Looking At Furniture, Issue 45

Clinton Howell Antiques - February 19, 2019 - Issue 45

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts

I learned recently that two of the London English furniture dealers that I knew for a great length of time, Bernard Apter and Stewart Whittington, had died. Stewart was a director of Norman Adams Antiques, which was located on Hans Rd., right next to Harrods in Knightsbridge. It was a lovely shop of two rooms with a basement (all English furniture shops had stairs to climb, often multiple flights, and they were often quite awkward to navigate--one could say it was part of the charm of the shop, but for the dealer who was responsible for getting furniture up and down these torturous pathways, it was, I can assure you, rough on the back and occasionally rough on the furniture). The shop had large plate glass windows that allowed a view of most of the important furniture that was on display. But Norman Adams furniture was about quality, it wasn't really about flash. It was about a sense of being right, not about flamboyance. Stewart and Christopher Claxton-Stevens who shared the responsibility of running and buying for the shop emphasized their outlook with the publication of "18th Century English Furniture, the Norman Adams Collection". It was a great tribute to the eponym of the gallery and to their own ability to sustain that gallery. Stewart was a great friend and I will miss him.

The first major dealer that I met in the antiques business was Bernard Apter. I met him through one of the people that sold to him, David Kenrick, who had his own shop just a mile down the road. David would buy things in the country and sell them to Bernard whose clientele was larger and certainly more affluent that David's. Bernard had come into the business working for his father-in-law and he had great assistance from his wife, Carol, whose sang-froid at certain moments became legendary around the trade. Ask an awkward question and Carol could stop you in your tracks. Their gallery was and still is located on the Fulham Rd. and is now run by their two sons, Harry and Guy. I do remember the first time I went into the gallery--Bernard had just flown to New York City to buy a set of chairs and, minutes before I entered the gallery, had sold them to another client in New York City. Unfortunately, they had been shipped right away and were in mid-Atlantic on a freighter. Such goings on were exciting to me as a student at the London College of Furniture--I wanted desperately to see the chairs, but he didn't have a photograph of them. A few years later, I learned that my mother had purchased some antiques from Apter-Fredericks. Her recollection at the time was that she went into the shop to look around (this was in 1966) and that she had seen a couple kissing on one of the settees and decided that discretion was the better part of valor and to return 20 minutes later. I told this story to Harry and Guy who were quite amused. It is to the credit to these two that the business continues given the climate for antique furniture. They sell quality, however, and that is what the business is all about.