Photograph by Bill Gentle. Artworks © Mariana Alarcón; © John Hubbard Estate; © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

I bought it at Christie’s

Interior designer CeCe Barfield Thompson discusses why she believes her Chinese lacquer table ‘has soul’, and the reasons she fought so hard to buy it at auction

‘I love Chinese things. My grandparents had a chinoiserie chest, and as a little girl I remember thinking how glamorous and sophisticated and exotic it was. I saw this table at a sale preview and immediately fell in love with it; I knew it was really special. It is so important to go in person to the previews. Often things that don’t shine on the page turn out to be wonderful.

‘The piece I bought is actually a screen that was later made into a table. (That was common practice when Europeans began to collect Chinese decorative arts: some clever ébéniste  took imported screens and transformed them them into furniture.) The shape of the legs, those points and swoops and curves, it is all so elegant and playful. The picture on the screen, now the tabletop, shows men in formal Chinese dress walking through a landscape — perhaps on their way to a celebration.

‘It’s a shame when people are too precious about antiques. You have to be able to live with them and not be afraid’ — CeCe Barfield Thompson

‘So my table has soul, because it has travelled far and had an earlier incarnation. But it is also functional — beautiful on its own, and great for displays. It is a perfect place to set dinner plates for a casual supper, and my two young children draw at the table and play with their Lego on it. It’s a shame when people are too precious about antiques — you have to be able to live with them and not be afraid. This table has been around longer than any of us, and is certainly sturdier than something from a big brand-name store.

‘I had to fight for it on the day, because one other person was bidding seriously. As the price approached my maximum, I thought to myself: oh my goodness, I am going to lose this beautiful table. Then I heard the hammer go down and I felt a huge wave of relief and joy.’

Find out more about CeCe Barfield Thompson and her work