Period Property of the Month - March 2011
Away from the bright lights of the Antiques Roadshow, glass specialist, Andy McConnell and his wife Helen, can relax in their charming terraced house in Rye.
An oasis of calm
Athe owner of Britain’s largest glass shop and also being the glass specialist on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, it’s surprising to find that Andy McConnell’s house is not full of glass. Instead, the late Victorian two-bedroom terrace in Rye is clutter-free and minimalist in style.
Andy lives with his wife Helen who runs their shop Glass Etc. with him. Although the house is really her creation, it suits Andy down to the ground. “In my working life, I’m surrounded by clutter,” he explains. “At the end of the day, I need to come home to somewhere calm and clear of stuff !”
The couple have lived in and around Rye since the mid 1970s. When they bought the shop five years ago, they moved from a five-bedroom house to live in accommodation attached to it. Although there was a courtyard garden, Helen yearned for more outside space so they moved on to their present house three years ago. By then, their three grown-up children had flown the nest. A major attraction was the house’s location just 17 yards from their shop. The couple jokingly refer to it as their holiday home; there is no telephone or computer there, so it represents a complete break from work.
The house was in a poor state when they moved in and they had to re-plaster the entire property. “It was a travesty of taste and DIY,” recalls Andy with a laugh. The only original features left were the upstairs fireplaces and the outside loo, which has been retained as a quirky novelty.
Andy and Helen spend a lot of time in Sweden and are big fans of the stripped-back look. After removing the laminate flooring and carpets, they discovered wooden floorboards beneath. “Upstairs, our son spent a fortnight painstakingly sanding and oiling the boards,” says Helen. “Downstairs, we sanded, then painted the floorboards in a Fired Earth colour."
The couple refitted the kitchen with simple, wooden units from Ikea similar to those in their previous house. The dining room leads directly out into the private, sunny garden, where they love to relax.
The house is on an east-west axis so it is flooded with natural light all day. It is painted throughout in white to maximise the bright and airy feel. “Light’s the key here as it makes the whole place uplifting,” says Andy
In the living room, the couple chose practical half-height wooden shutters to maintain privacy whilst still letting light in.
Although Andy and Helen don’t like UPVC windows, they came with the house. “The original sash windows would have been lovely, but we would have needed secondary glazing to cope with the prevailing westerly wind here on the coast,” explains Andy
The theme of the house is friends and family, so all the pieces enjoy particular resonances. The white walls provide the perfect backdrop for the couple’s son James’ abstract paintings, and a seascape by Andy’s grandfather hangs above the living room fireplace. Andy and Helen’s daughter, Anna, made the rag rugs from old Tshirts and she also designed the non-standard lamp in the living room. The Swedish designer Bertil Vallien, a family friend, designed the pink glass set of three in the living room and the striking metal animals in the dining room.
The bathroom features several interesting junk-shop finds including a 1930s first aid box and a Swedish pharmacy bottle.
Andy’s own interest in antiques began in his childhood. “My parents were part-time dealers,” he explains. “I went with them to countless antique shops and found it incredibly evocative that while the owners had died long ago, their effects had outlived them.” By the age of 13, Andy was buying collectables on Portobello Road and selling them for a profit. He jokes that he was the only child at his public school who paid his own fees.
Before he started dealing in antique glass, Andy had a successful career in the music business as a video producer and journalist. While on a European tour with US rock band Jefferson Starship, he met Günter Kramm, the owner of a Hamburg antiques shop, who suggested Andy source glass for him as he wanted to specialise in glass antiques. For twenty-five years, Andy sold glass exclusively to Günter. “It was wonderful to be handling the stuff of history and earning a living from it,” he recalls.
Andy feels honoured to be the first ever glass specialist on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, on which he first appeared six years ago. He believes the programme to be the epitome of the BBC Charter. “For free, people of all social classes can have their possessions appraised on an entirely impartial basis,” says Andy. “I get a real buzz out of meeting the owners and helping them to appreciate their possessions. It’s like being connected into the National Grid - completely electric!”