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May 10, 2017, 11:29 PM

Vagabond Joe on being free from fashion and his first Salvo fair

By Sara Morel

Joe Chaffer of Vagabond Antiques & Decor

Fountain detail ©Vagabond Antiques & Decor
©Vagabond Antiques & Decor
©Vagabond Antiques & Decor

Oxfordshire, UK - "I am not sure I ever really follow a trend… I go out and try and find something that 'gets me'.... something decorative, beautiful, ugly, unusual, practical, wonderful…who knows. I get in the van every morning and I never really know what I'm coming back with" said Joe Chaffer, who started his career in men's fashion, and left London with his last pay cheque to set-up Vagabond Antiques & Decor instead. A year and a half later, I interviewed Joe, currently prepping for his first SALVO fair.

What moment sparked your transition from men's fashion to antiques and interiors?

I was working with some fantastic stores like Selfridges and Liberty to create some really unique spaces that had to change seasonally and reflect the current season's collections. We were given freedom to use bespoke pieces of furniture to display items of clothing and adapt things to suit retail and I loved it.
We then worked on a specific project for a new store in Covent Garden and the brief was a gentleman's club/library and everything had to be bespoke. In the first meeting with designers I suddenly realised I knew a bit more than I thought about different styles & ages of furniture. I also knew that we were paying a little more than we should for brown furniture, so the boss quickly let me take the lead on the project. From then I started sourcing from Sussex and supplying to London retailers now and again, but it grew and I was far more excited to make a £50 profit on an antique than I was writing a 6 figure order for my company, so at that point I made my mind up to give it a go.

From an early age, you were inspired by your mother's love for antiques. Do you have an anecdote from your childhood that you associate with your passion and your professional path back to antiques? 

Haha Yes, good old Mum has been an antiques enthusiast all my life - she doesn't claim to be a dealer, but whenever I came home from school there was a bit of furniture missing or a random piece of taxidermy had arrived. We had a wild boar head called Boris on our landing for most of my teenage years, which maybe sounds kinda cool now, but it really wasn't in the '90s…. I got a lot of stick for that. A lot. I was also dragged to a lot of fairs as a kid but i hated it, i had no idea what was going on. I just knew we got ice cream on the way home if mum had a good show.

What do you know about Salvo? What should we look for from Vagabond Antiques at SALVO 2017? 

I've always known Salvo as the pinnacle of Architectural Salvage shows but looking at the pictures there's some pretty impressive kit there, although its only in the last few months that its made more sense to me in terms of how it works in my world of  decorative antiques. I guess salvage is such a broad term a bit like 'antiques' - you say the word and people get an instant personal perception of what that is...hence why most antique shops have added 'and interiors' to their names to try and get the message that antiques doesn't always mean cobwebs & dusty bric a brac. Personally I've always loved architectural elements of design and its only recently that I've found ways to incorporate it into my displays and working with pieces to make them useable or decorative in the home - I adore the use of weathered garden elements indoors, such as statutory, signage and urns. I think that it can be a real focal point of a room, so that's what I will bring across to the show, not sure I can compete with the long established salvage dealers in size and weight, so I will just bring the elements I like and work on the details.

How did you discover Antiques Young Guns and when did you become a member?

I heard of it when I started out, but wasn't really sure how it would work for me. It was only when I met the group at the Bath Decorative Fair in March and they explained the benefits that it became a no brainer to get involved.

How has being a member helped Vagabond Antiques? 

I am still a fairly new member, but I had a feature in the Antiques Trade Gazette and I have this opportunity to show at Salvo, plus I am interviewing with you, so, so far so good!
I think going forward it will be a great network of support for me. I have found this can be quite a lonely business and you have to choose who you trust quite carefully, however with AYG I have found some good people.

What is the future for buying and selling antiques? Online, social media, fairs, auctions, stores? What works well for you?

I think you have to use them all and I do. I'm a big believer in shops for touch & feel. I will make a decision on a piece in seconds if it is in front of me, so if I had my way I would have the shop and that would be that, but I wouldn't be in business now if I stuck to that rule.

Online works well but it is a long term thing, my website is not planned to make significant turnover for another few years - the success I've had from the website is from existing customers that I've met and trust me, so the relationship is built in person and the website works to continue the business. My website will never give customers the ability to actually buy the item through a checkout system, they will always need to get in touch.

Social Media is probably the most successful platform at present. One snap off your phone and items can sell in under a minute.

Fairs, I love. This is where you meet the strong customers. This year, from one fair alone, I've provided over 100 pieces of decorative art to a brand new 252 bedroom hotel in London as well over 30 pieces of furniture to a Boutique Hotel in Norfolk. If I didn't attend that fair these buyers would not have found me.

I can't just sell though, as soon as I sell something I have to go and buy something else…. I mean where's the fun in coming home with loads of money and an empty van, I prefer things the other way around.

As a dealer I buy what I like and want to retail, however sometimes you see things on your travels that can make a profit, but don't necessarily suit my shop, so auctions are really useful and generate a steady income. I set myself a target of 5-10 items a month for my local auction, this way I guarantee some revenue. I also like the shop to look fresh every month so again if I haven't sold it in 8-10 weeks it will probably go into auction.

Is the eco-friendly side of antiques in that their environmental cost has already been paid an important consideration for antique dealers to attract young buyers?

At present I don't think it is, which is probably not what you want to hear, but it should be and more should be done at a higher level to promote and encourage young people to shop this way and certainly more could be done to help independent retailers by making it easier to open stores in high street locations thus making it more accessible and acceptable to have antique or 'second-hand' furniture in your home.

That said I am getting a lot of success with first and second time buyers coming to the showroom bored of the same old thing and looking for quality antique furniture, so I always try to have a good stock of classic, quality inexpensive items.

Do you find it hard to part with things once sold?  Does a single piece stand out as the one that got away?

YES. I think I could name 30-40 items here, but I made a rule when I started that I wouldn't be able to keep anything for the first few years of my business. I treat my showroom as my personal collection, I get as much enjoyment having pieces there as I do at'll always know the bits I like best as they'll have rather large price tickets. I left London with my last pay cheque and started this business and although I love it and would do it for free, it is a business and I have to keep feeding it for it to grow the way I envisage.

Vagabond Antiques & Decor

Sara Morel, Reclaimed Woman

Salvo Fair

Vagabond Antiques & Decor
SALVO 2017

Story Type:  News

ID: 100224

Date Modified: May 11, 2017, 07:33 PM

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