My Life’s Work: Niall Mullen, art deco antiques dealer, Dublin

‘I source, restore, market and sell items from Ireland and abroad and the hunt is always the best part’

Niall Mullen owns Niall Mullen Antiques, a shop in Dublin's Francis Street specialising in art deco and other 20th-century furniture, objects and art. He has been been involved in the Dublin antiques trade for more than 20 years and opened his shop nine years ago. "I source, restore, market and sell items from Ireland and abroad and the hunt is always the best part. I love objects that are funky, cool and of high quality and try to present all those factors to visitors to my shop and exhibitions at antiques fairs. I want to be bold in my purchases and I need my clients to have the same vision," says Mullen.

What is your background?
My grandfather Patrick Mullen opened a drapery business on Easter Monday 1916 on Castle Street in Oldcastle, Co Meath. During a battle with British troops, Séamus Cogan, a local activist, was shot and killed and the street was subsequently renamed Cogan Street. This is the premises where Mullen Brothers Auction rooms was established in 1960. My father, the late Michael Mullen, was an auctioneer and entertainer and probably one of the greatest to have held a gavel. When you're a kid you either hide from a dad like that or go around like two peas in a pod, which was what we did. We travelled around Ireland and Britain gathering pieces for the monthly auction – a tough gig in the 1980s – but there was never a dull moment.

How did you get into the business?
Having served my time with my father, I expected to take over from him when I finished school. But my parents insisted I go to third-level and, after studying business in the College of Marketing and Design I stayed in Dublin and worked for Town & Country Auctioneers and Upper Court Manor Antiques, for which I managed a shop on Francis Street. Then I went solo in 2002. My gut feeling at the time was to go for art deco, as the "conventional" market was crowded. I love the designs of Eileen Gray, the Irish-born Paris- based 20th-century architect and designer who is regarded as one of the founders and leading exponents of the art deco movement. She was one of the most inspirational designers of the 20th century. I opened my shop in 2006 during the Tiger years and business was great until the economic crash in 2008. But in 2011 I moved to a bigger shop on the same street and now, slowly, business is improving again.

Career highlight?
In 2004 I was selected to take part in a new RTÉ television series The Dealers along with George Stacpoole [an antiques dealer based in Adare, Co Limerick] and the series ran for three years. It was a fantastic experience as we travelled Ireland trying to make a on buying and then reselling selling antiques: it was no easy task. We made a profit on many items but also incurred a few losses.

My more quirky outlook generally outwitted George. The highlight was purchasing a Waring & Gillow coffee table for €180 in Waterford that achieved a resale price of €1,350.

The general public loved the Irish and local aspect of the show and many small auction houses got exposure to a much larger audience than normal. This type of show is very popular on UK TV channels and it bemuses people who love the cut and thrust of the antiques game that there is no programme about antiques on Irish TV channels since RTÉ discontinued The Dealers eight years ago.

However, recently I was asked to judge a competition launched last weekend on the Late Late Show on RTÉ 1 television, in which four collectors are each restoring a piece of furniture. They have eight weeks to complete their task. The results will be broadcast on the Late Late in May. Readers might recall the controversy known as “Chairgate” following a similar competition on the programme in 1997.

What is your advice to collectors / investors?
My advice to collectors is "love the object and buy quality". I always advise potential clients on styles that will suit their tastes and source items to complement their homes. I love for prospective purchasers to take risks and we always look back together and say it was worth it. Good antique Irish furniture represents value, and that will soon change.

Pieces by makers of the calibre of Hicks, Strahan, Jones, William & Gibton among others are getting harder to find. Irish objects have a unique selling point and a “quirk” and we should try to save this part of our heritage, but many of the best items have already left the country.

What do you personally collect, and why?
Art deco and Scandinavian furniture, purely because it is cool, of high quality and comfortable. Mid 20th-century furniture made of rosewood, especially, because it's fantastic timber that will withstand the wear and tear of a modern family. I also love to collect funky glass, art and bronze, both 20th and 21st century. Patrick O'Reilly's bronzes are a big favourite. There's great enjoyment from collecting items and a great sense that the next generation will one day own them.

What would you buy if money were no object?
The Beit Collection.

What is your favourite work of art?
The Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. What a spectacular piece, and place. I love it. If I could click my fingers and be somewhere else right now, I'd be walking towards it.

niallmullenantiques.com

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