Meet Columbia Road vintage dealer Ben Southgate.
Hi Ben! What lead you into dealing vintage furniture?
I originally studied Architecture and so have always been interested in design. I then joined a London furniture restoration workshop and spent a decade there, both restoring antiques, and sourcing furniture for the owner’s Islington-based shop.
In 2003 I opened my own shop in London E2 on Columbia Road, and still trade from there every Sunday. I also now have a second shop in Kings Road, St Leonards where I live.
What do your Sundays on Columbia Road look like? Any local tips?
I drive up early from St Leonards-on-Sea to London every Sunday, and drop of my new stock before parking the van and grabbing a coffee from the lovely Lilly Vanilla Bakery next door to my shop. It’s always a pleasure to see the flower stalls and fellow traders, but also the regular buskers and indeed customers, many who visit as part of their Sunday ritual. Later I will grab a lovely sausage and egg roll from the stall off Ezra Street, and later might succumb to a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel.
Do you have any memorable customers?
The shop is always busy with a good number of regulars as well as plenty of tourists. Past customers have included the photographer David Bailey and Russell Brand.
Do you have a favourite vintage style?
I am generally drawn to furniture from the first and second quarter 20th century, but no ‘rules’, and I love 19th century French tables for their ability to work well in either antique or contemporary settings. I also love the open armchairs from the 1950s, for their lightness, and similarly the lighting from the same period, especially French and Italian.
Is there an interior trend you would like to see go?
I think the ubiquity of the Danish mid-century look will give way to something a little more mixed-up, with 19C pieces sitting quite happily with modernist pieces and Hollywood Regency. The industrial look has been a little undone by all the reproduction ‘industrial’ furniture, but pieces with the right patination are still appealing.
How do approach judging the quality of a piece?
I tend to judge a piece on the quality of its design, and not worry whether it is by a named designer. I think we should have the confidence to know what we like, and not need the approval of a ‘brand’ name. And that way we can pay considerably less, and yet avoid the depreciation of contemporary furniture.
What does the perfect day look like to you?
A perfect day starts with a bit of sun (but not too much!), plenty of sales, some interesting deliveries (always love to see where my pieces end up), and nice bunch of flowers. All washed down with a couple of coffees and a glass of wine on my return to St Leonards-on-sea!