“I sold a cupboard that someone said looked like a train wreck. But it reflects my outlook. I cannot stand anything poncey. ”
On a good day, Spitalfields covered market is one of the great markets of the world; while some of the shops in the area charge premium prices, you often can pick up an industrial lamp, a well-worn display case, or an intriguing rare item of workwear from a stall for a shockingly reasonable amount. Steve Sorrell’s stall is the perfect example; I can’t imagine it anywhere but Spitalfields, and its combination of functionality, good honest wear and a quirky Englishness is instantly recognisable. But get there early, while the morning frost is still in the air; like several local traders, a lot of his stock tends to be snapped up by dealers, who will charge you a premium for shopping in their cosy, centrally heated showroom.
The items you pick have something consistent about them, don’t they? How would you describe it?
I just go for a look… you just get a gut feeling. And when you do Spitalfields, you buy very much for that area. Tastes change, it’s difficult to describe; to be good at this game, and now it is a game, you’ve got to do your homework, keep up with trends - it’s all linked up with art, design and everything these days. Antiques used to be antiques, now it’s more about creating a look. Also at Spitalfields you get young people not interested in provenance, they just want something to look right in their flat. As for me I started out in the early ’80s dealing with art deco, than started getting into 20th Century Design, then loads people jumped on the bandwagon, so now I go for something quirky and unusual.
And how do you find your artefacts?
I’ve been doing it for so long I’ve got loads of connections, and mates in the house clearance game, then there’s auctions, several good car boot sales where we live – it’s mainly a question of getting up early in the morning. I’ve never done it full time – I work at the market Thursdays and I go out hunting mainly on Saturday and Sundays.
So many antiques these days are over-restored, as if they’re supposed to be new. But not yours. They’re all attractively… distressed.
You have to buy stuff that you like, to be honest with you. I like stuff that’s well used, well worn, I don’t like stuff that’s ornate or over restored. I sold a cupboard last week, a woman said it looked like it came out of a train wreck, but it’s still had that great used look, which reflects my outlook on life. Basically, I cannot stand anything poncey.
Why the blue scooter?
I’ve got a friend in Hampshire does house clearance and he comes up with the most wonderful things. I’d bought lots of stuff and was leaving his house and he said, This is you. I said great, and I just love it.
What’s your favourite object that’s passed through your hands recently?
I picked up a beautiful old workbench, that had obviously been in someone’s garage or workshop for years and years. It was splattered with paint, there were saw-marks in it, it was something that was obviously used over over again, and it was made by someone who had absolutely no idea of aesthetics whatsoever, it just had a practical use. But because it was 50 or 60 years old, the way the wood had darkened and it had marked, it looked beautiful. When I took it home I cleaned it up, scrubbed it clean, put loads of wax on it, polished it – and in the end it looked like something that had come out of a medieval house, it was absolutely beautiful. I took it to the market and I sold it pretty much within an hour to a guy in the East of London who is a fantastic photographer. He put it in his kitchen. And it was perfect, and it was wonderful that something so simple could be so beautiful.
That story embodies all of this, the issue of finding old objects a new home
A lot of people do this to make lots of money and I’ll never make lots of money out of it… I love to share my enthusiasms with people. It sounds stupid but I’d rather make a small profit and know it’s going to someone that’s going to love it and enjoy it. That’s important to me.
Steve Sorel is at the covered market, Spitalfields, Thursdays. Get there early.