We meet Natalie Williams, Founder of Medium Room vintage and antique art, to discover what she looks for in a painting, the pieces that have touched her life and how she displays art in her own home
NATALIE WILLIAMS, FOUNDER OF MEDIUM ROOM, IN HER ART-FILLED HOME IN CIRENCESTER
Tell us about your home…
Together with my husband Rob and our three children, we moved to this Victorian townhouse in Cirencester from London five years ago. In that time we’ve tweaked the kitchen and extended it. The carcases were really good quality but a bit twee, so we changed the cupboard doors and handles, painted them in Farrow & Ball Drop Cloth and changed the work surfaces. I also took down the wall cupboards, which made a huge difference, and I found an antique cupboard which I put up on the other wall. When we bought the house, the sitting room was yellow, so we changed it to Farrow & Ball’s Down Pipe and kept the beautiful white cornicing. I think our art sits really nicely against the dark colour and I like the lift of the picture rail in a lighter colour. Now we’re slowly working through the rest of the house, but it’s going to be a long, slow labour of love.
Can you remember the first time that a piece of art had an effect on you?
There is a wonderful painting by the artist Mary Newcomb that my grandparents gave to my elder sister as her christening present. I was given a really sweet, delicate child’s chair, which sits beside the fireplace in my sitting room. But I always remember looking at the painting when I was younger thinking, ‘Why didn’t I get that?’.
(LEFT) NATALIE IN HER RENOVATED KITCHEN; (MIDDLE) THE MUCH-ADMIRED MARY NEWCOMB PAINTING GIVEN TO NATALIE’S SISTER BY THEIR GRANDPARENTS; (RIGHT) NATALIE’S PETER BLAKE COLLAGE TITLED DANCING, PLACE DE LA CONCORDE
What was the first significant piece of art that you bought?
One of my first vintage finds was a still life with three oranges which is in my kitchen. It’s difficult to break it down and analyse what I love about it, it just had an immediate aesthetic draw. One of my favourites pieces is a Peter Blake collage called Dancing, Place de la Concorde which I bought with some inheritance money when my grandmother died and hangs in my sitting room. I met him a couple of times through the handbag designer Susannah Hunter, whose London studio I helped manage.
You source a lot of art for your home and business at antique fairs. Where do you start?
I go to most of the major antique fairs like Newark, Ardingley and Kempton and I’m quite focused. I get there early so I can be in and out in an hour or so and all I look for are paintings; I’m not distracted by other things as much as I’d like to be. I don’t um and ahh, if I see a painting I like, I just know. It’s a really intuitive thing and it’s all about whether a piece catches my eye. I don’t go for anything that’s too old and tatty, but you can quite easily clean a piece if you approach it with care; just wipe it down with a bit of soap and water and a very soft cloth.
What kind of paintings do you particularly love to find?
I love reverse pictures with images on both sides and I also like unfinished pieces; so you might find a portrait where the face is so well painted but they haven’t quite finished the bottom. I think it makes them feel a bit more real. It’s amazing how a picture can have such a major impact on a room and I love that they’re a talking point. Not everybody has to love the pieces you choose for your home, but they can prompt conversations for so many reasons.
(LEFT) ONE OF HER FIRST VINTAGE FIND, THE STILL LIFE WITH ORANGES SITS IN NATALIE’S KITCHEN; FRENCH WATERCOLOUR AND PENCIL NUDE WITH A LINE ON THE MOUNT, SOLD BY MEDIUM ROOM; NATALIE’S BELOVED PIANO SURROUNDED BY ART
How important is the framing of your art?
Choosing the right frame can make or break a painting. I have a print by Rose Electra Harris from Partnership Editions, which I love, and the framing cost almost more than the print. It can be expensive, but it’s so important to get a painting framed well. I work with a really brilliant framer to make sure there is always a really sympathetic, thought-through frame with every piece I sell. I would always recommend going to a proper framer, not just a high street framer, and they will be able to give you the best advice. Personally, I like a very dark grey frame which I find often lifts a painting.
What’s your advice when it comes to mounts?
I prefer line drawings to be surface mounted showing the textural edges to the paper. That’s more expensive but it makes a real difference. We often look at replicating what would have been used in the era that the painting was done, which tends to work well. For example, we framed a French watercolour and pencil nude using a mount with a line on it, which is quite traditional for the era of the piece. It worked beautifully.
(LEFT AND MIDDLE) NATALIE’S KITCHEN WITH CABINETS PAINTED IN FARROW & BALL DROP CLOTH AND PENTREATH & HALL LIGHTS; (RIGHT) NATALIE’S SITTING ROOM PAINTED IN FARROW & BALL DOWN PIPE, DECORATED WITH VINTAGE AND ANTIQUE ART AND FURNITURE
Are there any rules you follow when hanging art?
I think it should be quite intuitive; I hang pieces very much by eye rather than by ruler. You can go on YouTube or Pinterest and see tutorials of how to plan a gallery wall, but I think it can look a bit contrived when it’s perfectly set out. There is a bit of a rule, which I’ve followed in my kitchen, that suggests keeping the same distance between the ceiling and the top of the paintings in a room, so you follow that line around the room. Then it doesn’t really matter what happens beneath it. I also advocate regularly moving your art around your home as it can really freshen up your space. Also, don’t be afraid to hang a vintage painting next to a modern print; mixing old and new works. I recently bought a picture hanging tool* which is only a few pounds and takes some of the anguish out of hanging pictures – it will definitely save you a lot of holes in the wall and perhaps the odd domestic argument.
What led you to launching Medium Room online vintage and antique art shop from your home?
I studied Graphic Design at university and I always enjoyed keeping a look out for vintage and antique art. My friends often asked where I found certain pieces of art that were in my home, so that’s where the idea took root. There are some paintings that I’ve sold which I still think about and wonder if I should have let them go. I could sell some paintings ten times over and I wish I could, but the great thing is that you’re always going to have a unique piece.
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