British-Danish antiques dealer Allan Hatchwell has an eye for the unusual – which has made Hatchwell Antiques a go-to destination for rare objects, vintage oddities and industrial treasures.
On the King’s Road in the heart of Chelsea’s design quarter is a treasure trove of antique and vintage rarities. Furniture dating back half a millennium sits alongside wind tunnel models, plane engines and turbines transformed into coffee tables, exquisitely crafted binoculars and telescopes, and even avant-garde pianos. This eclectic collection of objects has been assembled under the watchful eye of Allan Hatchwell, whose father, Simon, founded Hatchwell Antiques back in 1961.
“I love so many different kinds of objects,” says Allan. “I get attracted to them and want the privilege of owning them for a little while before selling them on. We have pieces from the 1960s and others from the 16th century – the one thing that unites them is their superb quality.”
The offering from Hatchwell Antiques has always pushed the boundaries of expectation. Based in Brighton, on the south coast of England, Simon exported classical antiques around the world – primarily to Copenhagen, where Hatchwell Antiques had a second base. In the late 80s, the Hatchwells began importing Biedermeier furniture from Europe back into the UK, completing the “trade loop”.
The business quickly grew, and as Simon was exporting the pieces himself, it was also commercially successful. Hatchwell Antiques soon carved out a name for itself dealing in classic English furniture, barometers, and clocks – and Allan still finds many pieces today in Denmark that were restored and initialled by his father.
Allan, of course, grew up surrounded by his family business – and by the age of 14 was accompanying his father on trips to Denmark and Germany. He considered studying physics at university, but decided to go into the family business instead, restoring timber furniture and travelling across Europe.
“My father was very relaxed,” recalls Allan. “He would give me the keys, the chequebook, and say ‘Be careful’. That was very exciting for a 19-year-old! It was pre-internet, so it was lots of long hours and thousands of miles, but you never knew what you were going to find. It was incredibly dynamic and that’s what captivated me.”
A jet engine is a work of art – and when you present it in a different context, people get excited by it. It’s a part of history.Allan Hatchwell
By the late 80s, however, the market was beginning to shift and the decision was made to move Hatchwell Antiques from Brighton to London, where they initially shared a space with another dealer. With the move came the decision to shift the business focus from trade to retail – and it proved to be a revelation. “It was a completely different world,” says Allan. “Everything sold more quickly and for more money.” After 18 months, they got their own space in the renowned Furniture & Arts Building in Chelsea – where they are still located more than 30 years later.
While Hatchwell Antiques may have remained in the same showroom space throughout the decades, their collection has been anything but static. From furniture, clocks, and barometers, it has grown to encompass what might just be one of the most eccentric and varied collections of antiques around.
The expansion began 20 years ago with optical instruments, which opened up a new market. Then, Allan heard about someone finding an aircraft engine for sale at an old hangar and decided to try his hand transforming a Concorde engine into the base for a coffee table. Today, the company is known for its collection of unusual scientific pieces that appeal to niche collectors, from wind tunnel models to torpedo-spreading slide rules and vintage clinometers.
“Not everybody wants a wind tunnel model, but certain people appreciate it,” says Allan. “And, when we attack something, we really go for it. We do the best restoration, the best metalwork, and it shows.” Of course, every piece needs to be treated differently depending on its condition and rarity. Rare collectibles are carefully restored to their original state, while other decorative pieces – such as the engines – are often completely transformed.
For Allan and his clients, the scientific pieces are just as creatively ambitious as the more conventional antiques, and there is always a story to accompany them. When Hatchwell Antiques sourced its first Concorde engines, for example, Allan wrote to the Churchill Archives in Cambridge to acquire the technical papers that would explain their background.
We found that after we began selling them, people began collecting them.Allan Hatchwell
“You realise that you’re dealing with these incredible brains that make things work and are so often taken for granted,” he explains. “A jet engine is a work of art – and when you present it in a different context, people get excited by it. It’s a part of history.” Fittingly, many of Hatchwell Antiques’ customers are engineers or a part of the scientific world who want to surround themselves with these marvels of precision engineering. Other clients include museums, interior designs, and a wide variety of retail clients from across the globe.
As Hatchwell Antiques branches out into new types of objects, they often see markets emerging in response. Take the avant-garde Poul Henningsen pianos that Allan began to buy purely because he fell in love with them. Today, he is one of the world’s main Poul Henningsen dealers, and he has been instrumental in raising their profile – some of the rarer models easily sell for six figures. “The prices have just gone through the roof,” says Allan. “The same thing happened with binoculars. We found that after we began selling them, people began collecting them.”
More recently, Allan has become interested in small armaments and model cannons. Hatchwell Antiques even won a sought-after Masterpiece Highlights prize at Masterpiece 2022 for a model of a 15-pounder artillery piece with a caisson and accessories that was made in 1870 by an armoury school in France.
According to Allan, this thirst for ever more unique objects shows no signs of being sated, which only promises that the future of Hatchwell Antiques looks as exciting as ever. “As I get older, I want to deal in better and even rarer objects,” he explains. “You spend the same time dealing with something extraordinary as you do with something that is fairly ordinary – and time is limited. You want to be thrilled with everything you’ve got. It’s expensive and it’s hard to find these objects, but that’s how we lift the business to a different level. You have to be a bit unusual to stay ahead of the game.”
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