 Brussels International Exposition. If it was in perfect condition, it could fetch up to £2,000 today, but it’s not the money that matters as it’ s something with a great history that I love.

Any trade secrets and top haggling tips we should know about?

Be polite when you’re haggling, as nobody ever got anywhere by being rude. Take cash to get the best deal, and don’t expect the ridiculous discounts you see on some TV programmes. Be realistic! Don’t forget that dealers work hard to earn a living, and they have bills and mortgages to pay too. We pay charges made by an accountant or a plumber, so why not an antique dealer?

You say antiques are for everyone – why?

Gone are the days when antiques were the preserve of stately homes and the wealthy. The market has changed enormously, and you really don’t need to be rich to own something retro, vintage or antique. As little as a fiver can buy you something to start with that’s also great fun. As these pieces were well made, and were made to be used, don’ t worry about using them in everyday life. They’ve lasted for decades or centuries of use, and will continue to do so. Affordable, fun to use, and plentiful – I think that fits the ‘for everyone’ bill perfectly!

Have you ever bought a real ersatz piece and kicked yourself later?

Yes, I have. Buying vintage, retro and antique items is like riding a bike or a horse – falling off is part of learning and we’ re bound to make mistakes. The most important thing is to learn from them and carry on.

If you could take just one piece from your home to a desert island, which would it be and why?

It would have to be that Czech bottle vase from 1958. Earlier in the year I visited Novy Bor, the town in the Czech Republic where it was made. Quite by accident, I was lucky enough to meet the lady who painted it back then when she was in her early twenties. So now the circle, from Novy Bor to Brighton and back again, is complete.

Is second hand sexy?

Yes! Who wants to follow the crowd and look like everyone else? Who wants to have a home that looks like your neighbours’ house, and their neighbours’ house up the street? Being boldly individual and showing your true character is certainly sexy. The only thing that’s stopping you is yourself.

Adele Gardner

Adele Gardner

Creative Writer

Adele is a creative writer for Preloved. She loves literature, travelling, baked goods and is always hunting for new music.