Sometimes here at the HOUSE column, we feel we’re interviewing the last of an exquisite kind and Philip Hewat-Jaboor, an independent art consultant might well be one of those. We did keep accusing him of being an aesthete and he didn’t seem to mind at all. If he did, it would be hard to tell because he has manners as beautiful as the objects that are his passion. Throughout the interview, he often referred to himself as “one”, not in an affected way but in order to be self-deprecating, to avoid the egotistical “I’. For some reason we found this fascinating. He also still calls things “ghastly” and modifies statements with “rather”, phrasing and words soon to be lost to us, alas. Perhaps we should have mentioned that he’s British. He divides his time between his lovely house in Jersey and, just to upset the apple cart, and this brownstone full of good things in Harlem, a home he shares with his partner, milliner Rod Keenan.
I’ll tell you what I want to start off with … I found this quote by you: “I help people who have achieved a certain economic status to buy adult things.” And I thought – Why can’t you just stay “I help rich people buy stuff”?
[Laughs] Well, one could obviously! That is what it boils down to except that it actually turns out to be really rather more than ‘stuff’ in the end. And that is what I find exciting because most of my clients start off not as collectors, except as you say, ‘rich people wanting to buy stuff’ but I have to say that in every single case either the husband or the wife has found an area about which they particularly excited and they turn into serious, informed collectors.
In the living room a photographic collage by Jean-Marc Prouveur hangs above a custom Classic Sofa in mohair velvet. The cut velvet cushions are from Etro. The draperies are in a Scalamandre iridescent silk taffeta.
In the corner of the living room, Italian imitation platters after drawings by Sir Edward Hamilton, circa 1800, stand atop a white marble pedestal.
Artist Kate Malone’s ceramic ‘avocado’ is placed atop a 1950 verre églomisé table.
Standing atop the marble fireplace mantel is an 1820 Louis XV-style gilt- bronze elephant clock. The pair of gilt-bronze and marble canopic jars is also circa 1820. The colored glass mirror is by Ettore Sottsass and the digital prints on watercolor paper are by Marc Quinn.
Arranged atop a table top of Imperial Egyptian porphyry, green Greek porphyry and Giallo Antico marble table is an amethyst votive from Ruzetti and Gow as well as a pair of Royal Copenhagen candlesticks circa 1940. The table base is by Kenneth Nilson.
So you want that enthusiasm?
Have to have it otherwise it’s not fun. Passion is vital.
So I would think people come to you because they want more of the academic, advisory side rather than just going to a decorator?
Yes. One hopes the depth of knowledge is there. One has been doing it for so long and that one knows how to find things. I get offered a tremendous amount from private collectors who don’t want to go to the auction rooms.
A gilt-bronze wheat stalk lays near a Lenticular postcard of Queen Elizabeth by Chris Levine.
The corner photograph is by Ruven Afanador.
Objects arranged atop a living room table top include: a ceramic leopard by Kerry Jameson, a Palais Royal turquoise glass box, circa 1820, a 1930's alligator cigarette box, a Japanese enamel-and- silver cigarette case, a John Derain tray, a gold paperweight, a Ruzetti and Gow silver shell, a 19th century tape measure and a Paul Smith gold ceramic bunny.
Why don’t they want to go to the auction rooms?
I think if you’re selling something you have to be very careful about how you approach the sale. For auctions there are certain things that work incredibly well.
What types of things?
At the moment … I suppose the obvious things, pictures, Chinese things. But some things are quite difficult, things that require a more intellectual approach like a really important piece of furniture. I just sold something to a museum here, a fantastic piece of furniture but it is very much a museum piece of furniture and not so appealing for somebody to use at home. If I were to put that up at an auction, one would possibly have not got a good price. Museums don’t have the time to buy things at auction because they go through such a lengthy process [in order to acquire objects]. It’s a very curious market altogether at the moment.
Yes, why is that? When was a good time for antiques and collecting?
The market is very patchy. When it’s working it’s strong. In the 70s and 80s there seemed to be a huge volume of things for sale. Also there weren’t so many collectors in those days. Nowadays the number of people who collect is vastly greater. I can remember we did a survey in the 70s at Sotheby’s where there 100 millionaires all over the world who collected—now we have perhaps 1000 billionaires who collect. And they’re buying across different fields.
Jasmine Sambuca dominates an garden café table. Vintage Bertoia chairs surround the outside café table
In the garden, a rosso di Verona marble top stands on a composite stone capital.
In the rear of the garden, 19th century bronze Indian oil lamps and wisteria hang from the first floor balcony.
An Akebia Climbing rose and Lonicera heckrotti vines cover the rear garden wooden lattice.
Ruzetti and Gow votives and a Murano bird bath add a bit a color to a garden corner.
Clockwise from above: An Aesthetic Movement ebonised cabinet, circa 1880 is filled with a Staffordshire pottery dinner service, a Jonathon Adler vase, an Alessi bowl as well as assorted vintage art glass and Danny Lane cast glass champagne flutes; Glass vessels from Italy, Syria, France and America and a Fornasetti dish stand atop a marble-topped ledge in the kitchen.
Oil portraits of Philip Hewat-Jaboor and Rod Keenan by artist, Peregrine Heathcote.
Assorted press clippings line the walls of the Philip and Rod’s brownstone stairwell. The custom turban and "Bandit" western hat are designed by Rod.
When you talk about the collectors, you seem to be frequently talking about the men, the husbands. When we talk to decorators, they generally talk about the wives as being the ones they deal with.
In my experience, and there are notable exceptions, it’s the men who turn into the collectors.
Why is that?
I don’t know … it’s sort of historically so.
A photograph of Rod’s mother, Dotty Keenan, hangs above a ceramic "wallflower" by Kate Malone. The striped wall covering is from Farrow & Ball.
In the downstairs guestroom/library a bronze and mahogany bookcase and table base is by Kenneth Nilson. The coffee table is of Imperial Egyptian porphyry, green Greek porphyry and Giallo Antico marble.
A French Empire gilt-bronze mounted mahogany lit-en-bateau circa 1825 is reserved for houseguests. The photograph is by Jean-Marc Prouveur.
An upholstered armchair from The Divine Chair Company stands atop a Moroccan silk rug.
A photograph by Jean-Marc Prouveur, '30 Ennismore Gardens' hangs on the guest room wall.
A French 1930's green glass mirror is surrounded by green and amethyst glass wall lights.
An oil portrait of Philip Hewat-Jaboor.
‘Interior with Cat' an oil painting by Villiers David hangs next to a whimsical 1950s clock from Germany.
In the master bedroom a pair of lacquered side tables, circa 1970, flanks an Egyptian Revival painted walnut bed attributed to Saridis. The Indian cotton rug was designed by Nina Campbell.
On the far wall a hangs French Empire watercolor of an Egyptian temple by Jean Philiponneaux. The Sapien bookcase is from Design Within Reach.
'Bamboo Forest', a photograph by Russell Wong hangs on a wall above a French 1930's mahogany chest of drawers.
In a corner of the master bedroom a George II style painted berger stands next to a lacquer bedside table.
An Italian folding leather chair, circa 1975 stands near a South East Asian wooden hat box.
You also said in another interview that the concept of beauty is no longer popular. I wondered if you could elaborate on that.
I was always brought up to look at things with an eye for beauty. My grandfather was quite a serious collector of Chinese porcelain and whilst frightened of him as young boy, he showed me these extraordinary bits of Chinese porcelain when I was about eight or ten years old and it was all about touch and the look and the line. It was not so much to do with where it came from and certainly had nothing to do with what it was worth. When I first started listening to opera I was told not to read the score, just let the music go over you. If you don’t have that immediate emotional response to something …
But do you really think beauty is an unpopular trend?
I think it’s changing back again but there has been a moment where ugly things have taken hold because they’re contrary to mainstream.
Can you give us an example?
Well, motor cars in general. I find a lot of contemporary art ugly – I find some of it very, very beautiful. I mean there were ugly things in the 18th century and they still are ugly!
A collection of hats by Rod. The photograph, “Snowy Landscape” is by Gerald Incandela, 1979.
More hats by Rod Keenan. Nearby, a Puiforcat and Fornasetti dish stand atop an Indian inlaid-marble octagonal table.
An Art Deco chandelier is suspended over an ottoman in the entry hall.
An assemblage by Ruben and Isobel Toledo hangs above a Giallo di Siena oval dining table by Saarinen. The oak bookcase was designed by William Beckford, ca. 1825.
Hats designed by Philip’s partner, Rod hang on upon an ebonised wood sculpture by David Gilmour.
A cast bowl by Danny Lane stands below a 1950s Venini chandelier. In the background is a spot painting by Julia Walton.
In the foreground, a turban hat block from Freddie Fox was used for making the Queen Mother’s hats.
Standing atop the windowsill is a gilt-bronze mounted Chinese porcelain jardinière, circa 1850.
Can you bear to watch Antiques Roadshow?
I occasionally watch it. We started them off at Sotheby’s and we did a marvelous one at Longleat. A man dropped dead in front of the table and his wife continued to ask about the object—I can’t remember what it was.
How are American collectors different from British collectors?
I think they’re more willing to learn. They come with less pre-conceived ideas. And they’re prepared to pay for advice.
How has Britain changed in the time that you have been advising and working with and collectors?
Well, there’s a much more lively and open art market. And there’s been a generation change with the old guard and what is really exciting is that a large number of our great old estates are now in the hands of a much younger generation who have made money and have a better understanding of how to use their estates as a money-making project.
Rod's studio. Raw materials and straw “bodies” from Ecuador used for Rod’s hats.
Rod working on a beaded turban commissioned by Lucy Lang for the Frick Museum’s garden party.
The turban in process. Inset: Lucy Lang wearing the finished product at the Frick Collection's Summer Soirée on July 12, 2011.
Rod’s fur felt trilby with peacock trim, currently included in the exhibition, ‘Hats, An Anthology by Stephen Jones’ at the Bard Graduate Center.
Shelves of raw materials.
Assorted hats in production.
A resin stag’s head is a handy place to hang fur felt helmets.
Are there still penniless aristocrats hanging on in dusty, faded old piles?
There are, inevitably. That’s what’s astonishing about England. You come across estates that you’ve never really come across before full of wonderful things.
Does dust preserve furniture?
Um … better than cleaning.
When you go to sleep at night, do you have dreams full of beautiful objects?
Um … no. Although I have been recently because I’ve been buying some things, rather awkward things … about two and a half thousand kilos of rare colored marbles, many of which are ancient fragments. They’ve come from Florence. I have to get them to my house in Jersey.
Ferris, the blue Burmese, waiting to go outside.
Why are aesthetes so easy to parody?
Well, I think they are. There are those wonderful Gillray cartoons … I’ve got one somewhere. I think it’s because we’re pretty self-absorbed, pretty selfish and probably too sure of one’s own taste … ghastly word taste. I don’t know, I think one creates a rather a lovely, sort of jeweled world that is both intellectually and visually stimulating. It is a sort of cocoon, a shelter … an escape really.