Autobiography & Memoir
My magician husband Martin Breese and I moved lock stock and barrel from trendy Notting Hill. We had sold our 'Biba House' to the antique clock dealer Nigel Raffety who had a prestigious shop of tick tocks in Kensington Church Street.
We were meant to be downsizing from our Victorian abode at 164 Kensington Park Road originally owned by the designer Barbara Hulanicki of Biba fame, to a smaller one in Georgian Brighton. Our new house at 10 Hanover Crescent, Brighton was immense and not what we meant to buy but my dear now departed husband jumped up and down, when we viewed, mouthing to me that he wanted it and would not speak to me if he didn't get his 'dolls house'.
Bang went the plan to make a killing on the property market and downsize, investing the vast profit on stocks and shares and semi-retire. In fact, we ended up with two enormous drawing rooms separated by a gracious hall to be opened up for the receptions and lavish parties we were not going to be giving also housing a magnificent mahogany staircase to heaven above.
How I longed for a large comfortable burgundy sofa so I could stretch out in front of the fake roaring Georgian style gas fire. I chose the front reception room and decorated it a la francaise hanging French prints and ornamentalia from my days in London and Paris as an antiques dealer. The floor to ceiling windows looked out over Hanover Crescent's lovely gardens with trees and shrubs tendered by Richard, our talented gardener. I could see magpies on the lawn. But I had nowhere to sit and contemplate. Martin had the inevitable goggle box in the back lounge with the two maroon sofas from our London house so he was alright Jack!
I was not but a trip to London to meet an Australian friend changed all that. She choose to meet at Liberty's social stationary department. After we looked at classy Liberty print blank books and greetings cards, we ventured to the Indian textiles department and then I got bored 'window' shopping. I left her and wandered off.
I accidentally found myself in the small furniture department. Nothing there visually caught my attention until I was leaving. I stopped and gasped. There waiting for my body to sink heavily into it, I saw not one but two enormous regal sumptuous burgundy sofas. Just my style! The Universe had answered my prayer! Antique looking with a long wooden curved pelmet above the feet. A sofa for three. Big and deep enough to sleep on in front of the roaring hot flames in the grey marble Georgian hearth. The sister two seater next to it seemed abandoned. No price ticket on either. Priceless!
I tested the quality of the sumptuous textile upholstery. Satisfied I sunk back and relaxed into the abundant cushions propped up along the back of 'my' sofa. There were about four enormous ones. I wanted these majestic sofas at any price.
I collared a young 'lovely' with a plum in his throat demanding to know the price of the pair. He coughed nervously and asked me to make an offer! And this was upmarket Liberty's? He then confessed the retail price had been £2,500 for the large one and £1,500 for the smaller one. But the famous anonymous owner had sent them back and Liberty's could not refuse!
Why? Who had graced these sofas? He could not say. Discretion being the name of the game. The small department obviously had no room for them, they had been made to order and they were already second hand! He inveigled me to become a Liberty' card member so I would get 10% off merchandise. I did. He showed me a minute scratch on the wooden pelmet and a slightly wonky arm. Easily rectified but I noticed a slight white stain near to my derrière. Who had been bonking after closing time I wondered?
The Lovely was pleading with his eyes, casually mentioning that there would be a furniture sale in two weeks time and I could then make a 'reasonable' offer. Transport would be £50 extra. He didn't even have a camera to take a photo and iPhones had not been invented!
I returned and excitedly described my discovery to Martin. 'Get them,' he said, 'I trust your good taste and judgement'. I rang after when the sale was about to begin asking for the Mr. Lovely. 'I can offer £650 for the pair including polishing the scratch, mending the wobbly arm, free transport and CLEANING THE SPUNK OFF THE CUSHION!!' I commanded him. There followed a nervous British cough. He said he had to speak to his manager and would call me back within the hour.
All agreed and a suggested £750 was hastily accepted. We became the proud owners of a regal addition to our already prestigious black plaque historic house which Dickens and Hardy frequently visited when it had been owned by the publisher Horace Smith, next door to number 11 where Sir Roland Hill of the postage stamp fame resided. Dickens usually stayed at the prestigious Bedford Hotel on the seafront.
I recounted this Liberty saga to a sofa bed dealer I knew in Brighton. 'Jilliana' he said, 'you should not have used the vulgar word spunk but bodily fluids!'
Written in The Yellow Book Cafe, Brighton October, 2016.
Google - 10 Hanover Crescent, Brighton, UK
Wikipedia - Horace Smith, writer, poet and publisher
Wikipedia - Biba