I feel very excited to introduce my latest Top Shop, The Lacquer Chest. For many of you, it won't be an introduction. It is a London institution, playing host in its early days to some incredible faces 'Terence Conran (pre Habitat), the student Hockney, Ossie Clarke, Alan Bennet, Lee Miller, Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie, Jean Shrimpton' and that's just the early years. For me, I only summoned up the courage to go in a few years ago. For some reason, I have a terror of disturbing shops that I think are too smart for me. More's the pity as my cowardly behaviour has probably seen many a beautiful piece slip through my fingers.
However much Kensington Church Street has changed, there still stands The Lacquer Chest. Many people find its presence reassuring anchor to the London that seems to slip away with every bulldozed piece of history. If truth be told, The Lacquer Chest was the inspiration for Top Shop. A perfect example of how a shop can fill you with a sense of wonder and excitement. All of which was tenfold when I sat down with the owner, Gretchen Andersen. We discussed the ebbs and flows of antiques dealing and what it is like to see the surrounding area change over the last sixty years, not to mention the interiors industry. I could go on forever about The Lacquer Chest & Gretchen, both of which helped turn an extraordinarily dismal afternoon into a real winner of a day. And I do hope this small insight will brighten yours, better yet pop down I know it will do you the world of good!
When did you open the Lacquer Chest?
Started 65 years ago with a little experience and £300 to spend.
What made you choose Kensington Church Street?
My mother in law had run the Lacquer Chest but wanted to leave and do something else! In those days the street was famous for antique shops. So we took it over!
What is your favourite thing about being a shopkeeper?
We met enormous numbers of interesting people through the years. Very stimulating to see their houses when we delivered purchases! We are not really commercial. Would never buy anything I wouldn’t want myself at home. But naturally can’t help feeling validated when something sells.
The worst thing about being a shopkeeper?
It’s expecting me to know all about things! Although this is an unusually varied shop rather than one that specialises, I buy what I like which means I’m sadly unable to help the many people who walk in with pictures of what they want to sell! Haven’t ever found a way of dealing with this politely and more importantly briefly!
As Gretchen mentions above, she took over the shop from her husband, Viv's mother. Viv & Gretchen ran The Lacquer Chest together for many years. Viv sadly died in 2013, but I wanted to include his obituary written by the antique dealer Spencer Swaffer. I so enjoyed reading about him, and I hope you will too.