Meeting Paul Jenkins at his East London storage space, it’s clear that he is a man with a natural eye for style. His experience owning and running a graphic design company has given him a natural affinity for design and form.
When did you start trading and how did you get into this industry?
I have always had an interest in older items, furniture and pieces. I had a half-baked idea that I’d like to buy and sell but had no idea how to go about it. I then met my new partner who was a set decorator and she opened my eyes about where I could acquire the stuff and we both had a mutual excitement about mid century. We also felt that we had a unique eye that differed from other people selling furniture because a lot of people were focusing on Scandinavian and Danish whilst we were much more interested in the expressive furniture rather than the clean-lined Danish pieces. So, we gave birth to Proper together two and a half years ago.
As well as being a dealer, you have another job don’t you?
For thirty years, I’ve run a branding graphic design company, and whilst I still thoroughly enjoy working on this, I thought it would be healthy to have another interest running alongside it. I’ve found it great to have both projects going at once. It’s taken me about a year and a half to sort out how to split my time properly and it was a huge learning curve.
I had no idea about all the logistics involved before I got into it – we have to find the piece, get it from one place to another to photograph it, write all the detailed descriptions and measurements and only then can we list it on several different websites. Of course once someone has bought a piece, there’s all the back and forth with questions and queries, the payment and getting the piece to the buyer.
So when you first start out, you naively think ‘I’ll buy and sell a bit of furniture’! Luckily, I have certain systems in place now which have eased the stress.
What designers or periods are you particularly interested in?
Anything from the fifties to the eighties, particularly Italian furniture. Belgium 1970s pieces tend to be more expressive than Danish or English.
Which countries do you mainly source your pieces from?
UK and Belgium at the moment.
Have you ever come across a particularly spectacular find and you just can’t believe you found it?
All the time! A UFO lamp by Luigi Colani, which I found sitting at the bottom of a cardboard box being sold for £20.
There was also a wonderful set of bathroom items like mirrors, soap dishes in really nice brightly coloured plastic moulded frames which I later found our was part of the Crayonne range for Habitat in the 1970s and suddenly you realise why you liked so much.
One of my biggest discoveries was Pieff – he was a British furniture designer for Heals and Harrods. I love their tables and shelves and will pretty much buy anything Pieff.
What’s your favourite piece you’re currently selling?
The Greaves Thomas sideboard – I can’t believe it, I bought it last week and thought ‘wow that’s really nice’!
What do you do when you aren’t working?
List my items on Layer! Apart from that, I’m a big movie buff and I love foreign travel to European cities and staying in nice hotels.
What is the first piece you ever sold?
It was a Plia chair by Giancarlo Piretti – it was the first collapsable chair that folded down to 30 centimetres.
Who is your typical customer?
It’s a split between private individuals and interior designers or people in the industry.
What is the most difficult and rewarding part of your job?
The most difficult, by far, is arranging the logistics of getting things to people! I have learnt to stick to UK delivery if possible. Also the fiddly renovation bits – a button missing or a tiny split on a piece – you can spend hours trying to resolve it. The most rewarding part is the buying! It’s so exciting.
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