By Sallie Brady
For more than a decade now I’ve set off around this time to do London in June. The Season, as it’s known, typically includes Ascot and Wimbeldon and Henley, but also some of London’s top art and antiques fairs. The tradition goes back more than 75 years when the British aristos dusted off their pearls and left their dogs and stables at their country piles to head into London to shop the antiques fairs, maybe for a pair of Chippendale chairs, an English watercolor, or a Chinese snuff bottle for the collection.
As a journalist covering the art and antiques markets, as well as travel, I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of the London antiques fair world. What I’ve learned is that you don’t need to be a collector or have a big bank account to enjoy an antiques fair. Most are staged in pleasant settings, have excellent pop-up restaurants where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch or maybe a flute at the Champagne Bar, and there’s no shortage of beautiful things to admire. An antiques fair is a great place to train your eye and also learn by chatting up dealers who never tire of discussing their stock–even if they know you’re not a potential buyer. This month we’ll visit all three fairs with Everett Potter’s Travel Report.
Today, June 7, while the Queen is no doubt resting her feet after her Diamond Jubilee marathon weekend, the 2012 London fair season gets underway when the Olympia International Fine Art & Antiques Fair opens and runs through June 17. Held in the Grand Hall of an airy Victorian exhibition pavillion at Earls Court, Olympia has been going for 40 years now and is the most democratic of the June fairs, with pieces that range from L100 to L1 million, being offered by almost 200 dealers.
This is a very English fair, with lots of English furniture dealers, along with clocks, jewelry, ceramics, glass, and wonderfully quirky things such as fossils, antique canes with ivory dog heads, campaign furniture, even aeronautica -– think a Boeing 727 Pratt and Whitney engine transformed into a mirror. There are also plenty of painting and sculpture dealers, especially modern British art, and some great examples of 20th-century furniture and lighting. And for anyone who still has Jubilee fever, you can go home with Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee fan that was signed in 1887 by 42 members of the royal families of Europe who were attending her Jubilee banquet. Sophie Dupre is selling it.
Advance tickets L10, at the door, L14.
Where to Stay: For a number of years now, the Hilton London Kensington has been my go-to London hotel, not just when I am visiting Olympia — because it’s just a short walk away — but also when I need reasonably priced accommodations in a pinch–especially off-season. While it’s not in the West End or Knightsbridge, the hotel is in Kensington along Holland Park Avenue and its many bus routes. Anyone with a car will appreciate that the hotel is outside of the congestion-charge zone. Travelocity consistently offers specials here, and the recently refurbished rooms are comfortable and function well. Use your Hilton Honors Points to book an executive room, a good value with inclusive wireless and access to an executive lounge that serves a complimentary hot full English breakfast buffet; sandwiches and cold meats and fruit and cheese at lunch; and a full bar and hot and cold canapes in the evening.
Hilton London Kensington 179-199 Holland Park Avenue; 011.44.207.603.3355
A Good Pub: Just a 10-minute walk from Olympia, The Jameson, on 43 Blythe Road in West Kensington (011.44.777.870.7000) is a discovery. Owned by a pair of saavy Irishmen who have also run pubs in New York, The Jameson is a locals’ favorite for the convivial atmosphere and outstanding pub food that is freshly made and reasonably priced. Try the very generous beef burger; the Bombardier ale-battered cod, served with mushy pieces and a bucket of chips; or the full English breakfast that’s served all-day long.
Traveler’s Tip: If you do stay at the Hilton London Kensington or in this area, and you’re headed to or from Heathrow, you’ll save by using a local car service, rather than a black cab. Call Brown’s Private Hire: 011.44.(0) 20.8749.5555.
Sallie Brady writes about travel and also covers the international art, antiques and design markets. A former editor at GQ, House Beautiful, This Old House, and travel editor at Bride’s, she contributes to Conde Nast Traveler, ForbesLife, Veranda, Art & Antiques, Business Traveler, 1stdibs.com, New York Spaces and has contributed to Esquire, The New York Times, Travel+Leisure.com, and other publications. Previously she was the New York correspondent for the inflight magazine for British Airways’ Concorde passengers.