Shop Talk

A London Legacy

Current Ronald Phillips owner Simon Phillips — Ronald’s son — in the shop’s library. Top: A sumptuous circa-1755 settee upholstered in green velvet makes a bold yet elegant statement in a room that also includes an ebony-veneered table clock by John Wise, circa 1665, and a circa-1760 giltwood oval mirror.

The formal, glass-fronted facade of Ronald Phillips, in London’s Mayfair district, may at first seem intimidating, but march into the elegant shop on Bruton Street, right off Berkeley Square, and you will find a welcoming atmosphere filled with untold delights. Comprising a series of wood-paneled rooms entirely fitted with Georgian consoles, Regency mirrors, 18th-century crystal chandeliers and antique globes, the gallery is a sanctuary of supremely good English taste. Take, for example, the intimate private dining room, furnished with a magnificent mahogany table, where current owner Simon Phillips (son of Ronald the founder) has a chef prepare gourmet meals for clients that he pairs with fine vintages from his own cellar.

Simon is a gracious host and wonderful conversationalist, full of trade gossip and great tales of furniture history, as well as a devoted father, a passionate gourmand and a loyal friend.

His father opened the shop in 1952 and always sold good English antiques, ranging from the Queen Anne period to the Regency (about 1700 to 1840), but after taking over in the late 1990s, Simon decided to bring the gallery’s offerings to the next level.

“There were many more collectors of English antiques in those days,” Simon says, “and more competitors.” So to set himself apart, he moved away from providing what he calls “dining-room furniture” so that he could focus solely on “works of art.” These include carved and gilded Georgian consoles, Queen Anne bureau bookcases, Regency mahogany tables and chairs and George III pier glass mirrors.

Doing so has earned him a new and loyal clientele, comprising Americans, foreigners living in England and English collectors. Many of his pieces are by renowned 18th-century designers and cabinetmakers, not least of all Thomas Chippendale, Robert Adam, George Hepplewhite, Thomas Hope and William Kent. And he is only too happy to talk about provenance: Recently dropped names include the Earl of Hardwick, Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., Barbara Hutton and the Duke of Leeds, all of whom once owned pieces he’s sold or acquired in the last little while. (He is, in contrast, utterly discreet about current customers.)

A London Legacy
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A London Legacy

With its wood-paneled walls, glittering chandeliers and fine 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century furniture, Ronald Phillips, in London, is a sanctuary of supremely good taste.

A warm, golden-hued room at the gallery contains a brass chandelier by Johnson Brookes, 1821, and sinuous marbled circa-1815 Blue John urn.

Left: Simon, who took over the gallery from his father in 1996, says he’s shifted its focus from “dining-room furniture” to such “works of art” as this 1815 ormolu-mounted, cut-glass candelabra by John Blades. Right: A detail shows the fine handiwork on a pair of Chinese-lacquer commodes, circa 1765, likely by royal cabinetmaker John Cobb.

A pair of colorful circa-1750 Chinese enamel wall sconces add a hint of the exotic to this elegantly English vignette; the carved giltwood chairs, circa 1765, are likely by Thomas Chippendale.

 

Operating since 1952, the shop today offers such standout pieces as a George II mahogany bookcase, circa 1740; a marble-topped serpentine side table, circa 1760; and a rare gate-leg table with an octagonal drop-leaf top adorned with circles and stars, circa 1760.

Phillips knows his subject cold. He attended the prestigious boarding school Harrow, took a decorative arts course at the Victoria and Albert Museum and worked briefly at a London auction house. He joined his father in 1979, at the age of 18, and so can speak with authority about the stock. He is also proactive as he surveys the uncertain market for 18th-century antiques. When the Grosvenor House antiques show (arguably, London’s most prestigious fair) closed in 2009, he, along with two other top antiques dealers, Mallett and Apter-Fredericks, organized a new fair to take its place: Masterpiece London, which starts tomorrow (June 26) and runs through July 2. Located on the South Grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the fair, now in its fifth year, brings in thousands of connoisseurs, attracting them not just with antiques from some 150 exhibitors but also with such enticements as vintage wines, gleaming Riva speedboats and shiny new sports cars.

Simon says most of his new clients these days find him by word of mouth, but he leaves little to chance. He regularly produces luxurious but scholarly catalogs, organizes special exhibitions abroad and participates in other high-caliber fairs, including the International Fine Art & Antique Dealers Show, in New York, every October.

In recent years, several prominent dealers of English antiques, including Jeremy Hotspur and Frank Partridge & Sons, have shuttered as family members passed on, retired or squabbled. Yet Simon Phillips is forging full-speed ahead, confident that an insistence on top quality, rarity, original condition and enviable provenance — plus great quantities of good cheer — will continue to draw new customers and keep the loyal ones returning, again and again.

Visit on Ronald Phillips on 1stdibs


TALKING POINTS
Simon Phillips shares his thoughts on a few choice pieces.

A writing table fit for royalty. This very utilitarian yet stylish mahogany desk was crafted by one of the leading cabinet-making firms in England: Gillows of Lancaster and London had their own timber supply from the West Indies and used only the best mahogany available, which is one of the reasons Gillows furniture is so highly valued. An almost identical pedestal desk was supplied by Gillows to the Duke of Kent.

Eagle console tables are rare survivors of a time when symbolism was used in furniture. The eagle, a sign of strength and patriotism, was often used in conjunction with giltwood, as in this example. A similar table by Francis Brodie is in the celebrated collection at Dumfries House in Scotland. Console tables with marble tops are the perfect furnishing for entrance halls and are wonderful focal points.

This quintessentially English chair is the perfect combination of beautiful design and pedigree of ownership. The Leidesdorf Collection was formed by an Englishman living in New York in the first half of the 20th century whose connoisseurship and eye for detail allowed him to form one of the best collections of his time. Due to its sculptural quality, the chair will not look out of place in a modern home today – a true example that quality and beauty prevail.

Exotic timbers like rosewood became highly fashionable in the beginning of the 19th century. The brass inlay, a revival of a 17th-century practice called boulle work, is of the finest quality, as are the brass mounts, which were finely chased and burnished to create a sparkle when reflecting light. A table from the same workshop and of equally high quality is in the collection of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

A wonderful example of 18th-century craftsmanship by one of the leading London makers, this mirror is beautifully drawn and exquisitely carved. Attributed to the firm of William and John Linnell, of Berkeley Square, this mirror will add sparkle and presence to any home.

Japanned furniture was all the rage in the late 17th century. Lacquer from the East was hugely expensive, and a European version called japanning became the slightly more affordable alternative. White or cream japanning, of which this cabinet is an example, was by far the most difficult to achieve, and only a few workshops in Europe were capable of doing it.

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