Their excitement is palpable. While they pay lip service to the fact that the London venture has its risks, each is openly optimistic.
Wallrock is based in Hampshire and his company, Wick Antiques, trades in English furniture and Japanese works of art. David Brooker Fine Art is from Connecticut in the US, specialising in 19th and 20th century pictures. Each will contribute a selection of stock to the space at 93 Lower Sloane Street.
“Most people will probably think we’re mad,” Wallrock says. There are, after all, few antiques dealers opening shops in London these days.
But they hazard to say that in fact they’re ahead of the curve. English furniture has seemed on a slight but definite rise during the last six or seven months, according to Wallrock, and Brooker judges that the combination of furniture and pictures will appeal to decorative-minded buyers.
“It’s great to have a bricks-and-mortar space, especially in what I think of as one of the last great art and antiques areas in London,” Brooker says. “Outside of this there’s Kensington Church Street and St James’s and that’s it really. So this space was too good an opportunity to miss.”
The two dealers met around 10 years ago (probably at Olympia, they think, the site of so many dealers’ initial meetings). Then, six months ago, Brooker got wind of the fact that the gallery, previously home to a bookshop, would become available in March. He proposed the joint venture to Wallrock, who was quick to get on board – “why not?” he says.
The shop will be open six days a week, attended by five members of staff, including the dealers themselves when they can be present.
Each of the two has a different approach to business. Wallrock, who also has a space in the Palm Beach Antiques Centre, is trying to reduce his fair appearances. The expense is eventually prohibitive, he says, and it restricts the time with potential clients. This year he stood at the Palm Beach Jewelery, Art & Antique Show and will go on to Masterpiece London and the LAPADA Art & Antiques Fair.
“It’s great to have a bricks-and-mortar space especially in what I think of as one of the last great art and antiques areas in London
“I know the market here very well,” he adds. Although he hasn’t been based in a London gallery before, he has been in the business since 1981 and was a Harrods supplier for 22 years.
Tastes have changed since then. “It’s become a little more simplistic now. People want to see four or five or maybe even one really great piece in a room rather than 10 or 20.”
Brooker, on the other hand, is taking part in a total of 18 fairs this year (10 still to come). He is British-born but has been based out in the US for 20 years now. Though his accent is still decidedly British, he says in many ways his allegiance is divided.
Why seek this opportunity in London and not, say, New York?
Brooker says: “The New York antique market has really shrunk dramatically. There are only a handful of shops left and the rest of the market is 20th century, which isn’t really my field. London is still a place where people come to from all over the world to buy antiques. New York is more design oriented and it no longer has a hub of antiques shops.”
For now, the strategy is to maintain a straightforward approach. The sign outside the duo’s shop is to be painted simply with both their names and inside they will showcase two distinct sets of stock. They might be aware of the risks, but at the moment, they agree, why not give it a go.