Adrian Amos, 70, founded Lassco (the London Architectural Salvage and Supply Co) in 1979. The company has its headquarters in the 18th-century house of the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel in Vauxhall, London, metres from the MI6 building, the home of the British intelligence service. It has other outposts in Bermondsey and at Three Pigeons, an old pub in Milton Common, Oxfordshire.
As upmarket dealers in salvage, antiques and reclaimed hardware, Amos and his son Harry have stock that ranges from old cornices to chandeliers. Pieces bought from them have graced the homes of interiors experts including Ben Pentreath and Abigail Ahern, as well as public buildings such as the Watermen’s Hall in the City.
Why did you start Lassco?
We spotted an opportunity. People were pulling out original features and putting them into skips at one end of a street, while at the other, people were putting them into their houses. It didn’t take a genius to see the business possibilities. I come from a seven-generation, family cabinet-making business that started in East Lothian in the 18th century, so wood and furniture run in my veins. Having an antiquarian bent and being a bit of a contrarian is also a help.
What was the industry like when you started?
It was tricky. There was a lot of greed and a purge of antiques at the time. Old buildings were being attacked on every front and there were some crackers schemes such as one that proposed building a road straight through Covent Garden. There were also sad losses. Huge old houses along roads such as Adelaide Road and Alexandra Road in north-west London were all knocked down.
How would you characterise your style?
We say we like to put the shabby into shabby chic. Authenticity is the word that we most often settle on. I like to reuse things — it is something my father, who was brought up in London’s East End during the Depression, always did, as did his father before him. My grandfather even recycled bits from zeppelin raids during the first world war.
Name the top three places you go for inspiration.
The George and Vulture in the City is one. It is an old-fashioned gentlemen’s lunch spot — the kind where you sit in booths and plum puddings are served to avuncular types. Then there’s the V&A museum. It’s a mecca for decorative arts. You know what you are seeing is genuine, even if it has been tragically removed from its original setting. I also love properties run by the National Trust, the conservation organisation. Two of my favourites are Carlyle’s House in Chelsea and Hidcote Gardens in Gloucestershire.
What has been your favourite project to work on?
Our own buildings are my favourites, especially the old church in Shoreditch where we had the business until 2007. Brunswick House in Vauxhall, where we have an outpost of Lassco now, is interesting because the area is fairly untouched but has been through tough times. We keep finding documents about it and old billiards tickets under the floorboards.
If you weren’t allowed, who would decorate your home?
Whoever it was would have to have be an antiquarian. Peter Hone would be good. We emptied out his flat last year and sold the contents at Christie’s. He has a great eye for detail. As far as a decorative scheme goes, it’s where you put things more than what they are. You have to cast a spell in a room and make sure it’s not broken by having the wrong door handles.
Are there any others in the industry that you particularly admire?
Katie Fontana at Plain English. I must confess that I have only seen pictures of her work but she has a fabulous knack for achieving simplicity and proportion. I also hugely admired the furniture maker Sid Kinselly. He was the most inspired wood carver I’ve ever come across. His party piece was to extend a set of dining chairs with four carvers such that the new pieces were undetectable to even the most expert eye.
What is the one object you would never allow in your home?
I don’t have a television and I think I would find it difficult to have one of those quarter-circle Jacuzzi baths. Extreme kit has its place, but not in my house.
Would you say your style is maximalist?
Minimalism is death to our business but that doesn’t mean we like clutter. The interior has to be well proportioned and then you can be unconscious about everything else. To get it right, go back to the 18th-century prints of Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress”. There’s a certain robust satisfaction to all the stuff of that era.
What do you look for in a client/customer?
Well, it’s always fun if they are ridiculously wealthy! Affability is important, and it is particularly satisfying to work with people who have an appreciation of the past.
What is the strangest piece you have ever found?
We once found a mummified cat in the basement of a house on Tottenham Court Road. The basket it was in had a lot of Moravian glass lampshades packed in straw and newspapers dating to 1938 and 1939. I like to create plausible scenarios for our finds. In this case, a dealer could have bought the lampshades and put them down in his cellar. The cat might have climbed in for warmth, the lid was put on the basket and the dealer never came back for the shades because of the war, so the cat was trapped and left there. Who knows?
What is the best investment at the moment?
Good brown furniture. Sometimes the winning bid on brown furniture at auction can be less than the material that was used to make it. The beauty of it is that it lasts. Even if it doesn’t go up in monetary value, it will give enormous satisfaction to you and your successors.
What is your best tip for decorating a period home?
Try and be as authentic as possible. Nothing is worse than getting the period wrong by 100 years. Join the National Trust and read as much as possible. The more you look at old things, the more you will understand the visual language that was used.
What would you say is the main trend in salvage and antiques at the moment?
I’m afraid I couldn’t say. We like to say that we are on the trailing edge of retro.
Photographs: Stefan Lorett; P Navey
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