Bonhams : BONHAMS MAGAZINEIt's all got to go - Christopher Hodsoll has furnished libraries for royalty and interiors for Mick Jagger. He is also a compulsive shopper of the weird and the wonderful. Maev Kennedy meets him on the eve of the sale of his collection
BONHAMS MAGAZINE
It's all got to go - Christopher Hodsoll has furnished libraries for royalty and interiors for Mick Jagger. He is also a compulsive shopper of the weird and the wonderful. Maev Kennedy meets him on the eve of the sale of his collection

"It's all got to go," said antiques collector Christopher Hodsoll cheerfully. "The lot." The lot – or the lots, offered by Bonhams at the sale of Hodsoll's collection in October – will include the 18th-century wine glass in his hand, the fork by his plate, the mahogany chair he was sitting on, and the teak dining table on which his wife Sarah had spread an excellent lunch.

The magnificent Cuban mahogany door, with a sumptuous gilt bronze handle, will at least be easy to remove: it once filled the gap where his London flat was knocked through into the house next door, and now leans against the wall by the stove of the Shropshire kitchen.

Hodsoll's brain, which unaccountably Damien Hirst decided he didn't want, sits on a side table in his study. The distressingly convincing 19th-century model lurks in a murky glass jar sealed with queasily bloody red wax. "Gorgeous, isn't it?", Hodsoll says. "I decided to keep it, thought I might need it again – but that's going now too."

The Bonhams specialist working on the sale, Charlie Thomas, remarks rather faintly, "Unique – where are you going to see another?". It is a phrase he is frequently forced to repeat as he struggles to sort and catalogue hundreds of lots, the hoarded treasures of a lifetime's collecting. "That 17th-century silver chest from South America – I asked our metalwork chaps about it. They'd never seen anything like it."

But back to Damien Hirst. The artist was just the sort of client Hodsoll enjoys: a fellow magpie, with several houses to fill, and naturally he was interesting to work with. As Hodsoll recalls: "Damien invited himself to dinner once, but never turned up. His mother arrived instead – she was fabulous, great company."

Bob Geldof was nearly another client but, with a frown, Hodsoll can't quite remember whether he sold him anything – unless, in the end, Geldof took the plaster Madonna with a chip out of it. "What he really liked was to come round to the shop, sit down and chat for hours. He wasn't at all famous at the time... then along came Live Aid and – boom! – everyone knew his name again."

Live Aid reminds Hodsoll of working for Paul Simon, Elton John ("great fun"), and Sting. "Actually that was all done through his wife, Trudie Styler, she was... she was alright." A very rare attack of discretion grips him, and he says no more.

The sale is only a more spectacular version of the serial packing up and moving on that Christopher and Sarah have done throughout the 32 years they've been together, in England, the United States and Africa. When they moved for several years for a job in Morocco, they took their young daughters, promising to homeschool them. But they never quite got round it. "We forgot," he said apologetically; all four, now grown up, flourished.

The furniture, carpets, pictures, sculpture, lamps, taxidermy, glass and silver, rugs and garden furniture filled Morville Hall – their most recent home, a gorgeous Shropshire mansion rented from the National Trust. Although it was one of the shorter stopovers in their restless lives, Hodsoll filled the rooms with the immaculate eye for rich colour, texture, elegance and a dash of eccentricity. His paintings include a giant portrait of the noble hound which led the rescue party to his stricken master, the 4th Earl of Antrim, who was felled in a hunting accident. Among the stuffed animals are a guinea pig and a slightly foxed mole.

Hodsoll has exercised his gift for the extraordinary on behalf of clients, including Mick Jagger. ("Mick likes that country-house look, he's mad on healthy living, an absolute health freak", he reports to my disappointment). He has also worked for Charles Saatchi ("most impatient client I ever had, wants everything done at once – he was having the ceiling replastered while we were laying a new carpet") and the Duke of Edinburgh, for whom he made a pop-up Georgian library in a tent for a party at Windsor ("The Duke is very knowledgeable, hilariously funny, not at all like his cranky image").

And in his own home, no matter how temporary, Hodsoll's treasures looked as if they had occupied the rooms for centuries, with deliberately offbeat collisions of taste that he will recreate in room sets for the October auction at Bonhams Knightsbridge. In Shropshire, the 18th-century portraits in one room looked down in astonishment on an early 20th-century table picked up in Paris, its built-in electric lights glowing in a distinctly louche manner through a top made of a huge slab of onyx. "Unique", Charlie Thomas murmured.

Hodsoll was brought up in an old house in Sussex that was furnished with antiques because they were cheaper than buying new. (He doesn't have a high opinion of contemporary furnishing tastes: "One boring, boring, boring, shiny grey thing after another.") He left school ("like St Trinian's, only less fun") with one O-level in English, and got a job as a researcher with an antiques dealer, where he was bored and lonely. He then ran a gallery in Notting Hill for a few years, which he remembers mainly as a round of parties and racing around London in a 17-year-old Mini Cooper. He finally found his feet when he met his friend and mentor, the legendary interior decorator and designer Geoffrey Bennison. Ancestors of Hodsoll's style are instantly recognisable in the sumptuous interiors Bennison created for clients including members of the Rothschild family. "That was my real education," Hodsoll notes. "Geoffrey taught me everything I know."

Bennison bequeathed a beautiful little ivory temple in a glass case to Hodsoll, and the fragile glass has survived many moves since – but it too is in the sale, probably the greatest wrench, Hodsoll tells me.

The other thing he really will miss is his desk, a Chippendale period monster the size of a double bed. His wife's small neat Georgian desk is immaculate; his is stacked with papers, notebooks, old pairs of spectacles – all in use, none he thinks originally his – pens, mineral rocks, and broken toys. He has been accustomed to prepare for important visitors, Sarah says, by sweeping everything off the surface into the enormous top drawer.

In Shropshire, as the couple walked through their home sorting things for the auction, his wife felt she couldn't bear to part with the blazing John Bratby painting of sunflowers that had come from her own family home. The following day, she decided it goes as well. "It's not the things that matter, it's the memories," she said firmly, "and we keep all those." "If you started to keep out one or two things, where would you end up?" Hodsoll agreed. And then added, with a wistful note which strongly suggested he will soon end up filling the void: "It's easy to start again – if you want to."

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