Miller's Choice: Robert Young Antiques

Collectables expert Judith Miller's pick of the world's best antique shops.
This week: Robert Young Antiques, London, UK

February 14, 2014 10:41
Stanley Dyson, Mug and Bowl Stanley Dyson, Mug and Bowl
Stanley Dyson, Mug and Bowl
Stanley Dyson, Mug and Bowl
Cricket table Cricket Table
Cricket table
Cricket Table

When Robert Young and his wife Josyane founded Robert Young Antiques in Battersea in 1978, it was with a unique shared vision.

“Even in those early days we were passionate about honest pieces dans leurs jus,” says Robert, who trained at Sotheby’s and La Sorbonne, “simply meaning we attached importance to their patination, originality and texture.”

Going against popular taste (there was “virtually no demand” for this style at the time) they began to source vernacular, country and painted furniture and “folk art”, prioritising surface texture, colour and line in their selection. “Old wood was my first love” says Robert, “whether raw and weathered or rich, well handled and lustrously patinated.” Natural weathering, verdigris, oxidation, fading, wear; the scars and bruises of their finds were the features Robert and Josyane treasured.

“We believed that antiques were somehow richer and more interesting when the evidence of their age and history was visible and tangible,” says Robert, remembering how controversial this idea was at the time. “Some of the older established dealers and selection or vetting committees felt that some of our works were a little ‘untidy’ or not ‘refined enough’ for the top fairs”.

Undeterred, they stuck to their style and started experimenting with contemporary display methods at fairs – theatrical mood lighting and hand painted wall canvases, for example – believing that their objects benefited from being seen in context. This approach soon began to attract a younger audience, “people who had never before looked at antiques but saw them as unique, eclectic, powerful works and incorporated them into contemporary homes.” RYA’s interior design consultancy, Riviere Interiors, was later born from Robert and Josyane’s talent for fine display.

In 1986, newly founded magazine The World of Interiors ran the first of many features on the couple, and from 1997 they started exhibiting at distinguished American events such as the New York Winter Antiques Show, winning many awards for best stand design along the way.

RYA now exhibits all over the world but the enlarged shop on Battersea Bridge Road still welcomes visitors all year round, particularly to the cosy log fires they light in winter.

Robert’s passion for finding and championing unknown “rustic” works is undimmed. He dates his greatest ever find to 2008 when he bought the life’s work, some 500 paintings, of Stanley Dyson, an unknown schoolteacher artist from Chesterfield. After a three-year restoration programme Robert’s great eye was once again proved true: demand for these works was, he says, “immediate and staggering” when they sold at exhibition in 2011.

“The find was at the heart of what RYA believes in, namely the power and resonance of great naïve art.” Long may he continue to discover it.

Robert Young Antiques
68 Battersea Bridge Road
SW11 3AG