Believing that furnishing a home should be fun, creative and free of rules – a philosophy we can get behind – MAR-DEN sell gorgeous vintage furniture pieces sourced from their local northwest London area. The shop was opened last year by three friends, Frances, Charlie and Alex, who share a love for 20th century design and want to help customers move away from mass-produced, disposable furniture and instead invest in pieces that were designed to endure. We spoke with co-founder Frances to find MAR-DEN’s top tips for mining vintage gold.
First things first. How did MAR-DEN start out?
MAR-DEN began with a conversation in Al's back garden last summer about our vision of an online shop selling cool 20th century furniture, which was then upgraded to a tiny studio over the road and ended up being a living/work space in Queen's Park, London. Al and I soon realised we needed an extra pair of hands as momentum built so we roped in our friend Charlie. Now we are three. The idea was to create something around what we love – 20th century furniture and design – and approach it in a fresh and simple way.
So what do you look for when you are hunting for new stock?
We always have our eyes peeled for bits we like, looking in every corner: the dingier and dustier the better, as it makes finding the good stuff all the sweeter. We look for things that are both beautiful and useful. We started with a wide net, picking up anything that we liked, but over time we have started to neaten our stock picks and have begun to focus a bit more on 1930s-1950s design – for example, we love Bauhaus and all that's connected with it. In June we opened a pop-up shop in Kreuzberg, Berlin, for one month and have brought back loads of cool German pieces for the shop as a result.
How do you recognise quality and ascertain whether or not a piece is worth investing in?
We try to make sure that the bits we buy are in good condition, or at least easily fixable. We learn as we go, and like everyone, have bought some duffs in our time. Most things don't have a maker's mark, so best advice is to have a good feel of the piece, pick it up and hold it, sit on it, shake it and you should be able to get a sense of its quality.
Can you suggest three key pieces of furniture everyone should have in their home?
What's nice about working as a trio is that we all have slightly different tastes. Some bits really appeal to an individual in a very personal way, which is why we have quite a broad range of stuff. There is no recipe for what anyone should have in their house as the variables are so enormous as we all live in such different places – London especially has so many types of houses and flats that lend themselves to very different bits of furniture. We have come across some beautiful pieces – a particular favourite is a bentwood armchair from 1938 by a Czech designer called Jindrich Halabala. If you can get your hands on any original Bauhaus designs, you're a very lucky person! For a good foundation on which to start your collection, go for a nice mid-century bentwood armchair, anything close to a Magneto counter-weighted floor lamp and large round deco mirror.
What the best way to take care of a nice statement piece?
The best advice on taking care of any piece is to use it for what it was made for - the great designs of the 20th century have already survived the test of time.
Sometimes a room full of second-hand furniture begins to resemble a car boot sale. What are you suggestions for styling vintage furniture at home? Are there any periods that work exceptionally well together?
It is important to give nice designs enough room to breathe, so in a sense less is more. Try not to overfill with too much of the same materials – lots of wood can look bad – and try to mix bits from different decades. We wanted to sell 20th century furniture exactly for this reason. We really like the mix of Bauhaus industrial functional furniture with pretty Art Deco lights and mirrors.