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50 Years in Business.......

On September 14, 1973, I embarked on my journey as a British antique dealer, opening my first shop in Berne, Switzerland — although it wasn't exactly a store — rather, it was a cellar tucked away in a residential part of the city. Over the following eight years, in collaboration with my Swiss partner, we expanded our operations to encompass four stores, with the largest one situated in Zurich. Our specialisation lay in English antiques, as they were all the rage during those days when the entire European market embraced the James Bond lifestyle. Occasionally, we even had the privilege of selling the odd Aston Martin located in our Zurich premises, and we cultivated a dedicated following.


In the early 1980s, I thought it best to return to the United Kingdom. There, I acquired an old brewery in the West Country and for no good reason, christened it "Talisman." My focus remained on dealing in English antiques, yet I sensed the potential for something more. I began acquiring garden statuary, which were gaining in popularity. Many of these pieces, originally intended for indoor use, had become integral to the English garden. Suddenly, I found myself immersed in the world of 17th and 18th-century sculpture, and occasionally, even pieces dating back to the Roman era.


Also, around this time, my good friend Bob Campion of the Old World Trading Company had shifted his focus away from furniture, and towards predominantly French fireplaces. One day, Bob contacted me, explaining that he had acquired a substantial amount of French furniture as part of a large deal in Paris and needed a place to display it. He asked if I could accommodate a truckload of these items, to which I happily agreed. Upon the delivery's arrival, I instinctively knew my next move. After providing Bob with the assurance that I wouldn't compete in the French fireplace market, he introduced me to Monic Fortin, a Parisian courier. During this era, the European Union lacked freedom of goods movement, causing many dealers to be cautious about purchasing from Europe. However, Monic and I established a strong working relationship, and over the years, I regularly imported truckloads of goods. The London trade eagerly anticipated my unique shipments from West Country-based, Old Brewery.


Not too long after, a Danish acquaintance approached me, proposing an export service from Sweden (of all places) that caught my interest. His idea was that one could procure 19th-century mahogany furniture in Sweden at attractive prices. I flew to Denmark, and together we journeyed to southern Sweden. As we ventured north, I stumbled upon Swedish painted furniture, a style not particularly appreciated by the Swedes, nor the trade, at that time, who were inclined to strip it back to pine. I fell in love with this 18th-century work, distinguished by its abstract nature. On my return, I sold my first load, and for many years, I traversed Sweden in search of more treasures.


However, the landscape of business changed after 9/11 in the West Country, prompting me to consider a move to London. So, with some new partners, I acquired a 22,000-square-foot modernist garage in Fulham. I spent ten months restoring it, saving it from demolition, and we officially opened Talisman, London, on September 14, 2006.


Around 2009, I received an invitation to participate in a show in North Miami. I brought along my beloved Swedish furniture and remarkable sculptures, but unfortunately, I didn't make any sales. The organisers asked me to return another year, and intrigued by the experience and their pleasant demeanour, I agreed.


For the second attempt, I enlisted the help of my friend Nicholas Torrigianna, a charming and skilled Maltese salesman. Our stand garnered attention, but still, sales remained elusive. After the fourth day, I decided to explore downtown Miami to discover what the locals were buying. This marked the onset of the vintage modern trend, with a new generation of dealers offering such pieces. I promptly bought a 40-foot container, stuffed it to the gills, shipped it to London, and it became an instant success. People couldn't get enough of it, and over the next decade, I imported around 40 containers from that part of the world.


As Brexit loomed, I felt a new calling. I had initiated a re-wilding program in the West Country and had also acquired a barn complex with my wife. This proved to be fortuitous timing, as the devastating COVID-19 pandemic was about to emerge in 2020. From that year onward, we've been available by appointment here at Ken Bolan Studios. Recently, my daughter-in-law Xenia Berry, who has been a valuable part of the business, informed me that she would be at the studio on Thursdays and Fridays, thus now opening our doors to the public without requiring an appointment. This is a remarkable coincidence, as it coincides with yet another September 14.


Recently, I received an email from Cally, a member of the Battersea Decorative Fair, offering me a stand for their October fair. She remembered me from my London days, and after discussing it with my team, we decided to participate. With support from Ciara Carson, who worked with me in London, and Nichola Wickham, who recently joined me in the countryside, we are thrilled to be meeting all of you, and discovering what new adventures are to come!


The Untamed Genius Of Paul Evans

by Benjamin Genocchio

“Skyline Series” dining table, 1973. Welded polychromed and patinated steel. From Milord Antiques on Incollect.

Paul Evans’ furniture designs elicit mixed, often extreme reactions.


There are those who point to the American-born designer’s originality and superb craftsmanship with metal. Then there are others, less generous, who recoil at the roughness around the edges, finding his designs heavy, brutal, and ugly.


Evans’ highly individual, expressive metal objects are in many ways the opposite of the refined sensibility of American design in the second half of the 20th century — Karl Springer, for example. Yet his unique combination of fine execution, materials, and craftsmanship has proven to be not only the basis for an enduring contribution to the history of American furniture design but a thriving contemporary market.


“Faceted Dining Table” for Directional Furniture, 1970.Walnut burl and polished brass with thick glass top. From Lobel Modern on Incollect.

Today Evans is among the most collectible of 20th-century American makers. His designs have sold at auction and galleries for more than $250,000. His success rests in part on his singular, distinctive aesthetic vision but also on the fact that he died in 1987, at age 55, creating a scarcity of his bespoke, hand-made pieces.


“In the last 15 or 20 years, the value of his pieces has steadily increased due to the continued interest generated by art collectors and interior designers,” says Francis Lord from Milord Antiques in The Gallery at 200 Lex powered by Incollect in the New York Design Center, and in Montreal, who is a longtime dealer in Evans. “The rarity and unicity of his pieces lend itself perfectly to a discerning art collector or designer wanting to place an important work of art over a piece of furniture. In these current times of high-end contemporary creative designs stemming from talented creators from all over the world, Evans' pieces hold their own in this competitive market.”

Driving demand is also an increasingly global market for the designer. “We’ve had Paul Evans pieces in our collection for the past 15 years and have sold pieces to a wide range of clients,” says Lord. “A piece was purchased by an important design firm for a Louis Vuitton store in Rome, while a disc bar, a credenza, and a wall unit were purchased by a collector to decorate a chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland. We have shipped pieces to Milan, London, Paris, L.A., New York, Seoul,” he says.


Lord recently had three Evans pieces on display at The Winter Show in New York, including a disc bar, a stool, and a beautiful Skyline table. “In my collection,” he says, “I consider Paul Evans furniture to be blue-chip inventory,” but admits that for some collectors Evans is still something of an acquired taste, not to mention the escalating price points for rare, important pieces that find their way onto the market. “The more people are aware of his work the better they become aware of the quality,” he says.


Evans’ designs are often associated with the period style in architecture, design, and art known as Brutalism, which emphasized materials, textured surfaces, and making visible construction processes. The term was first applied to architecture in the early 1950s and is believed to originate from the French “beton brut,” meaning “raw concrete,” used by architect Le Corbusier to describe the emerging geometric style of buildings in the 1950s with raw and expressive poured concrete finishes.

Sculpted Metal Collection” PE-128 Stalagmite cocktail table for Directional Furniture, 1979. From Hobbs Modern on Incollect.

Evans is certainly at the forefront of the Brutalist design movement that took place in the 1960s in America, though the affiliation is somewhat misleading given inspiration for his pieces came from many sources. The American Craft Movement of the 1960s and 70s celebrated individual creation, artisanship, and craftsmanship as opposed to mass production and Evans saw himself as a part of this tradition. He was also paradoxically inspired by advanced modern art, architecture, and the modernity of American cities, blending hand-craftsmanship with science and new technology.


“Deep Relief” sculpted credenza, 1969. Four hand-welded steel doors with hand-painted enamels and three slate tops on nailed metal surface. From Greenwich Living Design on Incollect.


Argente Series custom king-size canopy bed, circa 1968. Welded waves of polished and matte black aluminum. Concealed inner rail for curtain, the top ledge will support a fabric canopy or mirrored ceiling. From Todd Merrill Studio on Incollect.

Evans studied at the Cranbrook Academy of Art then settled in the semi-isolation of rural Pennsylvania (his neighbor was George Nakashima) and began to experiment with making sculptures as well as furniture using metals. In 1964 he began a fruitful, life-long partnership with Directional Furniture, a prominent manufacturer, who over the subsequent decades marketed and sold several of his custom furniture lines — the most famous being the Argente series and the popular Cityscapes series.


Evans may have worked with industrial metals but insisted on finishing them finely. “Evans had a hands-on philosophy to the fabrication of all his pieces,” says Evan Lobel of Lobel Modern in New York. “Generally his pieces were made to order, with everything handmade by him or finished by hand under his strict supervision.” Many are one-of-a-kind custom pieces, very often signed and sometimes even dated.


His most coveted designs usually combine steel or aluminum with beautiful enamels or semi-precious metals placed on the front and doors. “He invented unprecedented techniques and materials to create his sculptural pieces, often using acid-patinated and enameled, welded steel, or sculpted bronze resin and various metal patchwork designs,” Lord says. He also liked to use gilding, frequently taking rough pieces of metal and then gilding parts of them to create visual tension and contrast.


“Cityscape II” cabinet, 1970. Chrome-plated and brushed steel facets, dark brown lacquered wood top. From Maison Rapin on Incollect.


Pair of Cityscape Collection chromium polished steel cabinets with inset slate tops. Designed for Directional Furniture, circa 1970s. Three pairs of doors, shelved interiors on two outer cabinets, middle cabinet with steel decorated silverware drawer. From Ken Bolan Studio on Incollect. 

“People do not gild things unless they consider them to be art,” Lobel says. “What he was doing was completely original — even at the time many important collectors were buying his work.” His innovative use of metal meant ultimately no two pieces were the same (this is another important reason why he is so collectible) and is probably best exemplified in the sculpture front cabinets followed by the sculpture top coffee tables — these tend to be the most hand worked and technically complex, combining gilded, welded, polychromed and patinated steel, bronze, copper, pewter, brass.


Nick Pizzichillo from Greenwich Living Design recently acquired a large deep relief sculpted sideboard which is on display in their 15,000-square-foot gallery in the Stamford Waterside Design District. “This massive four-door credenza is finished with vertical fragments of hand-painted enamel doors, nailed metal patchwork details, a three-piece slate top, and opens to reveal a faux tortoise red lacquer wash,” Nick says. “Having been in the decorative arts world for over 40 years, this is hands down one of the most unique pieces we have had the pleasure of presenting.”

“Evans’ original studio furniture is a combination of abstract sculpture and practical design,” says Maddie Sadofski from TFTM in Los Angeles. She points to the way in which all of the handcrafting is displayed in welds and nails so that viewers can fully appreciate the sculptural qualities of the pieces. “Handles and latches are concealed,” she says, “becoming part of the integral design. Glass table tops are used on coffee and dining tables so that all of the abstract sculptural images become visible.”


Wall-mounted Disc Bar model PE-122 for DIrectional Furniture, 1970. Sculpted bronze composite, two doors, interior fitted with one cabinet with key and one drawer, each with sculpted bronze composite surfaces plus two adjustable shelves. From Michel Contessa Antiques & More on Incollect.


Wavy Front Cabinet, 1973. Welded, gilt, polychromed and patinated steel, slate top. Four handcrafted doors with undulating connections, two main storage compartments, three shelves, two silverware drawers. From Donzella on Incollect.

Sadofski has a monumental Skyline table base now in the TFTM showroom in Los Angeles, and it is displayed without glass so that the client can customize the tabletop size, she says. “Many people have asked if it is a sculpture. Others recognize it as a table base, and then, much like an abstract sculpture, some ignore it entirely.”


Evans’ pieces tend to make an immediate, striking visual statement, and among the most recognizable and coveted by collectors is the Argente series (the French word for silvery) created in welded aluminum during a brief 6–7 years period starting in 1965, due to the expense of producing them. Sold and distributed through Directional Furniture, the pieces combine irregular, vertical and horizontal welded sections of reflective silver with opaque black aluminum, frequently decorated with pictographic drawings.


The craftsmanship of the Argente series is breathtaking — each piece is like a jewel, an exquisite work of art. “Since the turn of the 21st century, a fresh look at Evans’ extraordinary legacy has created a new appreciation and a thriving market fueled by a passionate group of fervent collectors,” says Dallas Dunn, gallery director at the Todd Merrill Studio in New York where, in 2020, she helped organize an exhibition of custom Argente works. In 2017, Todd Merrill Studio sold Evans’ first forged steel and sculpted bronze disc bar, from 1968, for a then-record price of $200,000.


Set of 10 PE 105/106 Series dining chairs for Directional Furniture, 1965. Sculpted epoxy with bronze over steel. From circa20c on Incollect.

Ken Bolan from Ken Bolan Studio in London bought his first Evans piece in 2006 and has bought, sold, and even lived with them ever since — today, in his London home, he has a sculpted bronze Evans wall console and a matching mirror, and in his previous apartment, he had an Argente collection wall console. “I view his pieces as sculptures and that is what I find exciting about him as a designer. Anybody looking to create their aesthetic with artistic furniture would have to look at Evans, as he hits both ends of the spectrum with functional furniture blended with sculpture.”

Read the rest of the article from Incollect here:

Spring Fun At The Bluebell Picnic

In Early May, we hosted the second year of our Bluebell Picnic, over 80 guests, including children and dogs were in attendance. The weather was glorious, which surprised us all as the week was a constant downpour to the extent, I nearly changed the location to The Studio!!

Guests arrived at The Studio around noon and had a pleasant stroll through the meadow into our glorious woodlands. I created two large serving tables from a mighty larch that was blown over last year, where Compton McRae laid out a fabulous spread of sumptuous food and we drank the first rosé of the year.

To cap it all, the deer passed by discreetly, checking on who was invading their glade. It was a great afternoon out shared with friends old and new.

BBC Radio Wiltshire interview

The Transcribed Video When you see these TV antiques programmes, you know they get about a bit don't they. They could be in Derbyshire one day and they might be doing a road trip in Cornwall the next day. Well Wiltshire meets the next guest tonight is taking that to the next level frankly, it's Ken Bolan from Donhead St Mary in South West Wiltshire; deep Southwest Wiltshire. started his business in Switzerland with a focus on items from the UK before returning to the UK dealing objects from here and abroad then heading off to Sweden, taken to Miami and based himself in London before the next stage that happens now, a lot to pack in. Have I roughly got the timeline right? Good evening, I think you've got it pretty well spot on. Great, well we need to find out a lot more about all these different aspects of that then. Let's start with the business in Bern which; of course, contrary to everyone else's belief is the capital of Switzerland. I know it's extraordinary isn't it. Everyone goes “Well it’s got to be Geneva” …Or Zürich. Yeah exactly but no it’s not. But no, it was definitely Bern, I lived there for 10 years. I started there, I left London when I was 18. I had my then-girlfriend who insisted I came back to Switzerland with her. Right, there's worse places to be aren't there really. And Swiss girls are very attractive. So we spent a year there and I worked like crazy and saved 1300 pounds. Came back to the UK at the age of 20 and started dealing in vintage cars. 18 months later went back to Switzerland and unfortunately she had passed away. I was back in Switzerland and vintage cars were getting far too expensive for me to deal in and I just looked at what was happening in the High Street and they were selling English Antiques and the reason they were selling English antiques was it was James Bond time. Ah of course yes. England was fashioned throughout Europe Yeah, absolutely. I looked at the prices they were selling these things for and I thought I can beat these guys. Switzerland is not a cheap place to buy anything, is it?  Oh, it's extraordinary, you know working in the UK in the late 60s / 70s you couldn't actually keep any money from your salary whereas in Switzerland you could actually save money. Yes, so actually when you got to Switzerland you set up business but also you went into business with someone locally, is that right? I eventually took on a Swiss partner because it transpired that I didn't have permission to work in Switzerland and the immigration police came and told me off. The chap was actually a client at the time and he overheard the conversation and he said there's no problem, tomorrow we're going into business. I thought oh okay. But actually, that was a great move in the end wasn't it? We had 10 years and we ended up with four shops in Switzerland and an incredible business. That is great. Then I left in the early 80s to start a family and come back to the UK. When you came back you bought a brewery? I did yes I mean that sounds like a dream already but you weren't making beer were you? Definitely not. That sounds like you've ruined my dream, so tell me about what happened there. I found this was in Gillingham in Dorset, I was with my second wife, we hadn't got married at that point but the idea was to settle down and have a family and everything else and I wanted to bring the children up in the country and give them a country life because I thought if they've got that it could never be taken away from them. So I bought this old Brewery which was 10 000 square feet and I opened my first business there in the UK called Talisman and I dealt with the English antiques for about a year and then I got bored. I'd imagine a brewery there's loads of sort of height and places where you can put stuff. It was extraordinary and I was very lucky I bought a field behind it so eventually, I made formal Gardens and fountains and statuary, it was quite a place. Brilliant, so yeah you got bored with that and what happened, was that when you went to Sweden? I went to Sweden in 85’ with a Danish guy I'd met, he was acting as a courier and we just hit the road. We went to homes that hadn't been touched in 200 years and I discovered Swedish painted furniture which is so different from any other country they were painting in the abstract. I brought it back to Britain and it was an immediate hit. Of course, in those days we had people travelling from all over Europe and America and Australia, dealers just dealers and they were queuing up when I brought a truck in. But it was in 2006 that you actually moved to London. So I mean that's a big market to take on, I'd imagine there's endless scope but also lots of competition. Possibly, I didn't quite look at it like that. After 9/11 our business changed in the country and I said to my then wife we've got to move to London and she said I'm not moving to London, I've got a wonderful house, four dogs, three cats, lots of friends. I said well I need to go for business so with my partners we bought a 22 000 square foot, modernist garage built in 1939 in the new Kings Road. Wow, that's quite an investment in London I should think. So that was a cool investment. I actually just sold it last week…and can you imagine after Liz Truss. No one thought a deal was going to go through last week. So London was the place to be, that's why you decided. Well, I opened on three floors and that was 2006/07,  we did extremely well and then we just started to come into the banking crisis. Ah yes, tell you what just take a break we'll come back in a moment. It's BBC Radio Wiltshire, just gone half past six we're in the company this evening with Ken from Donhead St Mary in South West Wiltshire, who well we've taken a trip with your business starting in Switzerland, he had a little bit of trouble with the authorities for not working legally, we're going to brush it under the carpet, it's all fine it's all good and then you returned to the UK to a brewery which you turned into a big Antiques Center, got bored of that and travelled around Sweden for a while, then based yourself in London 2006, then you got to the financial crisis. When we got to about 2010 or say, so when this financial issue happened well how did that change things? Well, we'd just done a big charity event and very well received we actually raised over £300,000. When it came to the auction that evening people kept their hands in their pockets and I thought there's something wrong here, I really couldn't work it out and then we had the banking crisis. So they knew before what was going to happen and I said right I'm going to sell off two of the floors of the building because I don't want to speak to a bank again. I knew exactly how they, you know, umbrellas and rain. So I cleared out any debts and we went through that period and I stayed there until 2019 with the intention of moving back to the country. But actually, there was a point because it was in 2010 when your wife became poorly, in 2013… …Yes, she shortly died in 2013 sadly. But you were actually at that point in a bit of a tussle as to whether you wanted to live in London or the West Country and your plans kind of changed didn't it? Well, I was travelling, obviously, I worked in London during the week and come home at the weekends and we had a great relationship and a great friendship and then very sadly she became terminally ill, I nursed her for two years, she died. I at that point decided to leave the West Country completely. So I was selling the old brewery, I was selling my house, I was selling storage areas and I was going to walk away with a bag, keep my flat in London and I'd never been alone in my life. I've always had a relationship and I really enjoyed being alone, it was just a different way of living. Of course, but that didn't stay the same did it? …It didn't stay the same. Because a couple of meddling friends found a friend. Susie Lewis who lives in Donhead St Mary, she invited me for supper one evening, on a Saturday evening. Classic set-up coming up. Of course, I said, to be honest with you Susie I'm really just at home for the evening, they said well come tomorrow, I said yeah I'd love to see the family I'll come for lunch tomorrow. So I arrived at lunch-oh en-route Susie came on the car telephone to say she's very nice and she's had a few troubles to deal with, with men…I said Susie if you're setting me up I'm not coming and she said don't be ridiculous Yoli’s been dead 18 months get here. So I arrived at lunch, lo and behold I met this lovely lady, Karen Mandabach who is a television producer. She seemed far too worldly for me and I didn't pursue anything. 10 months later… Oh, it's all gone as time goes by now. 10 months later, I go for lunch there again and Karen is yet again, so I'm selling my house and I'm selling the old brewery. Susie said you must buy the brewery for your business, you know you can use it for whatever they do in producing, and her writer was looking for a home in the West Country. She's got a program called Peaky Blinders. Oh, a little thing… Steve Knight the writer was actually looking for a country house. So I said look I'll take you out for a day I'll show you the places and I'll show you the West Country because she hadn't been around. That evening, she stayed at our home for supper and she said you know I shouldn't be here I'm meant to be in L.A. but Susie insisted I came for lunch last week, and she said I'm going back to L.A. tomorrow what'd you think of it and I said absolutely nothing, I've never been and she said well you should come. Just like that! I said yeah I'll come next week. It's turned into The Holiday now. So I flew out a week later, I stayed at her Hollywood home and I didn't know Karen. I mean she's the queen of comedy in America, you know, she started her first program was- I can't remember it now, it’ll come back to me. Don't worry, I won’t tell her you forgot. She did 3rd Rock from the Sun, That ‘70s Show, Roseanne, all of those were hers, so you know she really was up there. So you find yourself in L.A all of a sudden. Suddenly, I was in the guest house in L.A. then we went off hiking. So four days later, we were hiking and I said would you like to get married to me and she said what do you mean, I said well if it doesn't work with you I’m not going to bother and she said yeah I'll marry you. That was seven years ago, we got married four years ago and we are super super happy. That's amazing. She's the best person ever to live with, she hasn't got a bad side to her, very generous person and emotionally fab. So you're now out of London, that’s all gone? Completely out of London. You're in the West Country but you're still working. Oh working like crazy, I've just spent the last two years building The Studio from our own forest because we've got 70 acres of ancient woodland of which there's about five acres of spruce that keeps falling down so I keep cutting it up to planks and keep building barns. I will pinch him later to find out if he's real. It sounds like I've been set up into an amazing film, Wow, Ken I don't know what to say but it's just been great meeting you. That’s very kind of you. Thank you for fighting the traffic to see us today. It’s been a pleasure. Take care All the best. BBC Radio Wiltshire, there we go.

July 2022



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 discovered original 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.


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...

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 May 2022
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June 2022
Coach House Pianos

November 2020

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

Ken Bolan Studion Antiques Trade Gazette
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December 2020

Talisman boss sets up new business in Wiltshire


Wiltshire shop marks return to the spotlight for Talisman boss but in a more relaxed mood.After 18 months out of the spotlight dealer Ken Bolan has returned with a new Wiltshire shop and big plans for  >> READ MORE

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January 2021

Ken Bolan – Talisman

October 2014


Since opening Talisman in 1982 Ken Bolan has been championing a unique style of interior design, mixing grand antiques with contemporary sculpture. As he shifts his focus to London he tells us the story behind Talisman and his top picks from the sale.

How did Talisman begin?

I started Talisman in the West Country in 1982. I’d been working in Switzerland in the same business but I came to England to settle down and have a family. We’ve had a very successful run with our Dorset store, from 1982 to 2014, and our connections originally stem from Talisman’s beginning in the West Country. We recently decided to close the Gillingham showroom and focus on our two stores in London, one on the New King’s Road and one on Ebury Street. This was my main reason for approaching Christie’s in the first place. They have been incredibly enthusiastic about the sale and have picked from our entire stock – diverse pieces that represent the full cross-section of what we do – everything from antiques to modern works of art. Our business covers that whole gamut, I don’t have a discipline, I just buy things I thoroughly enjoy and I’ve been very fortunate over the years that many other people enjoy them as well!

How did you start out in the antiques business?

I started in the 70s and prior to that I was dealing in vintage and racing cars so my background has always really been just enjoying fantastic objects. I think I’ve got quite a sculptural eye, I look at things in a different way to many.

How do you seek out these objects?

I have a very good network of people throughout Europe and North and South America who are constantly uncovering unusual items of interest for me. I have a very good relationship with them all, in some cases I have been working with families for three generations so we have a great deal of trust and mutual respect and we have a great deal of fun doing what we do together.

What is it you’re looking for in a piece, what makes it stand out for you?

Something has to talk to you in the first instance, to grab your attention – it’s got to be interesting. From a purely commercial point of view there are of course certain pieces which are sure fire sellers but I love experimenting – looking at new ideas and discovering and rediscovering designers.

In the last five or six years we’ve been looking at the 20th century very carefully and we’ve been buying a lot of the American designers who came from Europe originally and went over to America prior to the Second World War or shortly afterwards. You’ve got all the big names such as Paul Evans (lots 51 & 89), Karl Springer (58 & 69)  – people of that ilk who had a great opportunity in America because it was incredibly wealthy after the war; everybody suddenly showed an interest.  Every American aspired to own a car, a house and they wanted to furnish it completely and at the highest end, investing in these wonderful designers, established as well as those less well known, who had the resources to create these fantastic pieces.

What are your top picks from the sale?

We have a late 18th century Coade stone torso which was made by Eleanor Coade circa 1800 (lot 100). That’s certainly one of the top lots. We also have a Philip and Kelvin Laverne bronze library table from 1967 which represents Matisse’s Bathers by a River (lot 88) which I think is an exceptional example of their work and on a great scale. There is an aluminium life size Rhino which sat pride of place in the Dorset sculpture garden by the sculptor Christian Maas (lot 120) which is certainly a one-off! We have done very well with his work to date.  There are also some great sculptural light fittings which I believe make any interior come alive such as the Rougier lamps (lots 73 and 131) and the Murano wall lights (lot 147).  People say ‘how can you bear to sell it?’ but if I don’t sell it I can’t discover something else.  

How much are you involved in Talisman’s Bespoke range?

We are all very involved in the design and execution of the Talisman Bespoke pieces and work closely with the workshops which are in house.  It is all hand made in Britain which is very important to us for this expanding collection – we are all very passionate in the process, so much so that we have various disputes along the way which I think is healthy!

How would you describe Talisman’s signature style?

It’s ‘Talisman style’, it’s indescribable. People come to us for theatricality, adventure, quality and eclecticism – we’re renowned for a bold mix of design on a grand scale. We’re a very brave company, that’s how we operate; it’s a constant remix and a challenge.

Who or what has most influenced your taste?

Probably my mother being in the theatre – she was a set designer at one point. The education I had from her growing up was all about the classics and everything else that goes with it. I was also dragged around every church in the United Kingdom as a child, every art gallery, and I have to say they didn’t have to drag me too hard, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Which contemporary artists have you got your eye on?

I suppose in a sculptural sense Nicolas Lavarenne who has remained under the Talisman radar for several years now. He has various items in the catalogue (lots 76–80). Nicolas is a figural sculptor living in France who has been extremely successful and is always pushing the envelope.  We are not strictly artists but in the realm of design I think the Talisman twist on some modern pieces (coined Talisman Editions) are worth watching – the pair of vibrant red plaster mirrors in the style of Serge Roche (lot 188)are an example of this.

Are there any golden rules you follow when it comes to interior design?

Yes, throw the rule book straight out of the window. Follow your instincts and your passion.

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