Edward Hurst has just returned from hanging damasks at St Giles House, the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury’s family seat which, until recently, had stood empty for 50 years.
Nick Ashley-Cooper, the 34 year old Earl, is slowly putting the house back together with the help of Edward, antique dealer and interior consultant, who has been rummaging through stables and boxes, in his element, as he unearths some astonishing finds.
“It has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever worked on. We have made some incredible discoveries.’
You can tell within moments of talking to him that the interior of beautiful 17th century St Giles House is going to be extraordinary. The project seems to comprise some of Edward’s favourite things – beauty, yes, but with a strong element of quirkiness and rule breaking.
He says: “We managed to hang onto a bit of the Miss Havisham quality… some of the house is being left in a semi deconstructed state so it will look like a theatre setting. It’s very good.’
The library at St Giles
In one room an old mirror had been taken down and sold leaving two pieces of gilt stuck on the wall and a perfect imprint of the mirror. Instead of sourcing another mirror or papering over the mark, Edward decided to leave it, a kind of trompe l’oeil effect to be celebrated. For someone who has been passionate about antiques since childhood, the restoration of St Giles must be a dream job.
By 14, he was trawling local markets for unusual objects to sell and he became a partner an antique shop in Oxfordshire the moment he left school.
He says: ‘Back then it was the whole time travel element .You could hold something in your hand and think what has happened to this and who designed it. I’d be sitting in a chair aged six or eight shutting my eyes, pretending that I could dream its history.”
He points to a dusky gilt mirror leaning against one wall of his study.
“The gilt is very good though a little worn and the plate is original so you are looking into a mirror that someone else looked into in 1825 and I find that an irresistible idea. It’s a bit like Dr Who - I think that is what draws me into it.’
Though antique dealing remains his life blood – especially the thrill of the chase, finding something truly special – he now spends an equal amount of time consulting on interiors. He is currently overseeing the complete renovation of a Russian art collector's 18th century house in collaboration with opera set designer Patrick Kinmonth, mixing Chapman brothers art with exquisite 17th and 18th century furniture.
“If you had asked me even 5 years ago if I could see myself ever choosing paint colours and fabrics then I would probably have said, no. But it’s difficult to be just an antiques dealer these days, the market has contracted and become much more discerning which is a good thing I think.’
Several years ago Jasper Conran walked into Edward’s showroom in Coombe Bissett, a former chicken shed near Salisbury and bought up almost everything in sight, even loading up pieces Edward had been saving for an antiques fair into the back of his Bentley.
It turned out to be a fortuitous meeting of minds. Conran had just bought Ven House in Somerset, a stunning Grade 1 listed Georgian manor house and asked Edward to help him restore it.
‘My first impression of Ven was that it was quite garish and needed to be put back to sleep. It had been flashed up by successive owners and needed to be pulled right back. Luckily Jasper agreed., he didn’t want a homogenised interior decorator’s look. So we put the charm back in which can be really quite difficult.’
To have simply returned Ven to its full 18th century glory would have been too lacklustre for Jasper and Edward who share a strong aesethic and a love of the offbeat. And so there’s an enormous 18th century painting of a racehorse, gold damask wallpaper, a vast chandelier sourced in a French flea market. The overall effect, while strikingly beautiful, is that this is a home to be lived in.
Edward’s Georgian farmhouse in Dorset, is the same; stand out pieces of furniture on every turn yet each room feels warm and inviting, a book lined study with a roaring fire, a terracotta coloured dining room, a deep grey dressing room with a beautiful armoire – and, of course, occasional flashes of madness.
Edward still follows the same buying principles he set out with – if something really excites him and he craves it for himself, then he buys it.
A slightly bonkers bronze clock from 1750, a bizarre lapdog, in fact, with a clock in its mouth, stands in pride of place in the Hurst’s bedroom
‘Look at it,’ says Edward. “It’s almost hideous. It’s as if someone said can you shut that f***ing dog up and slung a clock into its mouth. It’s completely unique and near awful. It breaks several rules at once.’
And this, I guess, kind of sums up Edward Hurst, a consummate rule breaker with a lifelong passion for beauty in its most unique form.