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There is the decoration to think of, the clients coming through the door, the chatting, the sales and – whenever he can spare the time – restocking.

“I’m either brave or stupid,” he says. “But here I have some of the best dealers in the UK minutes away. And opening a shop is a natural step in my progression.”

Chaffer, 36, has a clear vision. He started his business in 2015 and for the past few years has traded out of a barn nestled down a country lane in Barnham. In that time he fell into what he says is the model for many young dealers: dealing from a warehouse and relying heavily on the internet.

But he had long felt that the advantages of bricks and mortar were undeniable. Chief among them was the possibility of getting to know clients. After all, “they’re buying into you as well as the item”, and relationships are harder to build over the phone or online.

He does not look at the shop as a permanent base but part of a progression towards opening his ideal premises in five or 10 years’ time. Meanwhile, he has the enviable advantage of a turnover-based lease, making the bottom line more manageable, in a location roughly five minutes’ drive from Petworth and 10 from Arundel – both renowned antiques shop ‘hubs’.


Joe Chaffer of Vagabond Antiques.

The opening days have seen healthy attendance from buyers new and old. The trade is particularly important to Chaffer – one of his main concerns in opening the new shop was that the rarefied air of Fittleworth would put off this particular buying base. So it was gratifying to have Arundel dealer Spencer Swaffer come by with a knot of clients in tow and for Petworth’s David Swanson to visit and buy a selection of pieces.

Chaffer is now cautiously confident.

With so much going on, “trying to be everywhere at once has been the most difficult part”, he says. He reflects that soon he’ll have to hire a member of staff – a difficult proposition since, by his own admission, he is “a bit of a control freak”.

“Here I have some of the best dealers in the UK minutes away. Opening a shop is a natural step in my progression

In the meantime, he has one valuable helper: his mother. A collector in her own right, she brought Chaffer along to fairs when he was a child. Now she has been at the new premises throughout its preparation and opening, to do anything from painting the skirting boards to watching the shop and making cups of tea.

“She know a bit about everything,” he says. “She’s my mentor and she loves the shop.”

The new shop does not mean he will abandon other platforms. He has held on to the barn where he was previously based and continues to trade at fairs and online.


Stone cherub offered for £295 at Vagabond Antiques.

As the winner of an annual Antique Young Guns’ competition, Chaffer was given a pitch at the recent Salvo fair (the other winner was Matt Dixon of Tallboy Antiques). He continues to advertise his stock on Instagram where, he says, items can go in 30 seconds – making it a far quicker transactional tool than the website. It is also a good channel for networking with other dealers and for keeping an eye on trends.

The shop is “the cherry on top” of his various endeavours. It might cater for the trade but there’s still “the odd member of the public who comes in and buys everything at retail prices. We all need that”.