BILLY IN HIS ANTIQUE SHOP IN HUNGERFORD, JUST OUTSIDE OF LONDON.
10 QUESTIONS WITH WILLIAM COOK ANTIQUES
1. How long have you been dealing in antiques?
Thirty years. After leaving college I spent six years working for a dealer and then Christies in London. It was during this time that I developed my own eye and furthered my knowledge of good antique furniture.
Aged 27 I returned home and set up the specialist dealing side of our family business which until then was mainly focused on restoring fine antique furniture for clients including the Royal Family, museums, private collectors and other dealers.
Whilst initially establishing the business in England, thirteen years ago I also started exhibiting in America with my first Show being in Palm Beach. I now exhibit in the States five times a year and having opened my first permanent US space at Fritz Porter last year, I also try to spend four or five days in Charleston every five weeks and ship over new pieces from England in advance of every trip. I still have my shop in England and also show at four UK antique shows a year. My two brothers now run the family restoration business.
2. How did you first get into the business?
As the son of an antique restorer, I’ve been immersed in antiques all my life. Fortunately our family restoration business have restored and maintained some of the finest furniture and as a child I remember my father often calling me into the workshop to show me a particular piece by cabinet makers such as Thomas Chippendale or William Vile to explain the varying differences in their techniques or carving styles - an education that has since proved invaluable ! Dad is still alive and occasionally I will seek his opinion as you’re never too old to learn something new.
3. How is the sourcing and selling experience different in the US than in England?
As a dealer I love to buy and am always searching. In England a lot of my buying is done from long established contacts, private houses or at auction. Most evenings I will view the American sales online but nothing beats the experience of just “finding” something totally unexpected. Even holidays can be a great chance to buy and last year whilst on holiday in Turkey I discovered some wonderful textiles which I brought home in my suitcase. It did mean though that I had to leave half my own clothes behind to make room for them in my luggage. I love selling in America as people are generally very straight forward and appreciative of what I deal in. Sometimes in England a deal can be a little more protracted but I guess that’s just our nature.
4. Who would be your ideal dinner party guest?
HRH Prince Harry. I think he’s a great guy and a credit to The Royal Family. I also suspect he would be the last man standing after a very boozy evening….
5. Is there an item that you have been on the hunt for and have not yet found?
Of course but every morning I wake up and think “ what will I find today ?” I still get excited at finding something different, good or unusual. It’s never about the value but always the individuality of the item. Recently on the same day I bought superb late 17th century walnut bureau bookcase and a large 1960’s oversized promotional champagne bottle. About as far apart as you could possibly get from each other but both bought with the same enthusiasm.
6. Who is someone or what is something that you consider inspiring?
The late Nelsen Mandela. Despite the injustices of his past, he never harboured bitterness and always tried to find the good in someone or make things better for others. I’m a great believer in not worrying about the things you can’t change but concentrating on those you can.
7. If you could live in a certain period of time, when would it be?
I’m happy living right now ! When we look back at the past we always tend to focus on the good parts but ignore the darker side. I would like however to see more of the courtesy, politeness and respect for others that was perhaps a little more commonplace in the first half of the 20th century.
8. What are five things you can't live without?
My phone, my computer, my sons, the shared and unembarrassed laughter with really good friends and my partner Amanda. We met when we were sixteen, dated and then a few years later she dumped me (I kissed another !!). We have now lived together for the last ten years and perhaps most importantly, she’s the one who tells me when I’m wrong and whilst not always agreeing with her, she’s usually right !
9. Tell me something people would be surprised to learn about you.
If I did then how will I surprise them if we meet?
10. When you aren't out buying and merchandising, where can we find you?
I travel and work a lot so free time can be a luxury. When at home I try to walk the dog every day. I’m blessed to live in a small village set in the most wonderful English countryside and so the views on my walks are constantly changing with the passing seasons. You will also find me in my local village pub, which fortunately I have to pass on the way back from my walk, with a pint of warm flat beer, I know – it’s an English thing !!!!
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