A Home with a History: the domestic threads running through Yarn, the Cotswolds antique-rug dealers
Nick and Min Shrimpton don’t just share a surname. The father-daughter duo run an antique-rug business, born out of a common keenness for collecting. In the family home, the pair discuss how a love of things designed to last has driven both their life and, now, work
- Grace McCloud
- Andy Billman
- Harry Cave
“Do you know that people used to have summer curtains and winter curtains? They’d change them with the seasons.” Such a morsel, small but delectable, is to be expected in conversation with Nick Shrimpton: Oxford don, John Ruskin aficionado and connoisseur of the Victorian Aesthetes – William Morris, EW Godwin, Dante Gabriel Rossetti et al. Those names pop up in Nick’s collection, which jostles happily in the long, narrow and mainly 17th-century house he shares with his wife, Sue, on the edge of the Cotswolds. It’s an exceptionally pretty village dwelling, not least when the frontage’s rampant wisteria bursts into lilac bloom. But the real treasures are inside.
Nick’s enthusiasm for collecting is infectious. He is discerning, erudite and never snobbish. He simply delights in the pictures that fascinate him and the objects he admires, from a host of Hogarth prints and Whistler etchings to a Gothic Revival chair spewing its stuffing like Struwwelpeter.
Collecting is a legacy he has passed on to his daughter, Min, who spent much of her childhood in this house, “when not being carted round auction houses and reclamation yards or visiting antique dealers”. She laughs. For Min, who works in communications for Soho House, it started with a rug – an antique Heriz carpet hailing from north-west Persia that Nick bought her as a present for her own flat in Newington Green, north London. “It made me realise how lucky I’d been to have grown up surrounded by beautiful, unusual things that had been made to last.”
Friends of Min’s began to notice how their Ikea mats felt somewhat flat in comparison. After being asked where hers was from for what felt like the hundredth time, she had an idea. “We’ve got this family history of buying things from auction, so I thought: ‘Why don’t we start finding rugs for other people?’” Yarn was born. Combining Nick’s textile know-how, Min’s business skills and, when restoration is called for, nimble-fingered Sue’s knack for needlework, they now have a rolling stock of antique rugs, from flatweaves and killims to hand-knotted pieces, all at not-too-scary a price point.
Yarn, at its core, is a traditional cottage industry for the internet age, operating largely from the house and a stone barn in the garden with perilous head-height beams – perfect for hanging rugs from to photograph them, as it happens. As Yarn enters its third year, Nick and Min reflect on becoming accidental dealers – and how the family house and habits have shaped the business.
Min: “Dad has been collecting for 30 years. The bulk of my childhood memories include an antique dealer of some description, so I suppose it’s only natural we’ve ended up doing something like this. And this house has been a great inspiration for what we do with Yarn – the way it’s filled with things that are not designed to be thrown away.
“The difference between home and Yarn, though, is that we wanted to make something for a younger market – people who are just starting to think about creating a home and don’t want it to be filled with the same things as everyone else’s. When we’re on the hunt, we look for smaller rugs at a range of prices. If they’re not in perfect condition, I ask mum to work her magic on them.”
Nick: “Our rugs have had lives before. They are likely to be more worn, perhaps, or more faded than those a conventional top-end rug dealer might sell. But they’re for people that either don’t mind, or that positively appreciate knowing, seeing and feeling that their piece is careworn.”
Min: “We give people a different entry point into owning an antique. And they’re accessible; you don’t have to keep them behind glass or on a plinth. You can walk on them and live with them. People often feel anxious about putting them in bathrooms, we’ve learned. But you don’t need to worry. A bit of water on wool isn’t going to ruin it at all. Good old rugs are generally very hard-wearing in comparison to a lot of modern designs.”
Nick: “We often photograph Yarn’s rugs in my and Sue’s bathroom. We shoot our rugs all over the house! People love seeing them in a real space. It helps them imagine them in their own homes. But I think our bathroom is particularly good. I’ve hung a clutch of Persian tiles in there; the motifs work well with the rugs. I’m interested in those because of the way they connect to the British Gothic Revival. In the 1880s a telegraph engineer with a bent for William Morris visited Persia. When he got there, he thought it such a shame that the contemporary potters weren’t making tiles in the Medieval style anymore, so he commissioned some and brought them back, instigating something like a Persian Arts and Crafts movement. The British Museum now has a collection. They are lovely things.”
Min: “As dad says, shooting in this house really helps people see what the rugs are actually like, as does using natural light. We’re aware that buying something like a rug, particularly with a lot of pattern, is quite high-risk, especially online. We want to take the fear out of it for people. It shouldn’t feel scary.”
Nick: “I love how rugs reflect the history of taste. William Morris, for instance, collected Asian rugs and you can see their DNA in his ‘Hammersmith’ carpets. Later, in the Great Slump, some had to be machine-made – in fact I’ve got a cutting upstairs. It’s marvellous. The reproducibility of those designs in turn reveals how people were decorating, which I find fascinating.
“Personally, my tastes are quite elaborate. I like the urban Persian designs, so putting my Yarn hat on is an interesting experience. The rugs we sell are often more tribal in origin and normally have more muted colours. It’s because the audience we originally envisaged was composed of people like Min, rather than well-to-do middle-aged people with big houses. That said, I’m always delighted when we sell to well-to-do middle-aged people with big houses!”
Min: “Sometimes we shoot the rugs in my flat in London. I know dad rather disapproves of it, as every room is white, but it’s quite good to see the rugs in a different context, I think. It proves that old rugs look brilliant in contemporary settings. It just goes to show that when things are well designed, they work in all manner of spaces.”
Nick: “I think there are three really excellent pieces of design in the history of the world, whose aesthetic is effective anywhere. The first is Chinese and Japanese blue-and-white china; the second is Japanese woodblock prints. And the third is Persian and Caucasian rugs. Fundamentally, their motifs are brilliant. Enduringly brilliant. That’s not the kind of brilliance that comes and goes. They’re just an instance of someone getting it right.”
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