We caught up with Piers van Til of Toad, an interiors dealer, gallery and stylist based in London's Chelsea. Read on to discover Piers' unique tips for buying antiques, his favourite things about the industry and why the gallery cat, Frederick, motivates him to get up in the morning.
When did you start dealing in antiques?
The day of the referendum result. In other words, very recently after a 22 year career working as a creative director for London based design and branding agencies.
What part of your job gets you out of bed in the morning?
Usually the gallery cat, Frederick. A phlegmatic and rather portly British blue.
What is your favourite thing about the industry?
Talented and passionate people, who take big risks and love what they do. At the creative end it's a discipline of artistic expression. Every piece you buy expands your knowledge and teaches you something about yourself.
What advice would you give someone starting out in the antiques world?
Love it and do it for that. And be aware that things have and will continue to change, a huge element now is experiential in the form of digital marketing and brand/visual story telling.
How did you come about setting up shop in Chelsea and what do you like best about the area?
I bumped into an old friend who said she was looking to sell her lease – that being 17 Langton Street, now Toad. On one level Chelsea (once a bohemian area of London) has become a victim of it's own success, ultimately though it provides a practical platform from which to present a diverse collection to contemporary interior designers. The area and it's environs are bound into the world of interiors, Chelsea Harbour is round the corner, as is Masterpiece. Langton Street itself is now establishing itself as a niche artistic enclave for those seeking antiques, home decor and design.
"Every piece you buy expands your knowledge and teaches you something about yourself"
What are your favourite places to eat near your shop?
I'm very lucky to have La Famiglia only a few doors down from me. It's a real institution and hugely convivial, with wonderful staff and a great Tuscan menu. Otherwise, eating at the bar of the mothership - the Chelsea Arts Club.
What makes your business special?
That Toad is fundamentally about contemporary style, the pieces may be from any era, epoch or expression – the energy that is created through juxtaposition is exciting and transformative. The collection is designed so that it compliments modern interiors which are often minimal and highly specified, frequently in that scenario you only need a few really good statement pieces to work into the space. I'd like to think that Toad has a modern sensibility and can extend to younger audiences who engage with antiques as a form of expression in context with other modern pieces.
Where do you source your pieces from?
Where does the truffle hunter go with his pig? Diversity is key, seeking is happening all the time. Making efforts to cast the eye very broadly, I prefer to find all pieces personally myself. It's a collection and has to work holistically.
How do you know what to look for?
By following and researching current trends, stylists and designers the eye becomes highly tuned. Moodboards are a useful conceptual technique I've used comprehensively harking back to my years working in the design industry.
How do you ensure that a piece is authentic?
Again research, but also by building and collaborating with a network of experts. If there is any doubt at all you have to walk away. Auction houses are not always reliable, I've shipped pieces from Europe before only to ship them back once I discovered a giveaway inconsistent detail that revealed incorrect cataloging and attribution.
What is your favourite period or style to collect?
I enjoy the energy and edge of eclecticism and the relationships it creates in a space. Essentially I like to say I'm open to everything and attached to nothing. Overall though, quality pieces cut through the clutter.
Who are your favourite interior designers?
There are so many. Inspiration from the timeless eye of Axel Veervoordt, Francois Hallard and Oliver Gustav, to emerging edgy talents like Michael Bargo and Hollie Bowden. I also love the aesthetic and work of LA based firm Hallworth founded by Jane Hallworth. I should also mention the master interior designer Michael Priest who was fundamental to the inception of Toad and to whom I was fortunate enough to learn a great deal from and of course the exceptional eye of Guy Goodfellow.
What is the most special piece you have collected?
A remarkable carved Roman Baroque ebonised mirror from Palazzo Sacchetti.
What are your top tips for buying antiques?
Connect with your intuition and buy from the heart - based on the idea that the aim of this object is to give you pleasure. To know what you like is important, as often the senses are overwhelmed in markets. For dealers it's complicated as we have to use extensive research and use comparatives, but that's because we have to sell the same items on for a profit. Collectors typically take a similar approach.
What is on the horizon for your business?
The introduction of a new line of contemporary pieces by hugely talented artists and designers. Ranging from ceramics and glass, to art, sculpture and furniture. Including the most incredible organic sculptural vases by Brooklyn based designer John Born and work from recent Shanghai Royal College graduate Hua Wang.