Ben and Susie – Elephant Antiques, traders of the weird and wonderful…

 

Ben and Suzi started their antique & vintage interiors business 8 years ago and have a workshop in Lymington which they open to the public on Friday, Sat and Sun, but midweek provide creative interiors services to businesses and for source for film shoots. The creative pair were at home prepping a family lunch when we spoke.

 Ben, how did you start in the trade? 

Both of us are people who are passionate about antiques, collectables, vintage and anything with an interesting story or history. We have been collecting for years and are enthusiastic about all genres, periods and styles. I grew grew up in central London near Angel and I used to go to the big markets; Spitalfields, Portobellow and Petticoat Lane. It was hugely inspiring and so much to look at and get involved in. I used to go before school, often at dawn, and buy. The market traders would be setting up, and as first in, I would be the first there to hunt out bargains and interesting pieces. Of course in the case of Spitalfields and Petticoat Lane, this was pre-gentrification and before the arrival of trendy coffee shops. It was raw, gritty, energetic and fun, which has somewhat changed now. I would take my small purchases with me back to school, often sell to some of my teachers and to local independent traders who I got to know. 

 What happened next?

 Susie ran a fabric shop in Soho supplying West End theatre costume and film designers, and high end designers for fashion and interiors. She would often have fashion stylists to pop stars and celebrities in her shop asking advice on certain fabrics for specific outfits, who themselves were sometimes accompanied by the artist/celeb.

After I left school I worked in music industry where I stayed for 18 years, after some time I was managing a team of 30 staff all working on different projects from live events such as Glastonbury and many studios including Abbey Road, which I was very proud of at the time. It was great fun but hard work and maybe a little too hedonistic  it also kept me away from home a lot, which was not good with a young family.

We are both from very creative, team-work backgrounds. At the weekend we’d go to Brighton or places where there were antiques, trade fairs and the such like.

 How did you get to be in Lymington?

We moved to Lymington 12 years ago and worked on a sailing related business, still within the audio sector but It didn’t have the creativity that we both enjoyed and really wanted to pursue, so with a new family we decided to make a change, took a risk, choose to ditch the London-life and try something new.

 You’re clearly passionate about sharing the provenance of the pieces you trade. Tell me more.

The history of a piece, it’s story and travels has always interested me. Digging around the markets and antique fairs as a kid I learned so much just by asking and watching. Then as I got older I just never lost this passion, constantly reading, researching and learning from every source I could….and still do! You can never stop learning in this trade.

Susie adds a great depth of textile design and texture and the combination of our knowledge got us off to a great start. We are inspired by the arts and design movement such as aesthetic, nouveau, arts & crafts and Art Deco. We love the use of colour and any influences taken from the Far East and Middle East. 

Artists and designers such as William Morris, William De Morgan, Corbusier, Mondrian, Christopher Dresser, etc are great influencers and reference. 

We recently had a Victorian chesterfield sofa which was covered in original Morris fabric, a truly fabulous piece that we wish we could have kept but we sold it to a production company to be used in a period drama. I get a thrill from finding some amazing piece that we have to really get into to get it to reveal it’s quirks.

We don’t paint stuff. We like items with original old paint on it, but we prefer to restore not paint. often I find it’s sacrilege to paint it. We upcycle to maintain a pieces life rather than to add value to it. We prefer to restore if it needs it, and maintain it’s other history.

 

It sounds like you have a great respect to the story and history of the piece.

We have had some amazing Liberty furniture that was commissioned, the only way we found that out was to study the piece, there were no makers marks on it, so we got the books out and really learnt it.

 

What’s your favourite piece ever?

That’s an impossible question!

We had a bookcase which was a made by Shapland and Petter Ltd. They did lots of stuff for Liberty London. It was commissioned for a wedding in 1915. It was a chapel-shaped book cabinet and hand carved in oak. In each corner there is a carved and initialled heart and had hand carved dust protectors for the shelves. It was designed so the case could display but protect the valuable books. This was important because the old church bugs would eat the gilding on the books.

Once we had a 19th C. Nepalese sarcophagus. It was an amazing item, like something straight out of Indiana Jones. It took six people to lift! It was made from dense hard hand carved wood, beautifully painted, and on huge wooden wheels. Although a little macabre these things were created to celebrate a life, so the hand painted colours were just beautiful. Imagine a bed on wheels to parade the body around the town. We had many customers who wanted it including a private club in London who wanted to add a piece of reinforced glass to use as a banqueting table, a BBC journalist who wanted it as garden feature, but first to the post was a country estate in Scotland where it became an orangery table for general use, potting and luncheon.

Suzi loved the very rare Early 20th C. coffee roasting machine that we sold. It was made by UNO and was gas powered at the table. It looked like a miniature Brunel bridge. This was a lovely piece that was much admired. In 1920’s, when the coffee bars where opening up in NYC – it was the ultimate, VIP thing to do, visiting these swanky European focused bars, where you could taste different types of coffee. They’d bring the machine to the table and roast the beans in front of you. This ended up going to a private collector in the USA.

Where do you position your pricing?

Our ethos has always been and continues to be, if we can buy right, we can reflect that in the price so we can rotate our stock quickly. We always make sure the items we buy are of a quality but also believe it should be accessible for all budgets. Whether you are looking for something at the luxury end or the budget end, 9/10 times you will still receive a bargain. We love knowing that our customers haven’t spent the earth and love their buys. We have customers who come to us asking for us to find them high end/fine country house antiques and then we also have at the opposite end we may get a young couple who are starting out and have a low budget. We always do our best to seek out the look they want. I always think of the value angle that buying quality antiques and vintage gives you. Items will be far better made than mass produced chip board generic furniture available on the High Street. What people don’t realise is that most of the time, the costs are similar. And they get to slam dunk on the recycling and planet friendly element of buying preloved. We think people now realise they can buy unique items but of a far superior quality and more eco friendly.

 

When are you open for us to come and see your emporium?

 Friday, Saturday, Sunday are our ‘shop open’ days, when we share our finds for the week. We get a flurry on Friday of the regulars who have come to expect the new and interesting. In a good month, every 2 week expect an almost full turnaround of stock… not a good month would be 50% of stock moved.

 We offer free local delivery. Good courier network for those on holiday so customers can always buy and then have their purchases delivered when they are back home.

Thanks Ben and Susie. We love that you’re leading Lymington with preloved style. It’s nice to have some original kit on the High Street.  

Lymington Cobbles - New Forest Escapes

Lymington Cobbles