Travelling in search of monumental pieces
BUYING on auction can be tricky in anyone’s language but buying in a foreign language can be twice as tricky – or half, as David Bell found out when buying a pair of bedside tables on auction in Argentina.
David though he was buying a pair and bid accordingly – his was the winning bid and he is now the proud owner of one bedside table, not two as he had thought he was bidding on.
Bell is the owner of the Onsite Gallery in The Palms Centre, Woodstock, where he stocks a variety of decorative stuff which wouldn’t fit into your little bachelor flat, as these are mostly large pieces with a “monumental factor”.
Bell travels the world in search of these monumental pieces, buying mostly on auction but also from interesting shops, individuals and anyone who sells them and, if they sell them, Bell will find them, as long as they have that “wow” factor. A look around his Onsite shop in Woodstock certainly produces a few wows. This isn’t stuff you see every day, none of it new, all of it dated and full of character, and stories that you can only guess at.
T h e 7 0 0 k g ma r b l e b a t h , which took eight strong men to carry up the stairs; chandeliers from Belgium; larger-than-life religious pieces from France; doors from Argentina; stainedg l a s s w i n d o w s ; a Ru s s i a n horse; chairs from Woodstock a n d s o me o l d c l a s s i c t o y s . which any kid would love, are just a few of the many fascinating items that fill his store
Bell also owns Coco Karoo in Chelsea Village, Wynberg, and a warehouse at the Wynberg military base where another eclectic collection of pieces awaits the curious eye.
David has been in the retail trade for about six years but it was textiles he studied and lectured on at first – although he always “had an interest in this kind of stuff ”. His interest in auctions also started at a young age, having attended his first at the age of 12. He now gets to marry his passion for “largerthan-life pieces that you wouldn’t easily find anywhere else” and his interest in auctions. He travels overseas about three times a year and brings back a container loaded with interesting items. He has bought 30 containers so far and each one is its own coherent hodgepodge of pieces looking for the right owner.
While his pieces may seem random, and they are to a certain extent, they are all chosen within a coherent sense of style. While you might think these pieces would take a long time to sell, that’s not the case and David turns over stock fairly regularly – by the time the shop is emptying he knows what he needs and is off to find it wherever that might take him. After his bedside table story he has decided that it’s time to take Spanish lessons, Argentinian Spanish in particular, as that’s where he attends most of his overseas auctions.
He is also a regular on the local auction circuit but finds it a bit more difficult as he often lands up at the same auctions as his clients. Although he finds the odd item here most of the interesting pieces he buys overseas.
Bell sometimes sells on auction but says when you choreograph something and put it into a retail context its value improves as opposed to lying randomly on an auction floor.
He always “buys from a deco r a t i ve p o i n t o f v i e w” a n d while many of his buyers are affluent, there is also a growing number of 25-to 35-year-olds who are buying the retro look.
Since the economy has slowed, he has noticed that people have stopped buying doors as they did in the past – and, since doors take up a lot of space in a container, Bell has more space for other stuff.