Alexandra Owen brings antiques to life as she talks to Sarah Gubbins about using historic pieces in 21st century homes.
Walking through Belgravia to meet Alexandra Owen, I am impressed by the magnificent architecture of the buildings lining the street. I find myself weaving as I gawk up at them. "I'm wearing an orange coat", says Alex on the phone, and I spot her.
I ask Alex how she found her way into the Interior Design business. "I completely fell into it. A friend recommended the job to me. I'd always loved the creative arts but had this stifled at school. It wasn't until I walked through the door that I knew I'd found my niche. A lot of people hear sounds or music when they think but I see and speak in colours, everything to me is a colour."
Alex grew up between Florida and the U.K, while her family were raised in Africa. She spent one year training at Parson's Design School in New York which focuses on using space effectively. I ask Alex what is the most crucial element of design. She doesn't hesitate; "It's got to be functional. It has to work as a home. After the space, lighting is seriously key. Without that, you aren't able to appreciate anything else. These days you can get some pretty awful light. It totally off balances anything that you have considered properly".
Having studied History at university, this interest permeates through to Alex's work. "So much of where you can steer a design is determined by the architecture of a space". Design needs to be in unity with the existing building. "I think it's very unfair to create an interior that is a complete juxtaposition of what the building needs and where you want to take it." Balancing a client's brief with your own creative ideas is part of the art. "I think it's important to wear the client's right shoe but you have to remember to wear your own left shoe." The end result should be a harmony between the client's needs and what the designer has brought to the table. "It's no good regurgitating a client's brief".
Modern design is something that Alex keeps her eye on, "It can be clean and simplistic, an element that is great in some parts of a home, but you need that gravity and character that an antique piece brings". Alex cannot believe how reasonably priced lots in the auction are. "With an antique piece you get extraordinary craftsmanship - a piece that has withstood centuries will continue to last." Altering tiny details can make a piece feel modern, such as changing the brassware or lining the drawers with fabric, advises Alex. "I'm living on Portobello road above the cloth shop so I have a constant turnover of beautiful fabrics". However, a beautiful piece needs to stand on its own. "Just setting an antique in modern surroundings will give it a new life and camouflage any wear".
As Alex talks, the antiques take on an anthropomorphic quality. Her interest in their past lives is engaging. "They tell their own story, that's what I think is nice about them". She picks out lot 200 an étagère table. "It has real character. Perhaps at the top of a hall, somewhere you can chuck your coat or some books." She considers it for a moment, "It probably had a pair and so now he's on his own!".
She loves lot 246 a pair of Louis XV chairs. "They've just got a sense of humour about them. They're practical and elegant." Chairs can create lightness in a room. "These in the corner with a round table would be very sweet. You can play around with them, change the fabric. What you don't want to mess with is what is underneath the fabric" she tells me, "probably horse hair".
"As soon as I saw that lot 320, this rosewood book case had postage stamps from Brazil on its back telling its story - that was it! It's not fussy, I feel like it would really have a place in a modern home, without having to fiddle with it. There are some really beautiful lots here that you could use straight away."
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com