Robert Cooper at home. Photograph by Joel Redman

I bought it at Christie’s

Collector Robert Cooper recalls his acquisition of a walnut bureau and a set of mahogany dining chairs, and why he felt compelled to go ‘well over the estimates’ to get them

‘When I started buying furniture for this house, I soon realised that a collection of top-quality Chippendale would be too overbearing for the Elizabethan architecture, so I decided to go down the walnut route — English walnut furniture. Walnut emanates warmth, has huge life and lifts one’s spirits.

‘The striking thing about this bureau is the inlay, which is superb. Marquetry of the kind you see on the slope is called “seaweed”. I have never questioned that strange term, but it refers to marquetry that seems natural. Seaweed implies a kind of looseness in the arrangement of the foliage, rather than a regular design. I just thought it was wonderful.

‘I believe that if you see a chance in life and it looks good, you go for it’

‘I’m sure I must have taken a close look at the bureau ahead of the auction. I have occasionally bought unseen, but never very satisfactorily: one must see for oneself, because everybody views things slightly differently.

‘It is not about resting on one’s own judgement — more about making certain that the piece you are about to buy really does please you. 

‘I bid over the telephone — this was in 1999. Robert Copley of Christie’s was acting for me in the room. 

‘“Are you interested in the Messer chairs?” he asked. Samuel Messer was a great collector. “You are 10 years too late; they were sold a decade ago,” I replied. “Yes,” said Robert, “but they are back in this sale.” I hadn’t even noticed them in the catalogue!

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‘While we were speaking, the lovely little bureau came up, and I bought it. I went on to buy the 10 Messer chairs, too — you see a pair of them here. They are mahogany, and first-division quality. It is difficult to describe quality, but one is aware of it instantly. 

‘I paid well over the top estimates that day, but then the items are so singular. I believe that if you see a chance in life and it looks good, you go for it.’