Text by Elizabeth Lambert Photography by Jim McHugh
Mariette Himes Gomez was hesitant when a friend suggested she go shopping in England. "I could get everything I needed in New York," she says, why go to England? On the other hand, why not? It sounded like a good trip.
"It was a great trip, and I found things that I can`t get in New York - larger pieced that New York dealers don’t have the space for; taller pieces that come out of English houses with high ceilings; quirky, decorative pieces that dealers thought not commercial enough to be worth the shipping; and double sets of wall lights from those big English rooms with two fireplaces."
That first trip was twelve years ago. Since then Gomez has gone back so often that she did something she had always wanted to do: She took an apartment in London. Now visits are a little longer." I get a perspective on things when I’m there." she explains. "At home I’m too close to decisions, there’s no time to think. In London I can make a whole pot of tea rather than just grab a quick slurp as I go out the door. I return to New York, and everything has fallen into place. I see things more clearly." The designer goes three or four times a year - always in June for the fairs - and stays for ten days.
Sussex is one of Gomez’s favorite areas, and several good dealers are clustered there. Her first stop is Arundel. She’s not enthusiastic about left-side driving, so she gets a car and a driver for the day, but it is equally easy to take a train from Victoria Station.
"It’s a beautiful town," she says. "As you approach, you see the towers and spires of the cathedral and the castle - it’s like going to Camelot. Spencer swaffer’s shop is just below the castle."
Many call it the best shop in England. American dealers have been known to fly into Gatwick airport, where Swaffer meets them, and they buy at his store while the plane is being refuelled. Others stay for a few days of very serious shopping.
Swaffer’s stock is extensive, and he buys only what he sees for himself, so he’s often on the road. In Florence he buys painted furniture; in Amsterdam, sophisticated country furniture that Dutch dealers have brought from Eastern Europe; in Berlin, cut crystal; in Scotland, big-scale Baronial pieces or perhaps a mahogany tall boy from an Edinburgh town house. He’s in Paris every Friday for the market at Clignancourt - locals call him "the Flea Man."
"I like things that look as though previous owners have loved them and craftsmen have taken pride in making them - things that make you feel good," explains Swaffer.
"He doesn`t show at Olympia - he doesn’t have to," says Gomez. "I phone first to see what he has; sometimes other buyers have nearly emptied the shop. He knows I`m looking for furniture that doesn’t shout. I’m not fond of Rococo or swirly-whirly stuff.
"Some decorators load rooms up, some unload. I’m an unloader - I like to see the space around things, and that’s something Spencer does very well. He cares so much about how objects are placed that when he’s out of town, he rings his wife. Freya, to find out what’s been sold, then faxes precise instructions for what is to come from his well ordered warehouse and a disordered warehouse and a diagram showing exactly how to rearrange everything."