The trend included the sale of a c.1820 Italian neoclassical Carrara marble urn, ticketed at £14,500 on the stand of Vagabond Antiques. Nearly all the garden offerings on that stand, which included a range of decorative items, sold.
Owner Joe Chaffer ticks them off: a monumental amphora, a marble fountain, and a pair of stone statues, all priced from the mid-four to lowfive figures.
“We really handpicked what we thought were exceptional pieces. We didn’t dominate the stand with garden items, but they were statement pieces,” he said. “It was good results on the things that you might think were more for spring.”
Running from January 25-30, the fair was the first of three stagings slated to take place at Evolution London this year.
Following the fair’s return to in-person events last September, it seemed to mark a return to normalcy after two calendar years of coronavirus and lockdown, which both involved just one of the three annual events.
Sales were reported across disciplines (including furniture, fine art, decorative items and antiques), interior decorators and designers flowed in on opening day and some famous faces familiar at the fair – such as David Beckham and Eddie Redmayne – were in attendance, browsing and buying.
Still, the shadow of the pandemic hung over the event. Taking place in the wake of the postponement of the London Art Fair, it was in the unusual position of being the first major London event of the year. When the government rolled back mask requirements midway through the fair, exhibitors reported livelier midweek crowds.
And the effect of lockdown still seemed to influence buying patterns both directly and indirectly, as that trend for gardenalia illustrated.
Exhibitor Peter Whipps of Arabesque Antiques noted that during the past two years not only have functional items of furniture been in demand but there was a huge rise in interest for garden antiques.
He added: “People were at home in lockdown and started working on their gardens. In fact, it was so popular it was getting hard to find stock as it was so busy. This has continued and I had a great fair.”
His sales included a large late 19th-early 20th century terracotta orangery pot, offered for a price in the region of £1000, which sold to plantsman Alexander Hoyle.
For Martin D Johnson, strength in garden items was also a result of the pandemic, if more obliquely.
“Garden has been selling well, but that’s what we’ve brought to the fair,” said the dealership’s Paul Wong. He noted that two large urns were among the stand’s early stand-out sales.
“We’ve been busy this year and we’ve been locked out of France, so our usual restocking hasn’t been easy.”
Then again, exhibitors at Battersea are known for bringing the right sort of stock, even when it’s not easy. Co-organisers Jane Juran and Darren Hudson hailed the efforts of the dealers, particularly under the circumstances.
“The fair was filled to the brim with special pieces which, given the on-going challenges faced by the trade in acquiring new stock, especially from Europe, just proves the efforts our dealers go to in making this such an appealing event,” Hudson said.
An attractive fair brings in the right visitors. Graham Child of Garden Artefacts reported his best fair to date: down to a single buyer, a woman tasked with buying for a new garden museum in Ireland, who returned to his stand several times during the week. It is easy to imagine that she boosted similar sales on other stands too.
That is that kind of luck that always plays a part in these events, Child says. He adds: “I’m not big bucks, but in my simple way it was a better fair than I’ve had before.”
A few dealers said the fair seemed quieter than usual but they reported sales nevertheless.
“The world is a different place,” said Robbie Timms of S&S Timms, who says he’s still trying to figure out what “the new normal” is. Sales on that stand included four or five pieces of English furniture for “mid-range” prices, including three from £5000-20,000.
“I haven’t found that January fairs are this quiet in the past,” he added, “although it felt like a regular, steady Decorative fair during the week, but the weekend was more difficult in terms of business. I’m not willing to compare it to pre-pandemic levels.
“Is it because there aren’t as many people in London over the weekend any more? Is it [referring to a change introduced at the last fair] because there aren’t the complimentary tickets putting the fair in the forefront of people’s minds?”
S&S Timms is an old hand at the event, while businesses such as Christopher Hall Antiques are among the newer recruits. The firm had its first fair last September and is still coming to grips with what draws buyers. While dealer Stephen Hall came armed to sell larger furniture pieces, he said that he found that smaller items attracted particular interest.
These included a collection of as Italian confit pots – often used as outdoor statement pieces – priced at around £120-130, almost all of which sold.
“I would have loved to sell more furniture, but it’s only my second fair ever and I’m learning as I go,” he says.
But what sells and when can surprise endlessly. So says exhibitor Nicholas Gifford-Mead, who started out in 1968: “The market is completely unpredictable and always has been. I can sell fire grates in August and garden furniture on Christmas Eve. It still surprises me after all these years.”
The spring DATF is scheduled for May 4-8 and the autumn event for October 4-9.