Max Rollitt is an antiques dealer and interior designer who works from his showroom, a renovated barn in the South Downs, southern England. He trained as a cabinet-maker before taking over his mother’s antiques business in 1993 and expanding into interiors in 1996. The homes he has styled and renovated are usually historical and all the furniture for a project will either be specifically made or sourced by Rollitt and his team. Among notable designers he has worked with are Colefax and Fowler, Michael S Smith and Axel Vervoordt. He is currently working on a project in the US with the award-winning Peter Pennoyer Architects.
How did you come to start out as a dealer?
I was born into the world of antiques — my mother was a successful dealer. After university, I studied joinery and cabinetry, then found a job with furniture restorers Frearson & Hewlett, who worked with a lot of the top-end dealers. It was there that I developed my appreciation of patina, period and craftsmanship.
Why did you make the move into interior design?
It was about 10 years ago, when some clients who loved my shop requested my help with their new house, a 17th-century vicarage. We furnished and decorated from scratch, as well as finding architectural elements such as chimney pieces, reclaimed floorboards and antique bathroom fittings. It ended up having the layered feel of a family home that had grown and developed with its owners over a period of years, rather than months.
How would you characterise your style?
I’m very intuitive. I like to combine classical elegance and sophistication with rich textures, the joyfulness of bold colour combinations, and the enduring — and under-rated — pleasure of being comfortable. It’s the little details that make a house feel lived-in and loved, not simply styled.
Name your top three influences
The band Soft Machine, the film Whisky Galore! and my wife, Jane.
What has been your favourite project?
The restoration of a country house that I am currently working on. It was built in the 16th century, damaged by fire and remodelled between around 1780 and 1840. It’s a wonderful conundrum to unravel and refresh.
What was the first piece you bought — and sold?
A Virginian walnut bureau when I was 16. I sold it to pay for a 1950s [Bedford] OB bus — my first big mistake. All my big mistakes have been cars.
If you weren’t allowed, who would design your home for you?
Is there anyone in your field you particularly admire?
[American interior designer] Steven Gambrel. He’s not necessarily my style but he has immaculate taste.
What is the one object you would never allow in your home?
I’m not a fan of plastic furniture. Of any age.
I was asked to [refurbish] a 1940s fire engine. It was in remarkable original condition and complete with extending ladder platform and all the bells and whistles. Hard to resist the challenge, but I managed!
What do you look for in a client?
Mutual trust, it has to be.
Which period would you feel most at home in?
When can you tell that a piece needs restoration?
When it has been badly repaired or is wobbling. Restoration should be [about restoring] something so that it looks like it has lived and been loved.
What’s your top tip for sourcing standout pieces?
Find dealers you trust and whose taste you enjoy. The best thing is to talk to them and wait to see what treasures they have to offer.
What drew you to set up shop in Avington in Hampshire?
We had room here, in the barns opposite our family house, to build the shop I had always dreamt of. It’s as simple as that. And to have an office and location that we can all enjoy — employees and family.
Less is more, or more is more?
Have as much as you want — everything should be there for your pleasure.
What do you see as the overriding trend in your field at the moment (even if you don’t subscribe to it)?
Quality is slowly replacing fashion. We spend a lot of time searching for pieces that have a real beauty. I think beauty is as important as ever and historical objects still bring mystery and depth to a space.
Photographs: Dave Gibbons