Hamilton has been in the antique billiard table business for some
thirty years. Recently, he decided he wanted to try
something new and is building up a new business supplying
Retro and Vintage Furniture, Lighting and Accessories. Here
Hugh talks to Digger at Retrosellers.com
about his new venture.
Can you tell us a little about the background to Hamilton
Hugh: I had another business for almost thirty years which was
supplying antique billiard tables and games, which I
eventually sold 18 months ago to my two managers. And we were
restorers of antique tables and other decorative objects
connected with billiards and games at the top end of the
market. I decided to go into furniture with a lot of
restoration and this new, small business.
Digger: Small but beautifully formed?
Digger: Youíve got some terrific stock on the website.
Hugh: Iím only just building it up and Iíve put another
twenty items on this week. Iím actually in the middle of
photographing a whole load of stuff now. Iím trying, to be
honest, to build it up over the next couple of years and Iím
not in a rush.
Digger: Thereís that clichť that if you can start and
sustain a business in this environment you can do so anytime.
Hugh: Yes, well Iím very excited about starting this new venture.
Digger: What are the best sellers and the most popular era for
Hugh: It really is the fifties, sixties and seventies, and
mainly the sixties. Theyíre the three decades I cover.
Digger: Are you finding these people are trying to deck out
their entire houses or are they looking at selected items?
Hugh: Theyíre looking at selected items. Through my previous
company, Iíve got a lot of connections with interior
designers and set designers, because we supplied the top end
of the market for over twenty years via Hamilton Billiards. It
was the leading billiard company, exporting all over the world
and supplying the domestic market and through my contacts
Iím selling furniture and trying to build up the lighting
side of the business too. I am selling to a lot of younger
people who are looking at individual objects but also to mix
and match antiques and modern furniture.
Digger: Iím kicking myself because I had a beautiful
fibre-optic lamp from the seventies which was a black globe
shape in smoked Perspex and I threw it away when I thought it
had passed its sell-by date. It would be worth a lot today.
Hugh: Well probably. What I find interesting about this market
is that you have the lower end of the market which is general
furniture from that period, then youíve got middle-range
which tends to be early Heals, early G-Plan and early Ercol.
Quality, well-made furniture from the UK and Scandinavia. Then
youíve got the top end of the market which is designer
furniture Ė one-off, beautifully designed pieces.
Digger: Like youíd possibly buy in Tottenham Court Road?
Hugh: Yes and Alfieís Market and Praed Street. Lots of
Italian and American fifties and sixties stuff.
Digger: Is there still a lot of material to be sourced out
Hugh: I think thereís quite a lot of it still around and
Iím not having a problem at the moment. Iím just building
my stock up slowly because Iím restoring at the same time. I
donít want to end up with a whole load of stuff thatís not
restored. Iím buying three, four or five pieces a week,
restoring them, putting them on the website and Iíve got a
warehouse where Iím accumulating a lot of stock. Itís a
Digger: What gives you the greatest pleasure doing what you
Hugh: I think basically itís searching for good quality
antiques from that period, restoring them to their former
glory and then obviously selling them. I actually enjoy the
whole process. I mean, buying is great but selling is also
rewarding and dealing with the customers. Iíve done it for
thirty years and I get a buzz out of giving people good
Digger: And having something that was in tatty condition,
turning it around and also making a fair profit as well.
Hugh: Exactly. Iím not buying anything thatís too damaged.
I used to do that with billiard tables. We had so many antique
tables with chunks of carving missing and Iím avoiding that.
Digger: What is your retro/collecting passion?
Hugh: Itís really furniture from that period. I also like
antiques but Iím really going to try to focus my mind.
Because Iíve been offered a lot of antiques but Iíve only
got a small antiques section on my website. It really is a
passion for good design, well made.
Digger: Are you happy for them to pass through your hands, for
you to be the custodian for a while and then to sell them on?
Hugh: Very happy to do that.
Digger: What does the Internet mean to your business?
Hugh: Iím hoping to be totally Internet based. Itís going
to mean everything to the business. Iím building the website
up and Iím selling quite a lot of stuff on eBay as well,
which I eventually want to avoid.
Digger: eBay used to be a proper auction but it certainly
isnít these days. And their commissions have gone up so
Hugh: They have. Iím doing it on eBay so I can test the
market and Iím putting some items into auction houses and my
main selling priority is going to be the website, secondly
will be markets and big antique fairs which weíll be
attending and eventually I may get a shop.
Digger: So people can come along and have a look at and feel
of the stock?
Hugh: They can do that now because I have a small unit and I
want to avoid a big showroom like I had in the previous
business if I can. Iím just trying to keep the costs down.
Digger: How big is the restoration part of your business?
Hugh: I have another guy who works with me on the restoration
and the majority of items I collect need some form of
restoration. So itís very important.
Digger: Does that cover lighting too?
Hugh: Yes, we have to have lighting re-wired. We polish up any
woodwork. Iím finding it slightly difficult to find sixties
and seventies lighting.
Digger: There was a shop in a side road off Shaftesbury Avenue
near Centre Point called Tom Tom which was full to the brim on
two floors with fantastic sixties and seventies plastic
furniture, ball chairs, lights and retro electronics.
Hugh: What happened to it?
Digger: I wish I knew. A friend bought some furniture there
but I donít know what happened to the shop and its stock.
Itís not there now.
Hugh: The problem in London is that the rents and rates are
particularly high and I donít know how people survive there.
Digger: There were several wonderful movie memorabilia shops in the West
End a few years ago and theyíve all closed now.
Hugh: Like on Portobello Road, when their lease come up for
renewal these people are pushed out and bars and restaurants
open up instead. I know so many people who have moved their
businesses out of London. Or have become antique fairs-based.
Digger: How do you see the future of Hamilton & Co?
Hugh: I feel very optimistic.
Hugh: I feel itís going to be a very interesting next five
years and with the credit crunch I think the market Iím in,
and antiques, will really grow. I know a lot of young people
who are buying them, not only from the fifties, sixties and
seventies but also actual antiques. Personally I think
thereís going to be a lot of growth. I can supply a 1960s
handmade sideboard, for example, and Iíve got about twelve
of those. Beautifully made and if someone said ďCan you make
me a sideboard that goes with my billiard table?" it would
probably cost around £2-3,000 minimum. And I can supply a
really nice restored piece for £300.
Digger: Thatís an incredible value isnít it?
Hugh: With Ercol, I can buy a table and chairs that look
shabby and spend some time on them and sell a set of Ercol
chairs and a table for, say, £500. The contemporary equivalent
would retail at well over £2,000.
Digger: Itís amazing isnít it? In the recessionary times
we are in there are three good reasons for people to be buying
from you. Obviously thereís the fact that youíre cheaper
than the modern versions and they can make a big saving now,
these originals look and feel so much better but also because
these items are a great investment.
Hugh: They are and theyíre great value. They look nice and
theyíre so well made. I know what it costs to manufacture.
Digger: The older items have a nicer smell as well that comes
with a bit of age.
Hugh: They do, they look good in a modern house. I sold some
items to a set designer recently because there seem to be a
number of nostalgic productions going on at the moment.
Digger: There always are period and nostalgia-based programmes
- we're fixated with the past..
Hugh: So I feel positive about it and Iím going to build it
very slowly as I did my previous business and see where it
Digger: Good for you.
Hugh: I think what Iím enjoying most is that billiard tables were
a limited market and weíd go to certain exhibitions and
fairs, but only a small amount of people want to buy billiard
tables and theyíre not a mass market product. Very desirable
and weíve sold tables to people all over the world but
because it was limited I got fed up with it in the end.
Digger: Thereís much more variety in what youíre
sounds like a perfect business on all levels. Something you
enjoy, itís sustainable and it will grow. Thanks for letting
us know about your new business Hugh.
Retro Lighting, Ceramics and Pottery, Retro Decorative
Objects, Antiques, Interior Design, Furniture
Hamilton and Company are a UK company specialising in
Retro and Vintage Designer Furniture, Chairs, Tables,
Lighting, Storage, Ceramics and interesting objects from
the 1950ís, 1960ís and 1970ís.
The partners have over 30 years
experience in the buying, selling and restoration of
antiques and decorative objects. Our aim is to offer
original items in good condition, at a fair price and
with excellent customer service. Our services are
available to both private buyers and trade clients
including interior designers, architects and companies.
Regular Deliveries of Retro and
Vintage Furniture and Objects to Central London, the
Greater London Area, Cambridge, Oxford, Home Counties
and throughout the whole of the UK. In addition we
purchase Retro and Vintage items and Objects from the
1950s-1960s-1970s for fair prices and Collection will be
arranged by our Company.
Tel: 00 44 (0)1462 618173
Mob: 07963 159276