Sofa Soirée with Drew Pritchard
Welcome back to our Sofa Soirée where we sit down with a special guest to talk home, interiors and everything in between – and we are kicking off 2021 with a good one!
As you probably know by now we have a passion for adding various antique pieces, vintage furniture and quirky collectibles into our home – it’s something you can see and read more about in our house feature in the current issue of Reclaim Magazine - so we were really excited to get the opportunity to sit down with none other than Drew Pritchard! Antiques dealer extraordinaire and star of TV’s Salvage Hunters, Drew has a wealth of experience in the trade and we couldn’t wait to hear his secrets of the antiques market, tips on finding the right piece for your home and how he built his business. His book, Man with a Van: My Story is out Feb 11th!
Divine Savages: Hi Drew! Thanks so much for joining us for our Sofa Soirée, we’re huge fans of your work, you have an incredible talent for finding the most beautiful pieces. When did you realise your passion for antiques and that you had an eye for spotting the treasure?
Drew: I’ve always had a love for finding things since being a child. It sounds made up, but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t utterly fascinated by discovering something rusty and old! I’ve always wanted to be an antiques dealer before I actually knew what that was. As a kid growing up in deepest, darkest North Wales in the 1970s, it really was the middle of nowhere - we used to play football in the middle of the road all day it was so quiet. There was a local tip, basically just a field where people threw their rubbish, and we were all fascinated by pulling stuff out of there. Even at aged seven or eight I knew I could make money from it.
Divine Savages: We love that image of a young Drew scrambling through the local tip!
Drew: We’d go there a few times a week as there would always be new stuff people had thrown away. We also lived near the Conway estuary so we’d pull stuff out that would wash ashore, then we’d line it up at the side of the road and sell it. People would come up and say ‘that’s my oar! I dropped it overboard last week’ and I’d charge them a tenner for it!
Divine Savages: That’s brilliant! Digging through the tip and finding stuff that people throw away – that still happens, and for us the thrill of vintage and antiques and why we love it is that we rescue things people no longer want, and these items can live on. With a little bit of love and care they can be brought back to life.
Divine Savages: Can you remember your first buy - where is it now?
Drew: Well, my first buy is going back some time…I was buying and selling things at school. My parents couldn’t afford to buy me new Dr Martins boots or a Harrington jacket or new records, so I had to do it myself. I loved it – that thing of creating money out of nothing. One of the first things I remember buying at an auction house were two crappy mirrors. It wasn’t the best experience - the auctioneer took the mick out of me for not bidding properly and it kind of put me off auctions for about ten years!
Divine Savages: How has your business grown, and how has the antiques market changed over the years you've been trading?
Drew: It’s changed massively. When I was starting out I tried to get a job at an antiques firm but they wouldn’t take me – they only wanted your help for lifting stuff on and off the van, they didn’t want to actually teach you about antiques. So I got my first job as a stained glass restorer at sixteen, thinking this was a way into the business. On day one a van pulled in with ‘architectural antiques’ written across it and inside were loads of old doors, stained-glass windows and fireplaces and I was immediately hooked, that definitely lit the fire for me.
Divine Savages: So was the antiques market quite hard to break into back then?
Drew: Antiques used to be a very closed group – in the 1980s/1990s it was like trying to join the mafia! You had to know certain people, there was a strict hierarchy of dealers and those in the know. I started at the very bottom. I worked at my first job till I was about twenty-two, learning all that I could. When one day the business sadly closed, the very next day I started my own business up – doing stained glass, door polishing and architectural antiques. I put an ad in the local paper saying, ‘cash buyer, salvage wanted’ and I was inundated with people selling me stuff.
Divine Savages: We love how you soaked up all there was to learn and made a success your own way!
Drew: My first antiques fair was a huge success. I rolled up with my big truck and I took more in the first twenty minutes than I’d ever made before in my life, and I finished the day with over £20k. This was the early 90s when the market was very vibrant. That was it, I never looked back, and just continued to learn from experience. There’s no manual on ‘how to be an antiques dealer’ no one’s ever written one.
Divine Savages: Maybe you should write one… it would be a bestseller!
Drew: You basically had to learn by doing. You’d buy something and then learn about it by reading a book, or find someone who’d be able to tell you about it, shed some more light on the history, and you then find out if you can make a profit or not. There was no internet to ask back then! A dealer friend of mine once said ‘all we can do is find the beauty in things’ which kind of sums it up really, and I’ve done that my whole life.
Divine Savages: How has the internet changed things? We now have the likes of eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, Vinterior – a wealth of platforms dedicated to buying and selling used/vintage/antiques…
Drew: it’s democratised it for sure. I went online in 1999, quite early actually. I saw a friend selling used car parts online and thought that could work for me too. I set up my website and was amazed at how the sales went. If you have something good, and someone wants it, and the price isn’t stupid – it will sell.
Divine Savages: It also opens up your shop to the world – people don’t have to be local, or on your doorstep, right? Who is your ideal customer?
Drew: Exactly! I sell mostly to designers and to other dealers, that’s my business model. About 70% of my business goes back into the interiors trade. It’s what I’ve become known for and where I feel comfortable.
Divine Savages: Does that then influence the pieces you focus on and the things you source and buy?
Drew: Not so much actually. I just focus on the things I love and that I would gladly have in my own house
Divine Savages: That’s exactly how we design here at Divine Savages – patterns and prints that we’d love to have in our own home. What kinds of antiques are you drawn to then?
Drew: I have an imaginary house in my head, as I’m walking around looking at things to buy. I picture them in this house, and I think about what my clients would want and how they live - I’m fascinated by how people live. I like the comfortable, warm, safe environment that all my items give off. They’re all beautiful, fabulous things but you don’t have to be precious around them. You can spill a bit of tea, scratch it a bit or whatever and it’s fine. I like my antiques to show their age, yet to be the Rolls Royce or Jaguar of their type – just beautiful design, that’s the key.
Divine Savages: Plus all these scratches and marks or stains, these all tell a story about the piece right?
Drew: Absolutely, it’s had life! If something is pristine it makes you scared to use it. You want your house to be like a cocoon - you get home, kick off your shoes and relax. That is what I try and install through the antiques I source and sell.
Divine Savages: What kind of home do you live in, and what pieces do you surround yourself with?
Drew: My place is a fairly small, two bed cottage in Conway. It’s unfussy, simple – I’m in my office now with the best Modernist desk I’ve ever seen, sat on a Regency walnut armchair that only cost me forty quid, with a Compctum wardrobe I use for storage. It’s a mix of things I love. I don’t think an interior is ever finished – you’re always adding to it.
Divine Savages: One benefit of your profession is you are constantly finding such lovely things. Do you often keep pieces for a bit to enjoy them and then sell them on?
Drew: Ha! Literally this morning my kitchen table got swapped over. I found the perfect piece, a big old Irish mahogany dining table, covered in marks and scratches but I love it. My son moved it in to my kitchen today.
Divine Savages: Any tips on how to find your style?
Drew: Next time you’re shopping, if you see something you like, just buy it. Whatever it is – a cushion, throw, lampshade, plate, could be anything. Just buy it if it speaks to you. Take it home and enjoy it. Then the next time that happens buy it too. It doesn’t have to match, just has to have that feeling that sparked something in you. Then you start to create that rarest of things – ‘taste’. So, you can start to put together your own taste or style…and you then find out whether you’ve got good or bad taste, but at least you’ve got it!
Divine Savages: Exactly, we always say if you love it, and personally it means something to you - it’ll never go out of style. We mix different styles all over our home and love to add to our various collections. Is there anything in particular that you collect?
Drew: I collect fragments of old buildings – old plaster pieces or sections of stonework. That’s one particular thing I love – but ultimately, it’s a collection of things that come together that brings me joy.
Divine Savages: Have you regretted not buying something, anything particular you kick yourself for letting go?
Drew: Thousands of things! I always say if you’ve got the money to buy something, trust your gut and get it. You only regret the things you didn’t buy!
Divine Savages: This is the best advice! We recently experienced this as we saw a beautiful plaster statue of a nun from an old French church at Sunbury antiques but didn’t buy it at the time, and of course kicked ourselves when we got home. Luckily though we managed to track the seller down, so we got it in the end!
Speaking of which, we love a good antiques market or fair, do you have any tips on haggling!? How can you get a bargain?!
Drew: The most important thing is to be kind and courteous. If you’re at a market or fair, remember those sellers have been up all night packing their vans and driving to the event. A good technique is to say, ‘look I really love that piece, and I can take it away now, what can you do’? You’ll find they’ll offer you their best price. But then you must take it, don’t back track!
Divine Savages: Do you have any tips for someone wanting to find a diamond amongst the rough?
Drew: Educate yourself. If there’s a particular style or pieces you’re interested in, then read up on it. Find exhibitions on the subject and soak it all in. It takes time, you have to learn about your subject.
Divine Savages: Where do you see antique pieces in the home going next? Are antiques & vintage becoming more popular than ever?
Drew: People are certainly looking at antiques more these days. I’ve been championing so-called ‘brown furniture’ for years – it’s never been cheaper, and you’ll never get better for your money. In the last three years there’s been a huge growth of younger people buying antiques which is great. My son is now dealing in vintage clothing – although he says things like ‘it’s ancient, from 1985’ ha!
Divine Savages: We hear you on the brown furniture. We got a great deal on a piece for our office – a round table that we’ll use as a desk.
Drew: Also pieces like that will hold their price – you can enjoy it and then sell it on to make way for your next piece.
Divine Savages: Drew, it’s been an absolute pleasure chatting with you today, thanks for joining us! Before you go, we’ve got to ask - would you say your interior style is more divine, or more savage?
Drew: Well, I don’t believe in divinity, so I’m definitely more savage!
Divine Savages: Brilliant! We like the sound of that!
Don’t forget you can see all the new stock that Drew finds in his bi-weekly newsletter, every Wednesday and Friday. Head to drewpritchard.co.uk to discover more!
Read more about How To Add Vintage Charm To Your Interiors.
Make sure you join us next month for another edition of Sofa Soiree!