showcasing the best of the south west

Robert Bradley Antiques: History, Romance & Beauty

Walking into Robert Bradley's beautiful antiques showroom near Salisbury is about as far from the Lovejoy experience as you can get. For a start here is a man with a lifelong passion for antique furniture which he has been collecting and dealing since the 1970s. The pieces in his collection are exquisite, stand out works of art in immaculate condition and, surprisingly, not all of them are inaffordable.

But it is when you begin talking to Robert that the furniture in his showroom comes alive and you begin to understand the history and romance which informs his passion. Take this beautiful 1720 lacquer secretaire (pictured below) which features a small writing desk at its heart. It is a reflection of the times, Robert says, when gentleman sat at their desks writing 10 or 20 letters a day, handing them to servants to be rushed out to the post.

The secretaire is a perfect example of kind of furniture which Robert looks for, classic but with a twist and always in faultless condition.

"It has classic architectural form with its plinth base and cornice but the madness comes in from imported panels of Chinese lacquer. They had a great taste for the orient in the 17th century.'

Robert travels constantly sourcing antiques but he will not buy unless something excites him. "I avoid the boring furniture,' he says.

"People say that brown furniture has gone out of fashion but actually when you are buying the very best pieces you are getting things which simply couldn't be made these days.'

He points to a huge, mahogany dining table with a shine so fierce I feel nervous to go anywhere near it. This is clearly meant for an altogether more elegant dinner party.

"That's £9,500 which is extraordinarily good value for what it is. I turned down 100 dining tables before I bought that one, it's perfect.'

"I buy charmed furniture,' he says, 'that has nice colour. If you don't have good colour or a sense of romance why on earth would you bother?'

Brown furniture, maybe, but it is all about the right brown, one that is ageing gracefully, without having been badly stripped and restored, one that reflects the changing light at different times of day.

The best antiques are life enhancing, he says, not simply beautiful but offering an insight into another age, a sense of both time and timelessness.

"Buying antiques is a like a form of time travel. By looking at a piece of furniture you understand so much about the thinking of the age. '

Always he is on the lookout for furniture which tells a story like this beautiful and very simple trunk, pictured below, a relic from the Dutch East India Company who gave their employees trunks of varying size depending on rank to ship home their valuables. This trunk, dating from 1724, would have been for the highest ranking official and is on sale for £6,500.

Or how about these wonderful mahogany hall chairs from 1740  (£4,250) decorated with crests and the place where visitors traditionally sat to take off their boots and wet outerclothes according to Robert.

For anyone serious about buying antiques, Robert Bradley's showroom holds untold treasures and quite a few surprises - a vast Chippendale bookcase (see pictured below) which he describes as "pure architecture", a pair of Corinthian columns from 1690 for an injection of grandeur, a mahogany wine cooler that would be perfect in a hall. The bookcase may cost £65,000 but there are there candlesticks, lamps, bowls and vases which cost no more than a trip round the Conran shop. I know which I'd prefer.

Much of Robert's business is with other antique dealers who put on their own mark ups and sell at shops throughout the country. And, for private clients in the know, there are bargains to be had.

These pieces are immaculately sourced and will always hold their value. But, Robert says, antique buying should never be simply about investment but more for the romance, history and pleasure in owning something rather beautiful.

Robert Bradley Antiques

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