The Yorkshireman moved to Devon having renovated a Victorian property in the north-east which he sold on.
He is two years into the possibly eight-year renovation project. The Georgian house, built in 1804 on the site of the Royal Naval Hospital Stonehouse, was originally built for Captain Richard Creyke, the senior officer who ran the 26-acre site that would have housed around 1000 injured or sick seamen.
ATG: Are you buying furniture of the age and style to match your property or do you go for other styles to mix in?
Greg Penn: Definitely a bit of a mix. The way I see it is that through the ages, people would have added their bits to it and were I to furnish the whole place with late Georgian furniture (not that my budget would allow it!), I fear it might feel more a museum than a comfortable, welcoming home.
I think a more relaxed attitude towards furnishings definitely makes for a more relaxing environment and can provide some tension between the pieces too which makes for a far more interesting interior.
Is most of the furniture you are buying second-hand/old?
Yes absolutely, for lots of reasons – partly just because I love it, and it’s wonderful to have things that are beautifully made and that suit the period and proportions of the house.
With 30 rooms to renovate on a budget (there’s a good reason I do all the work myself, beyond enjoying it!) it just wouldn’t be possible for me to furnish it with new furniture of the same quality. There are some new pieces in here too – I’m not a small chap, so chairs/upholstered items are often not made to a scale I find comfortable and again, I like the tension and informality created between the new and the old.
Do you consider the sustainable elements of buying old/second-hand too?
It’s becoming so much more important and within the world of social media in which I operate it’s wonderful to see people moving away slightly from trends and ‘fast fashion’ type furniture, and appreciating items that are made in such a way that they’re nearly endlessly reusable.
Do you buy from dealers/antiques shops/fairs and auctions? Online or in real life?
It’s a bit of a mix, but currently, almost always online. Between renovating the house and running my business, my working week is pretty bonkers and doesn’t allow for much time getting out and seeing things in the flesh.
Once the house is more finished, and the garden well on the way (so in maybe 5-7 years), I can think of nothing more joyful that pottering around a few antique shops or heading to an antique fair. But right now I tend to look for things late in the evening, sat in front of the fire with a glass of something – pretty much the only time I actually get the chance!
Do you feel there is a trend toward buying antiques/ vintage/second-hand? Do you think other younger buyers are becoming more interested? If so, why?
Yes, without question. I think there are many reasons and it’s created a bit of a perfect storm. Firstly I think the last few years, with us being sat at home, staring at our four walls, has had us craving comfort, interest, colour, texture and ‘stories’ with our interiors (I believe it’s for the same reasons there’s a massive resurgence in pattern and wallpaper).
Pre-Covid, we were living such busy, transient lives – commuting, socialising – and the modern, clean lines, and easily wipeable surfaces of flat pack furniture appealed to many. With such busy lives, the relatively uncluttered home felt like a sanctuary. Now the opposite is true (and I believe it’s a far more permanent shift as people have reappraised what’s important to them).
On top of that, you’ve a resurgence in period dramas such as The Crown, Downton Abbey and Bridgerton, and finally there’s the sustainability mentioned above. Craftsmanship has, once again, become valued – hurrah!