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Secrets of a house clearance expert

The “collector, hunter and clearer” Natalia Rawley is happiest rifling through home movers’ possessions. Her eye is trained and her trade is swift, with items often being uploaded and off-loaded the same day via her eminently scrollable digital shopfront. Inigo asks how it all began, what services she offers and why the thrill of the hunt never abates

Aimee Farrell
Matthew Hague
Secrets of a house clearance expert

Whether filled with a lifetime’s treasures or meaningful tat, as anyone who has cleared a house – or even tackled a cupboard – will attest that letting go of possessions can be an evocative, even painful process.

For Natalia Rawley, the emotive exercise of house clearance is a daily reality. The self-described “collector, hunter and clearer,” acts as an editor, and guide, sorting through the detritus of client’s homes to seek out the jewels that she can quickly transform for them into cash. “At any one time, I have people calling me who are downsizing, have inherited a house – or have moved into a home where the previous owners haven’t cleared their stuff,” she says. “They’re often desperate for help.” Occasionally, it’s after a renovation that people discover that the textiles or furniture they’d put into storage no longer suit the house.

Rather than waiting weeks to painstakingly list every item themselves on eBay, Natalia swoops in and sells en masse, taking a share of the total as her fee – and transferring the rest to clients in a single, often large, lump sum. “Even things that people think are worthless soon add up,” she says.

Directed by her own tastes and expertise in paintings and textiles, Natalia can, on any given day, sell anything from figurative woven wall hangings to late 19th-century gilt mantle mirrors, to Irving Penn books, toile pin boards and antique sleigh beds. Her Instagram feed – which serves as her sole shopfront – quickly garnered a loyal, word-of-mouth following of interior designers, collectors and celebrities after launching the business in 2020. “I make it a really painless process,” she says. “I come and see you, measure up, photograph everything and sell from there in seconds. Bulky items I arrange for the buyer to come and collect from you; smaller ones I take home to style, shoot and wrap. Basically, I take away the headache.”

Natalia Violet Antiques is a charmingly hotchpotch chronicle of collecting. Throwing the interior life of British homes into sharp relief, Natalia’s refreshingly uncurated images reveal the sheer scope and scale of the objects that we surround ourselves with. This joyful, beautiful journal of junk – from fantastic oddities to fine antiques – is a delicious, digital hunting ground. “People follow me because you can get a good deal,” she says of her deliberately small margins and competitive pricing.

Natalia retains a tangible sense of joy in her job. “I love nosying around people’s homes,” she says. “You never know what you’re going to find – I’ve discovered priceless paintings and things like painted Wemyss Ware pottery being used as a toothbrush holder.” There’s also a pleasing circularity to the fact that her finds will get a second life in another home.

After a History of Art MA at the University of Edinburgh, Natalia studied drama and movement therapy, later launching small businesses including a linen and children’s clothing company. All have proved invaluable in her current role. “Often you’re going into a house after a death, and people are so raw and sentimental about things,” she says. “You have to have a certain degree of emotional intelligence – as well as be able to sell the stuff.”

A lifelong collector of ceramics and textiles, Natalia began selling her own possessions as a way to offload her own excess. Before long, a friend asked whether she might come and take a look at her house – and things spiralled from there. Four years on, Natalia has two part-time employees and can sell up to 40 items per day through her account. Recent finds include a collection of Ben Pentreath wall maps from a Fulham townhouse; and a set of Colefax & Fowler fabrics sold at the sixth of the retail price. Her comprehensive service includes fielding sourcing requests for anything from sofas to dressers.

In contrast to the highfalutin, often slow moving world of antiques and auction houses, hers is a very dynamic business. “Nothing lingers for long,” says Natalia, who tends to clear up to two houses per month. “If people are going to buy it, they are likely to do it straightaway. Most things sell within minutes.” The value of the pieces she deals in varies from £20 to £5000. “I love the variety,” she says. “It brings me a wide audience with different sized pockets.” Though she’s the first to admit that her tastes tend towards the traditional, country house style of chintzy, maximalist patterns and vibrant colour ways. It’s certainly not the place for minimalists.

While brown furniture and majolica ceramics remain eternally popular, she says, painted distressed pine is decidedly not. “Ultimately quality always sells well,” says Natalia. There is a hidden perk for those considering using her clearance services: it is done anonymously, so you can freely offload unwanted gifts or ill-advised buys. Natalia’s ethos is to be ruthlessly upfront about the condition of her wares. “It’s about being honest and trying to be human,” she says. “I want a high turnover and for people to be happy with the stuff they’re investing in.” For her, every day holds fresh promise: “I’m a great optimist,” she says. “I always believe that today is the day I will find a Rembrandt.”

Follow Natalia Rawley on Instagram

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