A Little Slice of Heaven
Alan Rickman uttered the words “heaven shall be here” in the film A Little Chaos. The declaration also applies to the aesthetics of Currey & Company’s new expanded showroom in High Point, which was glistening during the six-day design fest several weeks ago, which you can see in the video of the ribbon cutting below.
An Expanded High Point Presence for Currey & Company
Anna Thrower knocked it out of the park with her festive menus, delicious desserts and vivaciousness; and the entertaining/event-planning prowess that oozes from Bethanne Matari’s DNA—making Currey & Company tops on my list each time market comes around—was effervescing! You can see what I mean in the photographs by Beth Tilley Green, who captured the spirit of the event so beautifully.
Currey & Company and Potterton Books
The fact I had the chance to meet Clare Jameson and her assistant Simon Barton of the UK-based Potterton Books during this Market made my experience even headier. I had been itching to meet Clare since visiting the Sloane Square location in London last spring and having the chance to spend time in the Currey & Company library late last year. My expectations of her insightfulness were exceeded when she took me on a tour of the books she curated for the event.
I also had the opportunity to sit down with her for a proper interview to find out how she came to be one of the most respected booksellers on two continents. I’ll share this with you once I fill you in as to how Clare came across Brownlee Currey’s radar and the collaboration between the two of them began.
Brownlee met Clare at the Maison & Objet fair a number of years ago, his perusal of her stand sparking an idea some time later when he was trying to strategize how to increase the heft of the Currey & Company library housed in the manufacturer’s Atlanta headquarters. “When I first started thinking about expanding it, I wouldn’t have called it a library,” he says. “It was more a collection of books.”
His initial inspiration came when he walked into the office and noticed that a number of the computers belonging to the design team were set to Google searches. “It occurred to me that Google curates, but not necessarily with intelligence,” he explains; “and that’s when it dawned on me: if you want to be original and unique, you can’t rely too much on the web.”
He began to think about how he could create a resource that would give the Currey & Company team higher quality inspirations, making a start by ordering books online. But, he adds, “It wasn’t long before I realized that what I was accomplishing wasn’t on par with what I wanted to achieve so I decided to talk to my librarian friends and each of them said I needed to start organizing first. I let this advice percolate over a summer and I discovered no matter how much I thought about it, I was out of my depth.”
Then Brownlee bumped into Clare again in Paris. “I told her I wanted to build a resource for our designers for furniture, the decorative arts and lighting,” he explains. “She agreed to come to Atlanta for a few days and look at what I had already amassed. She helped me define the categories I should be collecting and began suggesting titles that would strengthen them.”
Brownlee notes that Clare taught him there are proverbial “bibles” in every important category and that identifying these is one of the areas in which she excels. He also shared one particular book he’d scored during High Point Market to illustrate the access she has to unique finds. “She has helped us source a fantastic collection of antique lighting trade catalogs from as early as 1827 and up to the 1950s,” he says. “I think we have around 130 of them now. They are so valuable because they give our design team the true aesthetics of the time.
Opening a lighting designer’s vintage-era sketchbook that Clare had found, he says, “Look at this one; it was never published and doesn’t exist anywhere else but in our library—it was created by a lighting designer who was sketching out his ideas, and that’s invaluable inspiration for our designers now.”
These examples highlight Clare’s talents for curating, which were obvious as early as her university years when she instigated and organized an exhibition entitled Neo Classicism in the North, A Taste of the Antique. “Lord Clark of ‘Civilisation’ was Chancellor of the University and I was given the chance to curate this major exhibition, which was on view for a month,” she explains. “I spent a year sourcing and organizing the event.” She drew unique pieces from renowned 18th-century Yorkshire country houses and museums, which included the celebrated Robert and James Adam, as well as Thomas Chippendale, the noted cabinetmaker. Yorkshire was the richest county in England during this era and, being at the forefront of what was deemed fashionable, neoclassicism left and indelible mark on its country houses and the treasures within them. It was so successful they subsequently created a decorative arts scholarship for her when she left university.
It’s no surprise Clare was naturally comfortable with the decorative arts of all periods by then because she had attended auctions with her mother, who wrote about and collected antiques, from the time she was a child. “Our home in Oxford was filled with unusual antiques,” she says. “From the age of seven I compiled my own newspaper on antiques, the first issue including a pair of 18th-century Worcester sauce boats and things of that sort.” But her first love was reading and researching, her passion propelling her to spend hours in the university art bookshop, Blackwell’s, in Oxford.
This youthful love affair with pages bound between covers landed her at Phillips, Leeds, where she established the printed book department. After two years there, Potterton Books was born, which is named for the Jameson’s 18th-century house. Within three weeks of launching the business, she was selling to The British Museum. And thus, a brilliant entrepreneurial path had begun.
The treasures she brought to High Point included a massive boxed set of published drawings by McKim, Mead and White; Frank Lloyd Wright’s drawings; the Cecil Beaton Diaries; an antique series on various aspects of Tudor culture; and Views and Plans of the Petit Trianon at Versailles, which I couldn’t leave without!
I asked her about her point of view when she chooses titles. “My books are eclectic because I collect the best of the new and prime examples of classics from the past,” she answers. “I like first editions but I don’t always have to have first editions because what I believe is important is preserving knowledge and making it accessible. Where would we be without historical influences?”
Jameson currently has somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 books in stock, and most of her clientele comes to her through word-of-mouth. Her repeat business is phenomenal because she’s so careful in her choices. “I don’t buy at auction because, generally speaking, the books have been handled too much,” she explains. “I tend to buy small quantities—I’d rather purchase 20 very good books at a time rather than boxes of them because I can inspect each one carefully in smaller numbers.”
As Clare and I sat marveling at the beauty the company had created in the new expanded showroom, she pointed to the chandeliers and pendants glittering overhead, and said, “When I look at them, I can see how styles have evolved over the years. I can see layers of history in this one view, and some of them may have come from our books!”
Currey & Company Best Sellers at High Point Market
Several of the best sellers among these glittering products during spring market were:
The Rana table lamp made of terracotta and wood in a light green and white drip glaze finish with silver leaf accents. The shade is blanco linen.
The Bastian 6-light chandelier is made of wood and wrought iron. There is a chestnut finish on the wood and a brass finish on the metal.
I so enjoyed meeting Clare and finding out that there is a kindred spirit in the world when I heard her say, “The hunt, la chasse, for the book gives me great pleasure because I’m always ready to learn.” If you find you want to begin or expand a design, architectural or cultural library, whether your interests are furniture, interior decoration, textiles or gardening (or all of the above like me), I don’t believe you will find a better resource than Potterton. Brownlee agrees: “I like to think we have the resonance of history in our products and I think that will become even stronger with Clare’s influence.”
I thought you might enjoy the scene during which Rickman—who not only portrayed Louis XIV, but co-wrote and produced the movie—declares, “Heaven shall be here.” If you didn’t make it by to see the new Currey & Company showroom last month, be sure to experience the little slice of heaven if you attend in October. You’ll find me there enjoying the vibe!
Saxon Henry also blogs on The Diary of an Improvateur.