Heather Cook Barnes started her business, Heather Cook Antiques, the way a lot of accomplished antiques dealers do: with a personal passion for collecting that transformed into a full-time profession. With two Atlanta-based locations, she keeps incredibly busy sourcing one-of-a-kind finds from the UK and across the rest of Europe. We spoke with Heather a few years ago about antique shopping in England, but we wanted to follow up to see what it’s been like in a post-Brexit, post-Covid lockdown world. And of course, we had to ask about some of the unique differences between American antiques shoppers and our English counterparts.

See what she had to say below, and check out a few photos from her travels across the Atlantic. And be sure to shop her full assortment of antiques on Chairish.

Heather Cook Antiques
Heather Cook Barnes

First, for people who don’t know your business, tell us a bit about how you started Heather Cook Antiques and how you got into the world of antiques. 

I grew up in a house full of antiques but never thought I would become a dealer. When I bought my first house and started looking for furniture, a small antique shop in Buckhead became my favorite shopping spot. Eventually, as a hobby, I rented a space there. Soon this hobby became a passion — and profitable — and my full-time job.

Big question we’re asking everyone in the industry these days: How did Covid affect your business? How did sourcing and selling change, particularly in the early days, and how are things going now? 

Thankfully, because I had an online presence, my sales not only continued but actually grew during Covid. People were spending more time in their homes and reconfiguring how best to use their space. Some simply had the time to redecorate. Furnishings to fill these new imagined spaces were needed. However, with sales increasing, I found it difficult to restock my inventory. I contacted dealers in England and Europe and started buying through photos and video tours. One day, while I was sick with Covid myself, I had a Facetime video call with a dealer. I was on the sofa in my pajamas with the phone hooked up to my big screen TV and shopped for hours.

Heather Cook Antiques

You were just in England a few months ago. First of all… congratulations on getting back! Tell us about it: how was sourcing there now? How did it compare to your many trips pre-Covid? 

I’ve been back to England twice since Covid. Everyone is so excited to be out doing their jobs. The buyers are happy buying and the sellers happy selling. Since the future with Covid is unknown, forming close relationships with dealers is even more important in order to buy online.

Brexit is another unavoidable topic when it comes to business in the UK. How has it affected the English antiques market, in terms of the pieces that are there and traveling in or out of the country?

I’ve always bought several European antiques on English buying trips. Many English dealers shop in France and Spain; however, because these dealers are still trying to navigate Brexit, European inventory is low. 

What are some of your biggest tips for shopping flea markets in the UK and in Europe now?

Plan your trip around the big antique fairs. It is fun to visit antique shops in small towns, however you can find more antiques in a shorter period of time at the big fairs. A good shipper is essential. Shipping prices have increased significantly, which affects your bottom line.

Heather Cook Antiques

What’s something that might surprise American collectors about sourcing in England? What’s something they’d need to know about shopping there? 

The English have different ways of expressing themselves. When negotiating, the English will say, “well go on then.” when a price is agreed upon. The first time I shopped in England and heard this, I thought they were literally telling me to go away. 

Have you seen more customers coming through digital methods like Chairish in the last year and a half? Do you see that having an effect on how designers shop for vintage, in particular?

I’ve seen a huge increase in online sales. Many designers are having trouble sourcing furniture and struggling with long lead times for manufactured furniture. As a solution, they are shopping online and using more vintage and antique items.

What types of pieces do you see selling these days? What are some of the things you can’t keep in stock?

I find a lot of clients have missed entertaining. So I’ve been selling a lot of tabletop items. Everything from sets of plates and cutlery to charcuterie boards.

Heather Cook Antiques

In terms of trends, what do you think will be coming next? And what are some of the styles you’d like to see become popular?

I don’t like to follow trends and I struggle going on a buying trip and looking for particular items. I’m inspired by what I find. And I love the mix… everything from traditional English dark oak furniture to sleek modern.

And what are some of your favorite things to personally collect? 

I usually keep a few things from every shipment. My house is very eclectic. I love paintings — I primarily collect hunt paintings and seascapes. I also enjoy entertaining, so I have multiple sets of plates and cutlery.

All images courtesy of Heather Cook Antiques

December 1, 2021

Dennis Sarlo is the executive editor of Chairish and a lover of all things design-related. Prior to joining the team, he served as the executive editor of Dering Hall and was the first site director of Architectural Digest. He was also part of the founding team of travel startup Jetsetter. He lives in New York.