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RETURN TO THE WEST COUNTRY
Ken started his business in Switzerland in the early 70’s when he was visiting with friends in Berne, the capital city. It was on this visit when he noticed that English antiques seemed to be popular. He also noticed the prices were unusually high, many objects were not original, and some were straight forward fakes. Without much further thought, he rented a sales space/cellar from his friends, and returned to the UK to purchase his first load, and start his business.
He became an instant success in Berne, and within six months he agreed to take on a Swiss business partner. They very quickly left the cellar and opened a store in downtown Berne. Over the years the business, known as Ken’s English Antiques, grew to three stores and became a successful, European brand.
For personal reasons Ken returned to the UK in the early 80’s, and bought an old Brewery in Dorset, which was the idiosyncratic site that put him on the map. While successfully dealing in English antiques, he also discovered the joys of under-explored statuary, as well as original French and Italian furniture, all of which was housed in the old 10,000 sq ft Brewery and it’s gardens. He named his new business — Talisman.
Always being ahead of his contemporaries, Ken once again found a new market, gaining a large following of international dealers and designers by travelling to Sweden in the 80’s, and discovering the joys Swedish painted furniture. Uniquely, in 18th century Europe Swedish painted furniture was abstract in design, rather than representational work, which was then the norm throughout Europe. Ken also was the first to buy the more sophisticated Gustavian furniture with its elegant lines, and plain light grey painted finish.
Having introduced this to an audience that had never seen this style, his judgement proved successful. The clean lines of the Swedish design worked extremely well throughout Europe and America. Sadly, today there is very little original painted furniture, as these are now outright fakes, or just overpainted pieces that started life in another manner..
In 2006 Ken moved Talisman to London. The company bought a 22,000 sq ft modernist garage which Ken restored and opened 10 months later, which is still referred to by all London taxi drivers as The Talisman Building.
With the intent to expand globally, Ken sent his beautiful statuary, European furniture, and Swedish wares to Miami. Sadly, the show wasn’t a success. However, he thought he would give it another go. He did the same the following year, and the same thing happened again! So, on a whim, Ken decided to see what people were buying locally. A trip downtown opened his eyes to the new young dealers starting their careers by selling vintage furniture, designed by American, as well as other post war, international designers.
Over the next week Ken filled a forty foot container with furniture, lamps, art, objects, and sculpture. On arrival in London it was an instant success, and over the next decade he imported over 80 containers to sell at Talisman. This proved to be an extremely successful strategy.
Just after the banking crisis of 2010, Ken’s wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Sadly, she passed away in 2013. This, of course, was life changing, and within 18 months Ken decided to leave the West Country and sell all he owned there. His plan was to continue with the London business, and go travelling.
This was not to pass as close friends, Sir John and Lady Lewis, decided to introduce him to one of their close friends, Caryn Mandabach, a renowned American producer of comedy television in the US. Caryn had moved to the UK around 2007, and had bought a farm house close to the Lewis’s as a country retreat. When Ken met her, she was at producing her hit show, Peaky Blinders. On their first meeting Ken thought Caryn too intellectual and couldn’t understand why she might have an interest in him, so they didn’t see each other for 10 months. On their the second meeting Caryn invited Ken to join her on a trip to LA. They went hiking in Yosemite National Park, and after four days, Ken asked Caryn if she would care to marry him! Caryn accepted, and this August they celebrate seven years of joy.
Ken sold his home to a famous actor (including all the contents ) and the newly married couple acquired around 140 acres of ancient woodland, bogs, and meadows, plus a wonderful barn complex. That inspired Ken to call it a day in London, and he has spent the past two years converting the barns in the West Country to his studio/showrooms. They also keep themselves busy by re-wildling their land.
Ken now has no permanent staff, but still buys commercially. Due to low running costs, he continues to buy serious sculpture and works of art for his pleasure (and profit.)
He is available to special clients to furnish and design their homes. He also loves using his skills in landscaping, and is presently is designing a new sculpture park which will be run as a charity...
COUNTRY LIFE MAGAZINE
COUNTRY LIFE MAGAZINE
UK piano supplier Coach House Pianos has opened a new showroom in London
The showroom is located in the Art Deco-style Talisman Building on New King’s Road in the Chelsea Design Quarter, southwest London. . . . . . . . . The showroom interior has been designed by Ken Bolan, antiques dealer and founder of Talisman. When the >> READ MORE
Reintroducing Ken Bolan: Life after Talisman
Ken Bolan is a man of many stories. There was that time he flew a van of antiques to Switzerland and almost had to cut the top off it when it wouldn’t fit on the plane; the time he had a run-in with an enthusiastic customer who turned out to be an immigration officer; and the time his showroom flooded the day before its grand opening. “I won’t tell you about crashing an aeroplane,” he says casually, “or being held up by three masked men in a house in central London – not my own…” >> READ MORE