Foundwell’s Vintage Treasures Will Delight Gentlemen (and Ladies, Too)
Treasure hunting in thrift and antique stores always sounds rewarding, until you’re elbow deep in cast-off kitchenwares and polyester glad rags. Yet, the search for those diamonds in the rough appeals to us largely because true vintage gems elude us. Most simply don’t have the time, patience or knowledge to find something really rarefied.
Alan Bedwell, however, was raised on scouting for silver marks, identifying makers, dating materials and appraising art. His bona fides come by birth: his mother is a longtime antiques dealer in London. Soon after graduating, Bedwell went to work sourcing antiques for Ralph Lauren. More than a decade later, he branched out on his own, establishing his luxury goods company Foundwell in 2009. Foundwell curates fine homewares and accessories from over the last two centuries, specializing in men’s finery and antique silver pieces.
This season, Nordstrom Downtown Seattle is carrying some of his singular discoveries, which can also be found online. We spoke with Bedwell about what attracts his eye and some of his favorite finds—plus what to buy for that tricky guy on your list this holiday.
How did you get into antiques?
My mother is an antique dealer. She won’t like me saying it, but she’s been in Grays Antique Centre in London 35 years. My father was working obviously, so when my mother did shows I would go with her. Since I was a baby, I’d be under the table as my mom was buying and selling stuff. After college I wanted to go into banking, but after September the 11th the market was crashing. So I went back to work with my mother. At the time, Ralph Lauren was a client of ours. My mother was selling pieces to the stores in Europe. Long story short, I got the job buying antiques for Ralph Lauren.
Eventually, I got a job in New York as a men’s accessories designer at Ralph Lauren. I moved to New York 10 years ago. Started struggling a little bit for money—it’s tough—so I began doing antique stores within other retail stores, and then I started Foundwell in 2009.
What’s your aesthetic? How do you choose the items you sell?
My general aesthetic is classic, iconic and quality. It can be anything from $50 to $50,000. Price isn’t prohibitive. If I see something I like, I buy it, so long as it’s well made. I buy a lot of makers and designers that I love. People like Jacques Adnet, a French designer who made stuff for Hermès. He was a homewares designer in the early 1900s all the way through Art Deco. Quite simple, but I like his approach because he mixed materials, which a lot of people weren’t doing: woods, chrome plating, brass, leather. So he caught the eye of Hermès. And then Dupré-Lafon and Hagenauer—an Austrian whom I love. But [also] classical English silversmithing: Asprey, who were the Cartier of England at the time. They sold everything. The maharajahs would go there and have them make custom dining sets for, like, 300 people, all in sterling silver or gold. And then vintage Tiffany, of course.
How do you know something is right for Foundwell?
Things talk to you. Like this guy. I like whimsy, obviously being English. He’s the Queen’s guard. And I’d never seen anything from this potter before. They’re a small Suffolk potter in England. I saw it at an antique show and thought, “That’s so cool.” I’ve now bought four pieces from this potter. If I react, I want it myself—it’s hard to sell because I wanted it. But if I have that childlike excitement to something that’s maybe a little off-kilter …. Condition is important too.
Do you have a hard time selling the things you discover?
There are some pieces that are transitional: I put them in my apartment for a while. Then there are some pieces I just don’t sell. Something that’s exciting and sad about this business is that you understand the rarity of things. Like, when you come across it you’re amazed. You can’t keep everything, sadly, as much as you want to try. The privilege of handling them is a big part of it. It’s a lucky job. When I get attached to something, I put a premium on it.
What is something you haven’t been able to part with?
I have an incredible porcelain polar bear from this French company Sèvres. They commissioned this sculpture from François Pompon, who was a very important sculptor from the late 1800s to early 1900s. He did this amazing polar bear that is in the Louvre. I have a polar bear that’s sitting like a dog on his hind legs with the most beautiful expression on his face. He did this very unusual finish, a crackle glazed; it feels like he just came out of the water and is drying off. He’s got this sweet look to him. He looks like he could be your pet. He used to sit next to me and people would laugh because I would unconsciously pet him.
What do you want for Christmas?
I’m the hardest person to buy for in the world. My family doesn’t like buying me gifts.
But I like this anchor key chain. This lady, Leonore Doskow, was quite a prominent silversmith. It has quite a nice style to it. I like a good key chain. I have a nice one, but you can’t have enough key chains—for my bike keys, my house keys. I could do with a new key chain.