Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published December 27th 2010
Alfies doesn't look like much. It's on a road behind Marylebone station which on Saturdays also becomes a market selling all sorts of cheap tat. But it's as close to a department store an antiques market can get - four squashed in floors of individual stalls and shops, populated by some properly old fashioned-ly lovely stall holders and as many antique 'things' as could be squashed into the very limited space available in some of their 'stores'.
Some antiques markets pride themselves on being specialists in something, but eccentric Alfies' stores couldn't be much more eclectic: in one store you might find a pair of pre-WW2 genuine woollen sailor's trousers, complete with lacing up the back to allow for changes in girth; in the next store you'll find a telephone made in the 60s with the receiver hidden, discretely, within a set of bulls horns; and in the one after that there might be an original art deco lamp. And the inventory list could continue indefinitely, the point being that if you don't see something beautiful and unusual then you might need to consider whether you actually like antiques.
Part of the charm of a place like Alfies is the atmosphere, created in part by the miss-matched and full-to-bursting-point stalls, and part by the often equally eccentric owners and dealers who run them. Half of the time they're hidden amongst their stock, reading the paper, waiting for you to ask questions so that they can share some of their, often prodigious, knowledge on very, very specialist subjects. You can learn a lot from a natter here, and from the outside it looks like a very civilised way to live your life – the life of the gent on the top floor with the endless looking collection of vinyl and trading cards, and the bright store with the large windows looking over London, appears especially covet-able.
There is some method to the layout. The basement is 20th Century Interiors, Design and Decoratives, and this spreads upwards onto the ground, first and second floors – mostly in the form of lighting, there's loads of great lighting here. The ground floor also has vintage fashion, jewellery and accessories, 19th Century Interiors and Decoratives and glass and ceramics. The first floor has paintings, prints and posters, as well as more glass and treasures sourced from Africa and what was then the Orient. As well as art and deco from the 20th century, the top floor has more clothes and fabrics, costume jewellery and more from the 'exotic' regions. Above that is the rooftop restaurant – great during the summer months.
All charm aside this is a well known place amongst interior designers and people with serious collections, so while you might find the treasure from the past you've been looking for, you may also find you'll need to pay proper money for it. But it depends on your tastes and some people's treasures will go for a song.