In this age of instant everything and shopping from your armchair, how does a 130 year old antiques business remain relevant in today’s market with a declining high street retail environment and seemingly laissez faire attitude to brown furniture?
Well from meeting the oldest and best known family firm the answer sounds just like it does in every other industry, knowledge is power.
“There has always been and will always be a demand for the best antiques and decorative arts and the key is knowing the difference between good and the best. There is only one way to learn and that is years of experience.” says John Bly whose CV is almost as impressive as his knowledge. He is quick to add that one never stops learning but having been in business for well over 120 years the Blys are clearly at the top of their game.
With some of the worlds best museums, grandest stately homes, biggest collectors and famous interior designers amongst its clients the firm of John Bly is synonymous with authenticity, quality and originality.
So why go to John Bly?
The Blys are important people in their industry and their combined experience is unique, they've seen more, researched more, bought more and sold more fine things than anybody. And they are well regarded by others in their field which is highly unusual for any industry.
“We bring the past to life, deal in history and sell peace of mind” says James Bly, John’s son and the fifth generation to take the helm. It sounds light hearted but he takes it seriously. “It is the story behind the pieces we handle that make them astounding windows into the past; the social context of what was going on at the time a particular piece was made makes it all the more interesting and intriguing in this hi-tech world. Importantly everything we sell carries our guarantee of authenticity”.
(He recounts the history of the dumb waiter, a story worth visiting his gallery to hear!)
John and James Bly have spent their lives surrounded by and dealing with antiques and have an natural instinct about an item so if you want advice, help or guidance in this mysterious world they are the people to speak to. Viewing their stock is a history lesson in itself.
John spent a few years at Sotheby’s before joining his father and James trained as a cabinet maker before joining John, with these backgrounds it is easy to see how they can analyse pieces and spot exquisite details from 1000 paces.
“When you know how to make a piece of furniture you can appreciate the skills required for perfection especially in times when electricity had yet to be invented, hand sawing veneers by day and candlelight to within 1/18th of inch think is not easy!”
As well as having a stock of provenanced museum quality pieces the Blys offer their expertise to the great and the good. This “service” can be authenticating a piece that the client already has but the majority of the time it is to source that special piece or pieces.
Projects vary in size from single items to furnishing entire properties (residential and commercial) but the clients always know that they are getting the very best examples of their type with every piece carrying their seal of approval and certificate of authenticity.
And if you cannot get to them in the South East of England they will come to you and they are not limited geographically; with many collector clients in the USA they are across the pond several times a year.
Do they just handle furniture?
It seems not and there is much behind the dapper duos' elegant presence. They also provide a full interior design service if required and can build a team of experts as projects dictate.
With complete workshop facilities at their disposal enabling furniture design and cabinet making, full upholstery and window dressing, lighting (from hidden LED tracks to 3m crystal chandeliers), and even designing, making and fitting a bespoke carpet, they can achieve anything.
It is not possible to categorize the Bly look as they work intimately with each client but the common thread throughout is the wow factor. “If the client isn’t totally blown away, bowled over and in awe of their own house by the end, we have not succeeded” says John who often gets wheeled in for the final stamp of approval.
Dare one mention mid-century modern and contemporary?
“Even in some of the more contemporary interiors we have worked in, the placing of one or two well selected antique pieces will have spectacular results, they can have a museum presence and we have been asked on occasion to frame and hang the written history of a piece for all to learn about. The pieces come alive when the stories behind them are recounted, it is about the history.
A cold room becomes cosy and white walls fill with colour when the combination is done properly.”
Let us not forget each generation of every stately home in England patronised the arts and modern style of their time; they inherited great collections of course but also had their eye on the latest trends and fashions. Just look at George III’s son, Prince Regent and latterly Chatsworth House and Blenheim Palace.
So the Blys are the go-to people for anyone serious about antiques.
Whether you are furnishing your house or looking for the finest tea caddy and need sound advice make sure you look them up.
“Buy from Bly, the most experienced and the best."