When you’re in the business of collecting and selling exquisite things, the line between retail shop and museum can sometimes become a bit blurred. Case in point: Talisman London, London’s arch design emporium located in the city’s famed Chelsea Design District. In fact, when Talisman owner Ken Bolan announced that after thirty-seven years in business, he was closing up shop this summer, there was an outcry from design enthusiasts who felt that London was losing an erudite institution—They weren’t wrong, of course.
Bolan; however, is nothing if not skilled at appeasing a crowd—whether he be sourcing one-of-a-kind antiques or delivering a swan song, he knows his customers. So to counterbalance any feelings of tribulation, he issued an enticing proposition: all remaining Talisman inventory would be sold at 50% off. When you consider the caliber of Bolan’s inventory—Evans, DeSede, Bustamante—the deal only gets sweeter.
To highlight a career marvelously well-played and get an expert opinion on the best deals hiding in the loot, we recently spoke to Bolan about his impending life change. From lessons learned to plans for his next chapter in West Country, Bolan reveals exactly why the true talisman isn’t the beautiful objects he’s spent a lifetime collecting, but Bolan himself.
What’s one of your fondest memories of Talisman from the past 37 years?
The great times we had with our clients and staff, the fabulous exhibitions we have put on, charity events and the 20,000 items of stock that went through Talismans doors.
If you could go back to opening day in 1982, what advice would you give to your younger self?
My ambition has always been to brand Talisman, I had visions of numerous stores at one point. So the advice I would have to my younger self would be to keep things tighter, as we would have retained a lot more of the profits that we made. Having said that, we did have great fun being experimental.
Offering Talisman’s remaining inventory at 50% off is such a generous discount, almost unheard of in the industry. What motivated your decision to offer such a deep discount rather than offloading to other industry insiders?
I think we had to come to the market with a discount that really matters. There is also a question of timing as I have got circa 3,000. That’s LOTS to sell by the end of July.
Speaking as a collector, what are some of the most outstanding pieces you’ll be offering in the sale?
This Curved Arm Upholstered Sofa is truly a one-off. It was created for a tv producer who never took delivery. I also love this Cantilevered Leather Upholstered Armchair and Ottoman Stool. Sexy in chrome and leather and dating to the 1970s, it says ‘Move over James Bond!’
Are there any pieces from Talisman London that you couldn’t part with and ended up keeping for yourself?
I was strictly told I wasn’t allowed to shop! I have looked at the price reductions and there are many items I would love to hang on to. But primarily I have responsibility to the business and to my clients. I want to give them an opportunity to make their own purchases.
For your next chapter, we know that you’re headed to West Country with your wife, Caryn, to pursue new creative endeavors. Can you reveal any details on the projects that may lie ahead?
My next chapter at this moment in time is uncertain. I am in the process of acquiring a studio in the west country near our home, so I suspect there will be some creative elements. I’ll be surrounding myself with objects that appeal to me and I will also be creating some artworks.
Talisman London was synonymous with such an eclectic, high-glamour look. Do you anticipate your aesthetic changing as you explore a new, slower-paced life outside of the city?
I think my aesthetic will perhaps be less eclectic and more focused. I don’t see myself living a slower pace life outside of the city by any means, I suspect I’ll increase my travel substantially and there are certain clients who will always wish me to work with them.
What’s one of the greatest learnings or rewards you’ve reaped from owning and operating Talisman London for over thirty years?
I would say meeting the fascinating people that I’ve come across.
Will the Talisman bespoke line continue, or will bespoke design continue to factor into your future endeavors in any way?
I haven’t made a decision visa v the bespoke line as of yet, but I suspect I will continue to design new items going forward.
Beyond design, what’s one of the things that your most looking forward to having time to do during your next chapter in West Country?
If I’m successful in purchasing the new studio, the first thing will be redesigning and rebuilding it. Once that is complete, I suspect I will know the direction that I wish to be going in.
Lead image by Dave Brook