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A Home with a History: age and beauty at an antique dealer’s decorated digs

Stuffed with antiques set against hand-embellished walls, the family home of dealer Pearse Lukies and artist Stephanie Douet is at once a showroom for their stock and a love letter to the wonders of a one-off

Photography
Ellen Hancock
A Home with a History: age and beauty at an antique dealer’s decorated digs

In an age of one-click shopping and blink-and-you-miss-it Instagram accounts, the antique dealer Pearse Lukies is an anomaly. His office is at home – a rectory in Aylsham, near Norwich, built in 1700, adjusted in 1830 and later by Pearse and his wife, the artist Stephanie Douet. It’s here that he works with his son Morgan, the pair storing their wares by living with them, before selling – IRL – to those in the know. The Lukies operate in a Yellow Pages kind of way, relying on good, old-fashioned word of mouth, traditional fairs and the telephone.

Their stock-in-trade is early Georgian oak furniture, though the family’s truest loves are European furniture and Medieval sculpture. While they have a warehouse nearby, the house is “overflow”, filled with rare treasures. In 2000 Pearse and Stephanie extended the house, building cavernous room with the proportions of a Renaissance hall – perfect for storing everything from fireplaces to vast bookcases. It has windows, Pearse says, only because the planners stipulated that it must. In his ideal world, the walls would be blank, offering maximum wall space, ready to be covered by the next find.

Pearse has been dealing since childhood and, as a consequence, has a somewhat unsentimental approach to stuff. “Dad once told me it takes eight seconds to get over selling something you thought you’d never part with,” Morgan laughs. “If that,” Pearse chimes in. There is, however, much in this house of things that holds spiritual value to the family, not least Stephanie’s myriad creations. A prodigy with a paintbrush, Stephanie has adorned most of the rooms in the house with one decorative effect or another, from tortoiseshell doors to faux marble and crackle-glaze finishes. Her artworks are dotted among the antiques too – old computer speakers ingeniously painted to look like Ming vases; surreal assemblages; wonderfully warped portraits.

Such an out-the-box existence suits this trio, it seems. “A place full of things pleases me,” Stephanie says, looking around her study, painted with abstract archipelago-like blobs. The pattern came about when she was admiring the way light reflected from a disco ball on to the walls.

The time has come, however, for the family to bring the business up to date. They’re planning a website – not to sell through, but to give a sense of their wares, encouraging people to come and look. “We would love more people to travel here,” Morgan says, “to see and touch and properly experience what a beautiful, old thing is.”

Pearse: “We’ve never really done this house – not properly, anyway. We’ve made cosmetic changes, we’ve decorated and we replaced the roof – that was substantial – but we’ve never even replaced the bathrooms.”

Stephanie: “We’ve always lived among a large amount of stuff, though. That hasn’t changed. When I met Pearse, he was living in a tiny cottage with a sofa, a davenport desk and a poodle. He was dealing out of a van, working as what was called a runner. He’d drive around towns to visit the provincial antique shops to do business. It was very convivial – lots of chatting and drinking and laughing. The auction-house boom – thanks to the internet – really changed that way of dealing.”

Pearse: “There are certainly fewer dealers now. Buying antiques has become much more like traditional retail.”

Morgan: “The whole of that world has shifted now, really. In the 1980s and 90s in Norfolk alone, there would have been an auction to go to every day. Now, they’re every couple of weeks – and you can view them online anyway. It’s much more static.”

Pearse: “The order of things has changed too. In the old days, there’d be a big local dealer, who would be offered the best things; the London trade would visit and thus items would make their way to the grown-ups at the top. That structure also meant there was a chance for people like me to come across a gem that had somehow slipped through. Now, everyone has access to every auction. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s interesting how it’s changed the way we work.”

Morgan: “That’s why we do so much buying in mainland Europe. There’s still much more of a market culture there. It’s the closest thing to the runner trade – and it gives us access to things you just can’t find here. Nobody knows our goods.

“I’ve grown up around things coming and going. It could have been unsettling, but you learn not to get too attached to things. You just enjoy them while you know them, before they go on to make someone else happy. Though Dad did once sell my bed while I was sleeping in it. That was quite shocking.

“We’re not entirely unsentimental, though. We don’t do this job for the money; it’s a passion Dad and I have both had since childhood. The thrill of the hunt is part of it, but so is finding things you love.”

Stephanie: “And there are objects – despite what Pearse says – that I still wish we hadn’t sold. The cock-fighting stool, for instance, which you sat in like a saddle. It had compartments for your sausage roll and beer, and one for a chamberpot in the seat. It was marvellous.”

Morgan: “I don’t necessarily miss the Romanesque figure of Christ we hung on the landing, but I do miss the shock on people’s faces in the morning. Now we’ve got some of Mum’s sculptures instead. There’s one in the hall that really freaks people out.”

Stephanie: “That one freaks me out too! I like it.

“I’ve done a lot of the decoration here. I went through a real phase in the 1980s, inspired by Jocasta Innes’ brilliant book Paint Magic. That’s when I started trying the decorative techniques. I don’t think we’ve got any white walls here. I can’t see a blank wall without wanting to cover it.

“I think the maximalism suits what we have here – all these old things. Pearse and I both grew up around furniture like this, which I think was the norm in our generation. But I think that’s worked its way through now; there are lots of people who don’t have any antiques. It means they’re not familiar with the idea of spending money on old things and are anxious about buying from dealers, I think. That’s why we like visitors coming here and realising how we live among things. I think it gives them encouragement. They can see the way we’ve decided to fill an old linen press with pots and pans, for instance. It makes them realise that there’s a place for antiques in the modern world.”

Further reading

Pearse Lukies is a member of Lapada, the association of art and antique dealers

Morgan Lukies on Instagram

Stephanie Douet

Stephanie Douet on Instagram

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