My long-sought and much beloved flat still remains somewhat bereft of furniture. Not for want of trying, I might add. But it seems I, and my flat, are harder to please than I imagined. The agonies I have put myself through have been long and tedious. And occasionally they have been inflicted upon others too, like my poor mother whose decorating advice I have often sought, and the colleague with whom she shares an office, who after overhearing the details of one long text and email exchange apparently screamed "Oh, just tell her to buy the bloody bed!".
Slowly I have come to realise that I may not be able to decorate from the high street alone, and I'm going to have to look further afield in my quest for furnishings. I finally tracked down my dream dining table in a vintage and antique furniture store housed in an old converted cinema out near Turnham Green. Feeling even more adventurous recently I decided to go one step further, and to embrace auctioning. But to ease myself in, and so as not to break the bank, I braved an independent auction house in nice, safe Chelsea.
The auction house sits appropriately on Lots Road, a large warehouse-like building with a shop-like front. One registers as a buyer at a high desk where one is awarded a number to bid with, then chooses a set of sliding doors either side of the desk; one leading to the antique collection of lots, and one to the more modern and, tactfully-referred to, "traditional" lots. Both storage areas connect up via a small corridor, near which is an equally small organic cafe, selling wholesome refreshments to weary bidders. As I moved between frankly hideous zebra print chase longues and rather beautiful ancient wardrobes, I spied television newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky having her baby cooed over as she sipped her tea.
The auction itself took place at one end of the traditional and modern lot storage. Between the customers assembled on the floor and a desk so high the auctioneer could have been standing on a ladder behind it, bids were barked backwards and forward. The auctioner tossed in the odd joke from time to time, pausing the flow of numbers and making everyone smile and giggle. Each lot was indicated by two roaming auction-hands who yelled "Showinghere!" next to the lot under offer, making customers jump when they appeared behind them. Bidders lounged on the lots, perched on unwanted sofas and discarded dining chairs, drinking coffee, chatting and occasionally raising cards printed with their buyer number to get involved in the action. There were couples, perfectly preened Chelsea mummies, scruffier individuals who'd obviously dashed away from house-painting to view the lots, obvious dealers who greeted each other as regular attendees, and whole families examining the lots; one couple had brought their 5 children with them, all but the tiniest of which were clad identically in bright red cardigans and green trews.
Having firmly fixed in my mind my top limit for the sofa I, and my new flat, so needed, I was a little disappointed that online commission bids had already bumped up the bidding even before the real-time action had begun. The small sofa I had my eye on went, ironically, to a very large man, for a figure well outside its estimate, and I returned my buyer's number and left empty-handed. But I had been bitten by the bidding bug and have a strong feeling I will be back for flat-related accoutrements, or just the excellent people-watching, soon.