The antique dealer’s love affair with collectables spans four decades and several continents.
The antique dealer talks us through her decades-long love affair with collectables
Apair of golden lions from Egypt perch on the steps inside the polished front door. Protectors of Yvonne Sanders Antiques store in Auckland, they have seen many treasures come and go; Venetian vases hand-painted with gold flourishes, tortoiseshell Boulle cabinets, Capodimonte porcelain figures frozen in romantic narratives, and myriad crystal chandeliers hoisted up on the converted 1940s warehouse’s exposed timber beams.
For 46 years, Yvonne Sanders Antiques has been the destination store for a sensory overload of beautifully unique homewares, where every piece on the shop floor has a story to tell. At 78 years of age, Sanders, a confessed Francophile, is a walking history class in recherché retail.
Since she can remember, Sanders has always been a collector. “At eight years of age, I had a weird assortment of things in a carton. I always referred to it as ‘my museum’,” she recalls. “My mother felt that it was unsuitable for display purposes and it had to be kept under the bed.”
While her Tauranga family home was devoid of antiques, a family friend’s home was full to the rafters with exquisite collectables, leaving an indelible impression. “After my first visit, I was entranced with the beautifully waxed timbers,” she muses.
Twenty years after her first visit to this captivating home, Sanders found herself living in Opotiki with two pre-schoolers, without an income and in need of a quick solution. Eager to provide for her family while her now ex-husband was in a state of ill health, she borrowed $500 from the bank and opened an antique shop in the front bedroom of their bungalow. “I had found my passion!”
After trading happily for seven months, the family moved to Auckland, where Sanders traded from two small shops on the busy Epsom end of Manukau Road for 16 years, before renovating and moving into the current site over the road. It’s a strip that has been the Auckland antiques trading hub since the 1960s. “It’s great to have kindred spirits nearby. Formerly, there were 21 traders in the street, but today there are sadly only five.”
As time now tells, the store has ridden the waves of feverish homeware trends. “Over the past 45 years the business has constantly changed and evolved,” says Sanders. “Fashion is a fluid and fickle thing.”
An industry dynamo, Sanders can be credited with popularising the New Zealand colonial interior trend in the 1970s through to the 1980s, stocking locally sourced furnishings such as heavy kauri furniture. In another tastemaking move, she then moved on to mid-to-late Victorian furniture. Mahogany and walnut pieces were the heroes of the late 1980s, before the English and European pine showpieces of the 1990s and the favoured French furnishings of the 2000s.
Today the store is more eclectic than ever. “We trade in every furniture style, except for industrial,” says Sanders.
The stalwart is keeping the business in the family. Her son Richard has worked with her for 30 years and more recently his wife, Nadine, an ardent collector and dealer, has joined the team. Two grandsons have helped out since they were young, with polishing and the like. They’re all kept busy, considering at any given time the store has in excess of 1000 objects, and that’s not to mention a very large warehouse storing architectural items. Between the French bedheads, tinkling chandeliers and dainty stacks of Limoges porcelain plates, there’s plenty of delicate dusting to be done.
Sanders has literally written the book on the unique antique
trade in New Zealand. It’s called Antiques in the Antipodes and explores how a young country with a tiny population, which for a time had government-imposed import restrictions, found a love of heritage pieces.
Over the years, the collector has experimented directly with every different style in her own homes, but she’s found firm favourites in French provincial furniture as well as gilded Rococo styles.
“I love the ambience that I can create with the finest furnishings, especially from France. I am at last content.”
An 1850s French porcelain table centrepiece is the cynosure of her belongings. “It’s a gift from my close friend, John Mains, who recently retired from Portobello Antiques,” says Sanders. “It stands 65cm tall and is exquisitely hand-painted with sprays of pink spring flowers. It reflects the frivolity of the period and is very rare.”
Sanders has flown to England and Europe over 60 times in her career, and she continues to search the globe for the best pieces. “I don’t mind trawling the world,” she says. In fact, the dealer was on yet another solo business trip in China when Simply You conducted this interview.
When hunting down the best bits, Sanders has a checklist to ensure she finds quality items that will be adored forever. She looks for authenticity, rarity and aesthetically pleasing aspects. Each item must be in good condition, or at least able to be restored if it’s not quite up to scratch. Style is important to both ensure the antique is well designed and that it will fit with interior trends. English and European ceramics, for example, go hand-in-hand with today’s craftsmanship movement, as do Chinese porcelain, pottery and bronze. Full of personality, these items are ideal for the growing number of homeowners who wish to create their own bespoke interiors.
Having been in the business for so long, some of Sanders’ revered pieces are finding their way back to her trove, with customers who have amassed collections over the years now needing to downsize. “As their children are frequently disinterested, they are now selling back to me. So a lot of wonderful antiques are returning on the secondary market,” says the eternal optimist.
Trying to scale down herself, Sanders’ job is an occupational hazard. “I just love the superb standard of craftsmanship of an age gone by; the patina on an ancient and cherished piece of furniture is irreplaceable,” she says. “I’ve had the happiest life dealing with antiques.” ■
“I love the ambience that I can create with the finest furnishings.”
OPPOSITE Yvonne Sanders of Yvonne Sanders Antiques has dealt in collectables for 46 years. THIS PAGE (From left) A rare pair of Boulle cabinets and a dazzling chandelier greet shoppers as they walk inside. Sanders’ beloved 1850s French porcelain...