Sally Stratton is one of the founders of The Pedestal, a 21st century destination for buying and selling fine antique furniture and objects of distinction. Sally started her career in the Fine Furniture Department of Phillips Auctioneers, later becoming Department Director at Bonhams. A longstanding member of the Furniture History Society and the Regional Furniture Society, she continues to develop her academic knowledge and commercial acumen, which has helped her make notable discoveries and sales of fine and important furniture.
What areas/items are currently selling well?
Items which perform well are typically those which reflect quality or are interesting examples of their type, whether they are rare, or have a great provenance, fabulous original surface or are by a specific maker, they are always going to stand apart from those commonly seen items and are therefore more greatly prized. There was a time when more ordinary furniture still commanded relatively strong prices and that market has now gone – much of the Media focus on issues in the ‘brown’ furniture market is to do with this sector of the market. The Pedestal are always looking for pieces which have the ‘X-Factor’ for our collectors and buyers around the world.
What do you think are the current ‘good investment’ items for 2017 – ones to watch?
With so much English furniture being more affordable at the moment, if you are a discerning buyer, when the market strengthens you should be in a good position. Antique furniture that you like and use is always a good investment in a different way – it has lasted through the centuries so it should last your own lifetime if looked after well. Not surprisingly, I am not a fan of mass produced flat-packed furniture which doesn’t have the same durability, particularly in your average house move!
What antiques do you have at home?
We have an eclectic taste at home. A monumentally heavy 18th century oak panelled livery cupboard acts as our larder in the kitchen and a 17th century elm coffer which is missing its lid is where we keep our muddy shoes. One of my most coveted possessions is a Strawberry Hill Gothick Windsor armchair which I inherited from my Grandfather’s collection. In contrast, my desk is a late 1960’s Danish rosewood piece and our dining room table and chairs are of a similar period by Hans Wagner – we love them all in different ways!
What do you think will be the antiques of the future?
There is so much to choose from, quality, good design and craftsmanship will always prevail. There are some fantastically talented and creative new cabinet-makers and craftsmen working in a contemporary style whose work will undoubtedly deserve a place in the market in years to come and will survive the test of time.
How is the industry changing?
With so much more activity online the business is so very different from the situation on Bond Street twenty five years ago when I first joined Phillips Auctioneers. The Pedestal is soon to be launching a fixed price online selling platform to run alongside the traditional live auctions, as we are fully aware that a sector of buyers and sellers are more comfortable with this format and we envisage the two formats working alongside each other. Certain objects are also more suited to one method of selling than the other and we feel that the added flexibility is clear bonus. We also feel that our pop-up auction format of sales in interesting locations focuses people on the idea of viewing or attending an auction when live auctions, particularly in certain categories, are generally less well attended these days.
Tell us some trade secrets – what are your top tips for buying antiques?
Look everywhere, you just never know when you are going to find something amazing, it is still out there. Buy something you like and enjoy it regardless of its market value. Treat it as a bonus if it is worth more than you paid – if it is then you should be doubly pleased with it!
What antiques/artworks would you buy if money were no object?
A fabulous 17th century pietre dure cabinet (or Wunderkammer) which I would fill with curiosities, treasures and prized possessions, in the spirit of the original use of this type of cabinet. I would just sit and stare at it, gaining so much enjoyment from the cabinet but also the contents – I would fill it with my own collection of mementoes or keepsakes that invoke memories precious to me.
You’re down to your last 50 quid – what antiques/art would you buy?
Probably a piece of medieval or Roman jewellery or an artefact which has been recently discovered after years of being buried in the earth. It wouldn’t matter to me if it was in a poor state, just the fact that it has been unseen for centuries – I would love to offer it a new home where it will be cherished!
Where are your favourite antique hunting destinations?
Each year my husband and I love going to the SALVO Fair for a good rummage around. We always come up with some amazing architectural finds, for the house or the garden, it is such an enjoyable day out in a beautiful setting. Salvage yards are fantastic places to browse or buy something to bring back life to a period house, where in many cases original features have been removed, but are now so highly prized. Buying something that looks as if it has a story to tell is so much more interesting, you can always restore to your own tastes when you get it home – that is part of the fun.
What are some of the biggest mistakes that buyers make?
Not to examine things properly, if you can’t make the auction view yourself then ask the sale specialists – it is always good to get to know the specialists too if you are attending regularly or collecting in a particular area. I have many clients that I regularly help and over the years they know and trust my judgement, so build a rapport with the auction house staff and they will then understand what you like and don’t like. I would always suggest paying that bit more if you can for the best example you can find- it will be worth it in the long run. I often hear clients talk about the piece that got away, the piece that they regret not going an extra bid to secure!
All images are of items from The Pedestal‘s next sale of Fine Furniture & Objects which will be held at Moor Park Mansion in Hertfordshire on 14th March.