Sunday 17 December 2017

Chantal Fortune: The past is my passion - I was born in the wrong era

Chantal Fortune (31) is an antique dealer, curator and entrepreneur. In the past, she worked for Irish designer Lainey Keogh and was known as one her muses. Born in Spain, she lives in Bray with her sons - Ruben (8) and Elvis (3)

Antique dealer Chantal Fortune. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Antique dealer Chantal Fortune. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Ciara Dwyer

The alarm goes off at 7am, and about three snoozes later, I roll out of bed. I try and get up before the children in the mornings. I find that if I do this, I cope a lot better with the routine of getting them ready for school. I have two boys - Ruben and Elvis. I drink a pint of hot water with lemon every morning, and then I have a cup of tea.

I drink a lot of loose-leaf tea, made in an Edwardian silver teapot. It's so much better brewed in a silver teapot. I drink it out of an old china teacup. I collect blue and white china, among other things. The past is my passion. I think if you incorporate it into the routine of your day, it lightens the spirit. Also, it's a slight slowing down, for example, you have to wait for the tea to brew, and then you pour milk from a jug.

I cook porridge for the boys on school days; I'm very aware of healthy-eating habits. I only drink cups of tea in the morning.

I'm a single mum with two boys; it's hard, because life has been in a bit of transition. Last year, I went through a series of unfortunate incidents. I was heartbroken. And then I lost the home that I was renting, because it went up for sale. That's when I closed my antiques shop in Bray. All that happened within a year. I loved being a shopkeeper. I was very sad that the shop closed. It was actually doing OK within its first year, but I couldn't cope.

I hit a brick wall, and I lost the will to live. And then at the end of it all, I had to have emergency back surgery. Now I'm out of pain, and, best of all, back on track. We're in a comfy home, and I'm setting up a new venture.

I bring the kids to school, and then, for those three hours when they are gone, I squash in everything that I need to do for the day - emails and social media. At the moment, I am curating an antiques fair, which will be on at Wells House in Wexford next weekend. I'm delighted to be putting it on in a Great Irish House. This will be the second year of this fair. My job has been to find a selection of dealers with sellable items; it will be a collection of curiosities. We're also putting on furniture-and-painting-restoration demonstrations.

I'm younger than most antique dealers, but I want to bring the past back to life for a younger generation. A lot of dealers' children are now working in the business, here and in the UK. I suppose you could call it brilliant old things from bright young things. I collect charming old things like lace. I specialise in china, vintage drapery and taxidermy. There is a charm to old things - the craftsmanship and the attention to detail is huge. Maybe I was born in the wrong era: if only I could be strolling around with parasols made of lace, and fans made of lace, and lace draped around my shoulders. I just love the decadence of Victorian fashions.

Collecting and antique dealing comes from both sides of the family. My mother is an eccentric collector, and my father was a Spanish art collector. Even though I was born in Spain and spent the first few years of my life there, I didn't really know him very well. I come from a long line of collectors, but I'm the first person in my family to ever sell anything. I just have it in me.

I grew up in a house full of beautiful old things. I suppose I saw that there was a creative outlet there; that I could make a career out of it. You don't have to sit on these beautiful old things and hoard them. You are always defining your collection, but letting go of pieces as well. My goal in life is to open a museum. I'm interested in things of a forgotten era and times past.

I had a very bohemian upbringing. I started selling stuff from a very young age - Indian things and vintage shoes at the local farmers' market in Greystones. I was very eager. I went to boarding school in England and India - the latter gave me a great sense of colour - and then, during my summer holidays, I worked for the fashion designer Lainey Keogh. I was sewing on buttons for her, and I did some modelling for her, too. Back then, I would have been described as one of Lainey's muses. She had a huge influence on me; as well as being highly creative, she is a stern businesswoman. Over the years, I set up a few businesses, including a pizzeria, and I studied fashion. Then, after I had my first son, I studied antiques and fine art. That's when I flourished.

After I pick up the kids from school, they have a quick snack, and it's time for homework. I make a special point of setting the table. It's a ritual, and it's just part of a process. I don't mind if there is a pile of dishes - I don't have a dishwasher - because I use cups and saucers and cake plates. As long as the table is full of all these beautiful things that are on my kitchen dresser, they are there to be used, every day. Everything in my house is aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

We don't have a TV at home, so I try not to be on the iPad and the phone when the kids are around. I grew up without a TV, and I suppose I chose not to have one myself. But we have a computer and Netflix, and I let them watch a movie while I cook. I like having the children around the table for dinner. We can talk about the day. I'm quite traditional, because I like to stick to the routine of bath and then bedtime. Story time is very important, and I'm already influencing them by reading the Horrible Histories. After I put them to bed, I spend some time on the computer, and do some research. Most nights, I'm quite exhausted by the time I go to bed. I try to go to sleep as quickly as possible, because a child might wake up in the middle of the night. Then, before you know it, the alarm is going off and you're thinking, 'Oh gosh, just give me another couple of hours sleep'.

Wells House and Gardens host an antique fair with furniture-restoration demonstrations in the Great House on September 24 and 25. See

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