Design | To Buy Antiques in a Modern World

The term ‘antique’ is so frequently referred to in the world of interior design, but quite often, without a true sense of certainty as to its meaning. I have heard many people over the years who claim that, to be deemed an antique, the piece in question must be at least 100 years old, and vintage at least 20 years old. It is quite a widely accepted view, although conversely, purists will often cite the guidance from the UK’s trading standards which tells us that “there is no uniformly accepted definition of the term ‘antique’”. For me, strictness can spoil the fun that lies in antiques buying. So if I were to open this post with one piece of advice it would be to follow your heart. Let instinct guide you, not what you think you should like. And if it happens to be that it is Pre-Raphaelites, Georgian or Rococo then all the better.

The best place to begin your antique quest is to identify your location. It may be that you are based in Edinburgh and are not looking to travel too far. On the reverse, it might be that you are. You will need to set yourself some travel parameters so you do not find yourself overwhelmed with options of where to visit. Our studio is based in Wiltshire and so the places that we tend to frequent are in the south of the United Kingdom. The below advice though can be applied to wherever your location may be. Or it might perhaps tempt you into arranging a little antiques jaunt with a dear friend or family member.

Antique markets


There are a number of ways that you can go antiques hunting, from dedicated online websites or more general online auction sites to in-person locations. The two in particular that we will cover though are antiques markets and smaller shops.

Across the country, and indeed the world, there are dozens of antique markets taking place all year long. These are the places that the dealers themselves visit to purchase items to sell in their own shops and so it can be an excellent place to uncover a good deal. Additionally, the stock is moving all the time so there is a real treasure trove waiting to be discovered. Sunbury Antiques is one of my favourite markets to attend (more commonly referred to as simply ‘Kempton’). It has been in operation since 1979 and has over 700 stalls. It is certainly an impressive market where you can try your hand at haggling and have a bit of an adventure. Remember to take cash with you though as very few places accept credit cards. Then there is the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair at Battersea Park in London that takes place three times a year. It is quite possibly my number one place for antiques shopping. I would say that it is a fantastic place to visit whether you are new to the realm of antiques or well-seasoned, because you can have full faith that every dealer is reputable, that you can walk around in one day and see such an assortment all under one roof from bric-a-brac to high-end. It is such a great introduction to the world of antique buying. 

Antique shops

As much as I love the fast-paced frivolities and fun of antique markets, I am very much an advocator of purchasing antiques through smaller shops too. They give you much more certainty about provenance, especially if they are a registered member of the BADA (British Antique Dealers’ Association) which is something I always look out for. They set the standard for trading in the antiques business and they are the authority for authenticity. Shops also offer a more personal experience. At Sims Hilditch, we have a number of specialist antique shops with whom we work closely. Typically, we would visit a few with our clients to help guide them to the antiques that would most complement their interior in terms of style and scale as it can be a bit of an art making old and new come together in perfect symphony. Two of my go-to districts will always be London’s Pimlico Road and Tetbury in the Cotswolds. In particular, Lorfords in Tetbury. They now also have an incredible out-of-town warehouse that is a former aeroplane hangar where a whole host of representatives come together to exhibit their antique wares from 18th century to mid-century modern. But do remember, you should be less expectant to barter in shops. Be mindful of the fact that they will of course have overheads and so price reduction is not a guarantee like is it at the fairs.

A few other tips


Once you have decided how wide you wish to cast your net, and with a decision made on fairs versus shops, there are a couple of other tips that might be helpful to consider. Let us start with artwork. When you begin your antiques shopping, remember that your room is a 3D space, not a floor plan. You need to be recognisant of the walls and ceilings as well as the floor. So be sure to look out for artwork and accessories that can occupy bookcases, and lighting too. Trainspotters is a fun website that specialises in reclamation as opposed to antiques. They have some rather fun Czech sawmill lights at the moment that, used wisely, could work superbly.

Cost is another factor to contemplate. I would say it is best to be open-minded about what to expect as you can often be very surprised at what you can get. Of course, a mahogany drop-leaf table that seats 18 will not be such a bargain but smaller items often are. Have a budget in mind before you go and stick to it.

It is also worth remembering that antiques are not for everyone. Instead replicas can be made that have never been used before but can mimic the styles of pre-loved pieces. We work with a fantastic cabinet maker who specialises in creating antique-style furniture that is brand-new and yet has such an old heart.

Antiques are a way to add real gravitas and depth to an interior. They embody a sense of history and heritage that help a home to tell a story. At Sims Hilditch we care so very deeply about dispelling the fear that may often deter people from buying antiques. We believe that antique buying is something that everybody should have the courage to engage with. This slow and steady return to ‘brown furniture’ (a term often used to describe wooden antiques) is something to celebrate. 

So remember, start small, let your choices come naturally and buy something that you love.

Happy shopping.


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