Aside from the antiques Abdel himself has an instant glow about him and a charm that makes you feel lucky. He was born in Alexandria, Egypt by the sea, where he studied accountancy and between you and me he was Egyptian Judo champion for 4 years straight. “When I came to London from university I took the train from Victoria and just thought I would stop when I felt like it. They said, “this is the end of the line, you have to get off here”, and that place was called Brighton.” He worked for Clarke-Walker Accountants on Church Road, before leaving the profession altogether and falling for antiques. He called his shop Alexandria in homage to his homeland and opened the door 1986.
Abdel started out by scouring the under 10 pound section in The Argus, because that way the maximum gamble was only ever 10 pound. If something sounded like it might stand up or sit you down he would phone up and swing round in his little Vauxhall Allegro. “It’s exciting it’s like hunting or fishing you never know what you’re going to catch!”
Abdel trained his eye and learnt to trust his instinct, like a William wordsmith once told me “Let your eye be the judge and your money, the last thing you part with.” He closed his car boot and went up to Bermondsey Market, which is one of the oldest Antique fairs in the world. “I used to leave Brighton at about 2 in the morning to be there at 4 and that is the biggest education for any young up and coming antique dealer, it’s the workshop of the antique trade.”
From ringing the polyphonic bells of stately homes to tapping a tune on the letterboxes of council flats, behind each door Abdel has met the good, the bad, the conservative and the eccentric, “When a customer comes in I can know straight away what I have in mind for them and if I don’t and they ask after a few pieces then I can tell by what they ask for who they are. If someone asks for oak for example, then I can tell that they are subtle, conservative and very secretive.” What does your furniture say about you? If you take Abdel your favourite chair he will take it off your hands and read your palm. He has been seeing some of the same faces that share his same enthusiasm for the last 30 years. “You begin to build up trust I have people where I buy from them or sell to them through the phone without even seeing the article. They trust my judgment I trust their judgment it takes years to build trust.”
As we sit in the shop and different dealers come and go tapping on the window, swapping gold carrots with ruby rings and news from round the block. I’m careful not too turn quick sharp, a touch daunted by the irreplaceable curiosities that have been collected from over seas and centuries all together in one room. I wonder whose feet have played under the table legs and walked beneath the chandeliers that hang above our heads? Above all the polished silver, elaborate picture frames and delicate porcelain, Abdel’s niche is furniture from the Regency period around 1820 because it has all the fine elegance of the French empire and sits perfectly between the simplicity of the Georgian style and very masculine Victorian. What does this say about Abdel? Well I’m no expert but I would probably say that first impressions are important to him. He is always turned out prim, knuckles often glistening with stories behind the handshakes behind the rings. I reckon he gets fish delivered fresh every week from a bobbin boat on the marina because it reminds him of Alexandria and he his blessed with two sons which means he can leave the shop and a life time of treasure in safe hands.