Paul Chesney has spent the past 12 months doing what he does and loves best: finding antique chimneypieces of note from auctions, dealers and country houses around the UK and beyond. It is, says Chesney, how he started his fireplace business 30 years ago – when demand was last there for authentic 19th-century chimneypieces to complement the largely Victorian homes that owners were renovating at the time.
But demand subsequently diminished, and Chesney’s eschewed one-off antique chimneypieces for newer models, wood-burning stoves, modern designs based on historical archetypes and a “democratisation of the product to some extent”. Some 18 months ago, however, Chesney began to note a demand once again for the original and one-off (in its London, New York and Chinese showrooms).
The result? A just-opened, museum-style showroom addition to the London space (complementing the display at its nearby warehouses), filled with a revolving selection of individual chimneypieces (from around £1,500) that Chesney has personally sourced – part of a collection of 250 designs he considers “probably the most interesting selection of very, very good antique chimneypieces anywhere at the moment.”
Highlights include a Sir Isaac Ware design (£500,000, first picture) from Chesterfield House that Chesney describes as “an immensely handsome piece” with intricate carving, built to fit the Palladian London townhouse the architect constructed in 1760; a white marble design (£150,000, second picture) attributed to Pietro Bossi, who applied inlaid colour to the marble in delicate urn and foliate motifs, and who was generally seen as a mysterious pioneer of colouration; and an Athenian-style neoclassical all-white design (£275,000, third picture) by James Stuart featuring a pair of carved panthers.
Quality original pieces from the 18th century are increasingly difficult to come by (not least because, says Chesney, any fixtures contained within a listed building are non-removable), so only pre-listed or non-listed designs come onto the market. He goes on to explain that the main difference in today’s market is that chimneypieces no longer have to date-match their surroundings: “Provenance is vital, and there has to be a story. Because these are big purchases, they are trophy pieces that are selected as individual iconic items in a room. But they can now be juxtaposed with modern art and modern interiors. There’s a much more relaxed approach in terms of how they fit into a scheme.”