In a new series of profiles, Residential introduces you to the property names you need to know - from dazzling designers to the greenest-fingered gardeners.
Will Fisher, 48, is an antiques dealer and an expert in period interiors. Through his business, Jamb, he sells antiques as well as replica lighting, fireplaces and chimney pieces — an addition that arose from an obsession with these architectural elements.
In 2012 he was approached by Christie’s to sell 500 pieces from his collection. The resulting sale, which included a George II verde antico marble chimney piece, numerous pieces of Regency marble work and a taxidermy bulldog, raised £3.9m.
Why did you choose this profession?
It started from a childhood obsession with interesting architecture and I went on to get a job at Leading Light, a now non-extant fireplace shop in Greenwich. Aged 10, I met Warner Dailey, the legendary American antiques dealer who was the father of a friend. Dailey had made his name collecting everything from gold dinner services belonging to the tsar to bits and pieces from skips. Once, to his ex-wife’s total frustration, he jumped out of the car to rummage through a skip in full black tie. He took my interest from the exterior to the interior.
How did you come to found Jamb?
I started working at Christie’s when I was 16 and tried studying history of art at university, but got chucked out. I ended up driving a forklift truck at The Galleries in Bermondsey, a multi-seller antiques warehouse that was later taken over by the Old Cinema on Chiswick Road. This allowed me to start my own business as a runner, picking up antiques for dealers. There was an amazing sense of freedom and entrepreneurship. Eventually I met some people from Core One Antiques in Fulham and set up my own stall there. Why Jamb? Someone I used to work with — the doppelgänger of the actor Charles Hawtrey — had an amazing ability to come up with names for everything. He turned to me one day and said, “Willy darling, call it Jamb”.
How would you characterise your style?
Country house is still very much the holy grail of what we do and fireplaces were an obvious choice to specialise in because they are such an integral part of a country house. We do a bit of everything though, as long as it has a tired, faded grandeur. It’s a tough dilemma on when to intervene and when not to. Furniture develops a skin that over time becomes a fragile surface. If you start cleaning through it, you clean off 200 years of history. It’s very hard to get something back once the surface has been removed.
Name your three most important influences.
The antiques dealer Christopher Gibbs is definitely one. He is a key figure in our field, especially for country-house aesthetic. Warner Dailey, who I mentioned before, is another. I am also a big fan of the 18th-century Palladian era such as William Chambers’ work. I like the austere not the frilly bits. All you need is age — there’s nothing like the softening of a few 100 years. It’s that old question of whether the Parthenon would have looked better when it was new or as it does today.
What has been your favourite project?
I work with a lot of individual clients such as Jasper Conran, the designer, and Michael Smith, the interior designer. I can’t mention specific projects, but it is incredibly exciting to work with such super-talented people.
Is there someone in your field that you particularly admire?
There are many other dealers I admire: David Humphrey, Edward Hurst, Max Rollitt. Of course there is a bit of competition but it is never ladder-back chairs at dawn.
What is the one object you would never allow in your home?
That is one to ask my wife! That said, having children has softened me enormously. I never thought I would be happy to have lots of plastic toys all over the place . . .
What is the strangest piece you have bought?
I had a giraffe head and neck that came to me through a private family sale. It was in an auction of our pieces at Christie’s in 2012 and unsurprisingly it attracted a lot of interest. Good taxidermy is phenomenal but there is nothing worse than bad taxidermy. It’s a travesty.
What do you look for in a client/customer?
To work with clients who have a shared passion and common aesthetic is deeply rewarding. I find myself living vicariously through their projects. The joy of being on the Pimlico Road is that you never know who is going to walk through the door. It could be anyone from a high-net-worth celebrity to you or me.
How do you go about hunting out rare pieces?
Finding exciting objects is at the heart of any antiques business. You are only as good as what you find. I have a rule that I never buy anything that I or someone I trust has not seen, so I have a network of people I work with around the UK and the rest of the world. It allows us to have the widest reach of vetted goods from around the globe. Things turn up all over the globe these days. I’ve chased pieces as far away as Australia.
How full is your home? And how do you go about placing new finds?
Home is like a lava flow. It’s good in terms of furniture but there is no more space so there is a one-in, one-out system. The placing is actually a bit ad hoc and unsatisfactory at the moment.
What, if any, concessions to modern living do you make in your home?
Lightbulbs. A flushing lavatory. That’s probably about it.
What do you think is the value of collecting?
Collecting, I think, gives you a sense of self, and looking at my collections certainly instils me with a sense of inner calm. Just last night I was taking a look at my collection of architectural elements — bits of cornices and so on. The evening light had caught them and they looked completely different.
What would you say is the main current trend in the antiques business?
I genuinely think there is a bit of a renaissance going on for antique furniture and antique chimney pieces. Auction houses had been cutting sales but we are seeing a reverse of that trend. It’s furniture from quite diverse periods too. The underlying theme is aesthetic quality, so it is quite varied.
What is your best tip for buying antiques?
I’ve had too many tears at bedtime from buying from a photograph. Simply don’t do it — always take a look at a piece in the flesh before you make a decision.
Photographs: John Hammond
Jamb on social media:
Twitter @JambLtd, Instagram jamb_london, Facebook @jamblimited
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