United by Design

Lucky Talisman

Ken Bolan established Talisman 30 years ago. Top: At the flagship shop, a cast-bronze bull sculpture by Christian Maas sits atop a 1970s stone coffee table with a Paul Evans 1980s cabinet made of blue suede and stainless steel in the background. All photos courtesy of Talisman

The first thing to understand about the London gallery Talisman is that it is not an antiques store – or at least that’s what Ken Bolan, its founder and managing director, would argue. It may have a phenomenal stock of furniture, lighting and objets dating predominantly from the mid-18th to late-20th century, but there is nothing overly reverential or moth-balled about the Talisman approach. “We do stock `brown’ furniture,” says Bolan, “but only wild brown furniture!”

It’s in the newest Talisman store, on Ebury Street, that Bolan and I meet. (There’s also a flagship on New King’s Road and another store in Dorset.) Now in his mid-60s, he has lost none of the passion and energy that first drove him to establish this business 30 years ago. As we tour the showroom, he offers commentary on every piece we pass, from a classically beautiful 18th-century Swedish bookcase and rococo sofa of the same period (“A timeless look that I still adore”) and a pair of Karl Springer console tables (“I would never need to reinterpret those – he got it right from the very first”) to an unusual pair of early-19th-century Russian tables with Neoclassical star embellishments (“Look at the detail on those legs!”) and a 1940s cabinet that his daughter Morgan gilded entirely in silver-leaf (“Exceptional work for a twenty-five-year-old – it had a deadly boring brown veneer previously”).

With such an eclectic stock, it is no wonder that Talisman is as much a mecca for fashionistas as for denizens of the interior design world, with fans that include model Kate Moss, fashion designer Julien MacDonald, hotelier Kit Kemp and interior designer Tara Bernerd. This is the Alexander McQueen of the antiques world: dramatic, opinionated and extroverted.

Talisman has three showrooms, including this one on Ebury Street, its newest, in London’s de facto design district, Pimlico Road. Previous page: Ken Bolan established Talisman 30 years ago. All photos courtesy of Talisman

Talisman has three showrooms, including this one on Ebury Street, its newest, in London’s de facto design district, Pimlico Road.

New pieces by Talisman Bespoke (the 11-tiered Lucite chandelier and the blue-bordered circular mirror) complement a 1960s Adrian Pearsall for Craft Associates resin-wrapped sofa and a pair of faux elephant tusks from the 1970s.

Talisman doesn’t sell the past: It takes the past and gives it a Cinderella-worthy transformation. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Talisman Editions arm of the business, for which Bolan joyfully reinterprets vintage pieces for contemporary eyes, buying mainly mid- to late-20th-century stock that has fallen out of fashion and giving it a contemporary revamp in one of his three workshops in Somerset (a fourth will soon open in Ireland). The various skills of his artisans include gilding, stone masonry, cabinet-making, frame-making, bronze-casting, lacquerwork, nickel-plating, upholstery, engineering and all kinds of patination and surface-finishing. “The hours, skills and materials we invest in every piece are extensive,” he says. “It is our job to give clients the right level of quality, and they trust us to do that.”

As for the carefully preserved pieces of exceptional quality and heritage that rub shoulders with these glitzy restorations, Bolan is obsessed with the great American and European designers of the mid- to late- 20th century, including Paul Evans, Karl Springer, Tommi Parzinger, Aldo Tura and Philip  and Kelvin LaVerne. He was one of the first dealers in London to spot the potential of Evans’s work more than a decade ago, and though he has seen the designer’s prices climb monumentally, he still manages to keep a substantial amount of Evans stock at all times. “Those pieces have a way of finding me,” he says with a laugh.


  • ALargeCastAluminiumRhinoSculpturebyChristianMaas
  • A1940sSilverLeafedCabinet
  • AFrenchStyleArmchairbyTalisman


Talisman stocks a considerable amount of furniture by the American designer Paul Evans, including a rare silver-and-burl buffet and a mirror from the Cityscape collection, both from the 1970s and on view at the New Kings Road shop.

Born in Scotland, Bolan left school at 15, knowing academic life was not for him. He started dealing in vintage and racing cars, and in his early 20s he ended up in Bern, Switzerland, having followed a Swiss girl with whom he was head-over-heels in love. (This girl, Yolanda, better known as Yolie, would become his wife of 37 years; sadly, she died earlier this year.) In search of a venture, he brought a van back from the UK to Bern filled with antiques, rented a retail space and soon opened a gallery on nothing, he says, but “a wing and a prayer.” By the time he and Yolie decided to return to London 10 years later, they had opened three shops (which they shuttered) in Bern, Zurich and Basel.

In 1982, they moved from London to Somerset in England’s West Country to start a family and there opened their first UK showroom and workshop. Today, their daughter, Morgan; son, Sebastian; and Sebastian’s fiancée, Zee, all work in the Talisman business – Morgan in gilding, Sebastian in metal patination and Zee on the administration side. In 2006, Bolan opened another showroom, in London, on New Kings Road (“the far end” as Londoners describe it), and then, in 2010, the third shop in Ebury Street, a destination for antiques and decoration where neighboring showrooms include Linley, Soane, Nicky Haslam-, Jamb and Rose Uniacke.

A mid-19th-century cast-iron lion and tiger by Henri Jacquemart stand guard in the window of the Ebury Street showroom; the Doulton stoneware urns date from the late 19th century.


Bolan is an avid supporter of the contemporary artist Nicolas Lavarenne, whose cast-bronze Moyenne arc-en-Ciel dates to 1999.

Today, Bolan splits his time among his home and beloved garden in Somerset, an apartment in London and travels that take him all over the world, but particularly to Sweden, France and northern Italy to source new pieces. Talisman has grown exponentially over the past decade, expanding into related services including design consultancy, events and even antiques rental, the last of which gives developers the chance to inject some of Talisman’s spirit into show apartments and the like. There’s also Talisman Bespoke, the company’s own range of traditionally crafted upholstered designs that have proved a big hit with customers in search of quality mixed with pizzazz. On top of all that, Talisman also offers a fine selection of vintage jewelry, 20th-century glass objects, garden statuary and a rolling program of art exhibitions and events at the various showrooms. Talisman’s total stock is huge, filling two warehouses beyond the retail spaces. “We are like the V&A,” Bolan says, laughing. “There is more stuff in our ‘cellars’ than on show in our three stores.

“Every day I wake up really excited about this business,” he conclude. “My job is to go shopping – and that is always a pleasure.”



Talking Points

Ken Bolan shares his thoughts on a few choice pieces.

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