Peter Whipps - Arabesque Antiques


When did you start dealing?

I started dealing in my mid-twenties, just after Dawn and I met. After we bought our first house, we had very little money, so to furnish it we went to charity shops and car boots. We bought items of furniture very cheaply that we could paint, both working in the arts; we loved having colour around us.

Then I bought a beautifully patinated Welsh oak chair, at the time I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that it would be so wrong to strip and paint it. I was hooked; I did my homework, joined the regional furniture society and studied in my spare time. Around 12 months later I took the plunge and set up business, which was around 24 years ago.

How has your business changed over the years?

I started mainly dealing in oak and country furniture, I love how it shows its life on its surface. Patination, colour and texture have always been the motivation. Even then, we used to buy original painted pieces for ourselves, firstly because of our love of colour, secondly, not many people really bought it at that point and it was affordable. As fashions changed we started dealing more and more in original painted furniture, decorative items and grand scale pieces that make a statement.

Along with that came my fascination in garden items, which I believe also has its roots in that love of colour and texture, such as lichen encrusted stoneware and Regency ironwork with layers of textured paint. Now I like to think that my stock reflects that foundation, mostly English, both academic and creative pieces, that could be housed anywhere.

Arabesque is a beautiful blend of country house furniture and garden pieces, that could indeed be housed anywhere. Where does most of your furniture end up going? I would say that 50 per cent of what I sell goes to the trade, both dealers and designers. The other 50 per cent going to private clients, both here and around the world. Items end up in modern loft apartments, quaint cottages and stately homes.

You are well known for dry scraping, and you’re not afraid to do it on a large scale! What is it about dry scraping that’s so appealing?

I suppose it comes back to the academic, colour and texture again. Most pine furniture was made to be painted, and in fashionable homes of the late 18th and early 19th century, some items were painted with great detail, care and in the most elaborate way. As fashions changed, rather than replacing furniture they just overpainted them to suit what was happening at the time, simulating mahogany and rosewood in the 19th century, through to jewel greens and cool blues of the early to mid 20th and then white gloss! A great many items that

I start with are covered in layers of white gloss. But a well designed and made piece of furniture always stands well, you cannot explain it, it just does, that goes for painted furniture also, when it was made in the right way and at the right time, then it will more than likely be of quality and eight out of ten of these items would have been decorated, you just have to be able to look past the white gloss and see it, then the work starts.

Sometimes it is impossible to get back to the original finish and I have had to giveup on many an item, then some reveal themselves as you work and can simply take your breath away. With country furniture and from the more domestic side of the country house, it then comes down more to colour and texture. Gorgeous, vibrant, Georgian blues and greens, especially from the West Country, ranges of taupe and putty colours that were used on kitchen and stable furniture of country houses, layers and layers of it, when worn naturally over time or dry scraped back creatively, combine to make something beautiful.

Read more about Peter in Issue 43 - available here.

Woo Gilchrist