It's universally acknowledged that art not only beautifies the home but is generally a good investment. And Owen Pacey, owner of Shoreditch’s Renaissance antique furniture specialist and restorer, thinks there’s no better way to keep your bank balance warm than buying a fireplace.
“Look,” he starts matter-of-factly, “If I went to view two Georgian houses in the same street and one had a fireplace and the other didn’t, I’d go for the one with a fireplace every time. Some of them are worth a fortune and a lot of people have no idea what they’re worth. Not only that, it’s a great selling point for a property – it shows people that you haven’t messed around with the house too much because it still has original features.”
An East End boy done good, Owen started his career in antiques restoration almost by accident, learning what they were worth by selling them, “It was all trial and error,” he says. “I would buy something, restore it and it would sell for quite a bit of money afterwards, so I’d think, ‘I’ll look out for that, I’ll get another one of those.’”
Soon, he had acquired quite a collection of fireplaces that encompassed centuries of history from all over Europe, discovering techniques to convincingly age period reproductions along the way. He found there was a lot to learn, even in London “because a Georgian house in Highgate has different proportions from one you’d find in Clapham, which means different fireplaces.”
He steadily built up a team of specialists at Renaissance to make site visits to houses to restore centuries-old fireplaces to their original glory, or to make bespoke reproductions that are indistinguishable from the real deal. Pacey stays at the top of his game by keeping his methods close to his chest, but he does reveal that dental tools are involved. “I was at my dentist getting my teeth done and I saw the tools he was using to accurately file down and just thought they were perfect. I bought some old ones off him and we use them all the time. We buy them online now though, not from my dentist.”
After 25 years, Renaissance is now a London institution, providing lighting and fireplaces for its most premier residence One Hyde Park to Shoreditch House, one of its hippest private members clubs. Pacey has also picked up a few celebrity admirers along the way, including Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, artists Gilbert & George and Beatle Paul McCartney.
But Pacey’s entrepreneurial spirit never lets him rest, pushing Renaissance into the realm of light fixtures 10 years ago after three chandeliers caught his eye in a shop window in Brick Lane. He bought them for £5,000 each, then sold them to a dealer for £20,000. They were Baccarat crystal and the dealer sold them for £27,000 each. Pacey learnt his lesson and now has a vast collection of antique light fixtures to add to his collection, including five Baccarat chandeliers.
Eventually, he had to find bigger premises and moved into an iconic pub on City Road, which he also lives above with his family. Stuffed full of antiques from all periods, an original 16th century Italian fireplace – salvaged by a monk following an earthquake, no less – takes pride of place in his kitchen. Renaissance’s showroom underwent a rebirth of its own recently, a seven-week refurbishment to showcase its vast, constantly-expanding, historic collection of European interior artworks in all their glory.