A George II walnut double chair-back settee

Top drawer

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 38, Spring 2014

Page 52

Top drawer

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 38, Spring 2014

Page 52

Top drawer

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 38, Spring 2014

Page 52

Top drawer

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 38, Spring 2014

Page 52

Architect Giles Newby Vincent is selling the contents of his house. He takes Lucinda Bredin on a tour of the collection

You might well be familiar with the work of Giles Newby Vincent. For among the many historic houses he has decorated, a Georgian rectory in Oxfordshire is now famous as it features in the television series Downton Abbey as the home of Mrs Crawley, played by Penelope Wilton. the grieving mother of the late Matthew. But this is only one of his projects: he has designed and decorated houses for Lord Heseltine and for Sir Elton John.

My visit concerns another rectory – this time Newby Vincent's astonishingly beautiful house in Kent, which is being sold now that he is channeling his energies into resurrecting a dilapidated old villa, overlooking the sea near Ramatuelle in the South of France. As he says, "Although I love many of these pieces – which it has been a labor of love to assemble – it is time for a new chapter." The house will be on the market in the spring, while Bonhams is offering the contents at New Bond Street in March.

Collecting beautiful objects is in Newby Vincent's genes. His aunt was the eccentric and much-loved Devizes-based antique dealer Elizabeth Newby Vincent, who was a close friend and mentor to dealer-decorators such as Robert Kime and the late Geoffrey Bennison.

Clearly she was a formative influence. As he says, "My aunt had rather trenchant views. She insisted that 'antiques should look inherited rather than bought' and that good proportions, patina and a romantic sense of atmosphere are paramount. One trick she taught me is to photograph a room. The dispassionate eye of the lens shows the line of the furniture."

Newby Vincent grew up in Buckinghamshire in a distinguished Georgian property, Peterley House. His first memory of a building was of the Banqueting House in Whitehall. "I was six and came home and drew the coffered ceiling." Not surprisingly given that early enthusiasm, he trained as an architect ­in Brighton and Florence, before joining the practice of Sir Donald Insall, with whom he worked on the restoration of Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire for the National Trust.

Later, Giles joined the team of interior decorator David Mlinaric – his projects included Spencer House and Waddesdon Manor – before setting up his own design company in 1990.

As an interior designer, Newby Vincent has had many wonderful opportunities to handle extraordinary objects – and to acquire them himself. "My first buy was a satinwood, demi-lune card table when I was 17," he says. "I bought it from Glaisher and Nash in Lowndes Street and paid for it in umpteen installments. Eventually I sold it to Asprey's."

Since then he has had what he calls 'luck', but which others would call 'a good eye', and has acquired pieces such as an exceptionally rare Queen Anne walnut bachelor's chest, which was bought together with 'a matching sideboard of similar date' at a car boot sale in Wrexham. This is in the Bonhams sale along with a pair of late 18th-century flower panels – found at a village hall sale in Leicestershire in a lot that included a canary cage and a foot scraper. As Giles says, "The collection derives from many sources: some of the pieces are inherited, others were found at tiny, long-since-closed antique shops, or bought at auction in England and abroad, such as a fine burr walnut linen press, which came from an institution in Augusta, Maine, and an unusual Queen Anne kneehole desk, bought in Melbourne."

Clearly Giles likes a mix of objects from different periods. As he says, "The important thing is that pieces should be appreciated for themselves and read together. I don't warm to those rooms in which there is 'beauty but no sentiment' as Somerset Maugham put it. Rooms should look as if they have evolved over time – and have been created with objects that have been loved. Now it is time for someone else to care for them."

Lucinda Bredin is Editor of Bonhams Magazine.

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