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Quality, style and panache: Guinevere

Having just celebrated half a century of business, Inex spoke to Guinevere owner Marc Weaver about the shops interior heritage, unique attitude to sourcing and antique value.

It is impossible to walk into Guinevere and not fall in love with something. With a philosophy for mixing different styles and eras of furniture together, this is no ordinary antique shop. Having just celebrated half a century of business, editor, Emily Smith, spoke to owner Marc Weaver about Guinevere’s interior heritage and unique attitude to sourcing antique value.

Young French hat designer Genevieve Weaver came on a short trip to London in 1953, fell in love with her English teachers son and made London her home. With a passion for changing her furniture, she bought her first antique in 1959. She adored the concept of living with a beautiful piece and then selling it on to update the look of her home.

In 1963, she opened Guinevere at the less glamorous end of Chelsea’s Kings Road, creating a foundation for the fashionable, high-end interior haven that has built up around it. Guinevere has spent the last 50 years growing organically, acquiring more space to become the loveable labyrinth that it is today.

“What we do in the shop is not specialise in any one period or style because that’s not what interests us – we’ve got some Neolithic pots somewhere, which can be up to 4,000 years old, alongside mid-century modern and all things in between,” explains Marc. “We also have a small and limited line of items that we actually make and this is always changing, because we like to keep it interesting.”

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Following Genevieve’s unexpected death in 2000, the shop is now owned by her sons Marc and Kevin Weaver, along with Marc’s wife Heather. They source the shop contents, traveling all over the world to find those perfect pieces that spark an interest.

“We look for things that we like,” continues Marc. “That’s the starting premise. Quality, style and value for money, all these things are very important. A nineteenth-century Louis XV style chair has one price, but an eighteenth-century Louis XV period chair has another. Both look the same but have different values, so value is crucial. But if an item was ugly a hundred years ago then it’s still ugly now. Tastes change and I have found myself looking at things that I used to think were rather displeasing and now I like them, but the fundamentals remain and most of what was ugly then is still ugly now. That’s how we work – it’s got to be pleasing to our eye and that’s why people come here because they like the things that we like.

“The way we display in Guinevere is that we are constantly looking for ways to put different styles, periods, textures and colours together. So, a wild piece of Murano furniture from the 1960s with Han Dynasty, contemporary and English Regency items placed on top is a complete mix of styles, but it works! It’s both wild and traditional. My mother wrote a book in the 1990s called ‘Antiques for Today’s Interiors’ and that’s exactly what we do. We want things that people can use and that we can enjoy. Obviously you can enjoy buying and collecting, but what’s the point in having money if you can’t have fun as well!”

The shop is a complete mixture of contrasting items styled to complement and honour design heritage. These items come from all over the world, from all sorts of different periods and styles and that is what is so absorbing about this building – its irresistible charm and intimate indulgence. Guinevere redefined how antiques are viewed, for here importance is not the rare or precious object to be put on a pedestal, but pieces that are appealing because of their character and style, not solely for their historical pedigree.

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“The joy for me is that you can’t repeat items and each piece is unique and interesting,” says Marc. “At one point we were doing reproductions and I found the quality control and reordering a contradiction as to why I’m in this business. I started out to do interesting things, to have interesting pieces and to deal with interesting people, which just wasn’t happening when I was working with reproductions. So we keep the reproduction line limited and that keeps it interesting.”

The principles behind Guinevere’s collection allows for replicas and pieces as contemporary as the 1980s. “If they are nice enough we’ll have them,” says Marc. “Providing we know they are replicas and the value is proportionate.” Guinevere also has its own line of bespoke designs, from a vast array of gorgeous trunks that can be produced in a multitude of variations, utilising antique materials, to lampshades made from sari’s and traditional Indian dhurries. Nothing here is wasted and everything is reinvented and given a new chance to be adored.

When Marc’s wife Heather started working at the shop, Genevieve was eager to share antique textile knowledge with her, as she knew her son’s had little interest in this area. Heather seized the opportunity for potential in this area and now her pièce de résistance is the shop’s textile room, where she works hard to create modern ways of using old fabrics from all corners of the world. For Heather, it’s not just a question of buying textiles, but of reinventing them. From African Yoruba cloths to Indian saris, vintage woolen welsh blankets and Scottish tartan plaids, all are given a fresh new life and arranged in this lusciously inviting space at the back of the shop. She has even made hot water bottle covers!

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“There are a lot of lost techniques that just can’t be done anymore because of lack of interest and no one can remember how to recreate some of these fabrics,” continues Marc. “But of course it’s the same across the board and the problem with movements to keep them alive is that the fundamental techniques have been lost. For example, people come in wanting old napkins with beautifully intricate embroidered initials, but the embroidery is impossible to recreate now as it would take an age! We do always have a big collection of antique embroidered napkins though.”

So how can somewhere like this, which is curated so heavily on sentimental and personal interest remain on-trend? “It’s not so much about being affected by the trends and just doing what we like, but that our trends are constantly changing and evolving,” explains Marc. “We are finding our own way and our directions are constantly changing and hopefully prevailing trends will also be going in the same direction.”

Quality and value are hugely important within the whole industry and especially fundamental for antiques. So, how long does it take Marc and his team to put figures to items? “About 50 years,” beams Marc. “We work in the areas that we tend to know and understand and if we work with something that we don’t know the value of then we look at it like anyone else would and ask ourselves what we think it’s worth.”

For further insight into this unique shop, the new book, ‘Guinevere - The First 50 Years’ is now available.

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guinevere.co.uk

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