Explore grand Georgian interiors of two-bed semi

A humble two-bed semi in Derby is home to extraordinary Georgian magnificence, thanks to the antique passions of one man. Antique Collecting takes a grand tour.

Karl Martin in his Derby semi with Georgian interior
Karl Martin in his Derby semi with Georgian interior – All pictures Nathan Fitzsimmons/Hansons

Georgian Interiors

Though unassuming on the outside, inside the 1934 home brims with jaw-dropping period elegance. It has film-set star quality thanks to hundreds of antiques and collectibles gathered over decades by history and antiques lover Karl Martin.

Grand Tour Style

He is passionate about the 1714-1830 Georgian era and his home pays homage to that. Its feast of finds has distinct Grand Tour vibes. In the 18th century, a tour of Europe was a rite of passage for wealthy gentlemen and, on their return, usual objects acquired along the way would be proudly displayed.

Karl has found most of his curios on home turf but the display is similar. He said: “Pretty much everything is Georgian with the odd Victorian piece thrown in. I use 19th-century cutlery and eat my dinner off a Georgian plate.”

There are echoes of Charles Dickens, too.“My Georgian four-poster bed is the same as one used in the 1984 film A Christmas Carol starring George C Scott. The only new thing I have in the house is a TV to watch Derby County.

“It’s just how I like to live. It’s not for everybody but it suits me. If people come to visit they are sometimes a bit shocked – one date couldn’t get out fast enough. But a lot of people are fascinated. There is always something to look at.”

The period drama is compelling. It sweeps you back in time. Occasionally Karl illuminates his home by candlelight to enhance the atmosphere. Every inch of wall is covered in artworks and samplers, three rooms house longcase clocks, all the furniture is antique – don’t mention Ikea – and quirky curios abound. 

Georgian interior

It’s hard to know what to look at first as you battle to take it all in. Ornaments decorate every surface. From dolls housed in glass domes to an eclectic mix of Georgian ornaments, masks, taxidermy and more, it’s a visual feast – a work of art in itself.

For Karl, a 56-year-old Rams fan who worked in the building trade before carving a niche as an antiques valuer at Derbyshire’s Hansons Auctioneers, his home is his pride and joy. He’s lived there for 25 years and adds to it all the time. It will never be finished because there will always be another find that takes his eye. And that means a move around to accommodate it.

Though busy and eclectic, all blends together perfectly. Karl has an eye for classic interiors. At one time he was invited to work for a period production company in London but Derby is where his heart lies. 

Derby History

The history of his city is enormously important to him and celebrated in his home. For example he collects early Royal Crown Derby porcelain, England’s first pottery manufacturer founded in 1750. He also admires the work of clock and instruments maker John Whitehurst of Derby (1713-1788). 

Karl said: “The Georgian era is fascinating. It was a period of great advancement in British science and the arts and Derby was at the forefront of it. Ground-breaking thinkers, artists, engineers and entrepreneurs came together at Derby Philosophical Society, a gentlemen’s club founded in 1783 by physician Erasmus Darwin. He was part of the the Midlands Enlightenment and The Lunar Society which dates back to 1765. Potter Josiah Wedgwood and artist Joseph Wright were also involved. It was a romantic era too. Think novelist Jane Austen and poets like John Keats and William Wordsworth.”

He continued: “I’ve always loved history. I have been collecting all my life. I found my first fossil at the age of three. I call it the parcel stone because it looks like a parcel. I found it on a field in Chellaston on the outskirts of Derby. I’ll never part with it.

“I used to find things on fields being cleared for housing. I’ve even found fragments of Roman pottery.  I know where all the Roman sites are in the area, especially round the city’s Chester Green and Darley Park areas.

“When places are being dug up by workmen I have been known to jump into holes looking for artefacts. It’s amazing to hold something in your hand made centuries ago. I have even got a few cobble stones from a Roman road in my garden.

Period Properties

“I’ve dressed my previous homes in period style including a flat and a modern two-up, two-down in Oakwood. I get an idea in my mind’s eye and accomplish it. None of the antiques I own are perfect. They’re not museum pieces. I’ve bought quite a few things at auction at Hansons but I also like scouring second-hand and antiques shops. I can whizz round in minutes and spot things. I have an eye for it.

“These days a lot of people get rid of antiques because they don’t like clutter. Houses get emptied and some amazing finds come to auction or turn up in shops. I like putting it all together. When I was young I used to watch old black and white films but I wasn’t following the story, I was looking at the set to see what was on the mantelpiece. I was inspired by my mother too. She was an antiques dealer.

Karl admits that his home is filled with all sorts of oddities and unusual finds. In the hallway there is a Polynesian tribal ornament, a flintlock Georgian revolver and letters from the 1700s on display. He also loves longcase clocks, displaying them in his two sittings rooms and in a bedroom. He has plans to buy one for the kitchen too. 

“Nothing has cost too much, a few pounds to a few hundred pounds at most. But when I see something I really want I can be pretty determined. I spotted a large painting in an antiques shop in Matlock at the start of a day trip and ended up carrying it round all day. If I left it there I knew it would be gone when I got back.”

Although living in a house surrounded by antiques and Georgian splendour does come with its challenges. “I spend a lot of time cleaning, dusting ornaments and organising my house, which is fairly time consuming as you can imagine. But I enjoy it. At Christmas it looks really special. I hope my home encourages other people to appreciate the quality and beauty of antiques and the Georgian era.” 

Karl is leading a summer Georgian Auction at Hansons Auctioneers and on March 28, May 17, June 14 and July 5, from noon-3pm he will offer free valuations at Hansons in, Etwall, Derbyshire.