Janie Tennant, cofounder of the London bespoke furniture business Covelli Tennant, has always found her inspiration at out-of-town flea markets. “While I was trawling through stalls and attending provincial auctions in search of vintage couture,” she says, “I realized the potential of combining old fabrics—from Uzbek suzanis to thirties embroidery—with antique chesterfield sofas.”
Tennant, scion of a Yorkshire textile clan, started the company with Sara Covelli, whom she met when both were fabric specialists at London’s Bonhams fine art auctioneers and handled everything from embroidered Queen Anne skirts to vintage Dior. Covelli eventually headed up Sotheby’s textiles and dolls department. Tennant moved to New York and worked for Upper East Side antiques dealers before reconnecting with Covelli last year. The new partnership blends Tennant’s modern aesthetic for interi- ors and love of fashion with Covelli’s encyclopedic knowledge of textiles. For raw materials, the women comb England’s little-known fairs—in Ardingly, Kempton, and Newark—as well as the treasure-trove junk shops in London’s less glamorous neighborhoods.
Covelli Tennant’s principal line of 19th-century chesterfields are reupholstered in neutral fabrics and finished with vintage detailing, such as panels from embroidered Cantonese shawls, 19th-century black lace, or Indian Sind mirror work. “The fact that the materials aren’t always perfect is why we’re drawn to them,” Tennant explains. “The flaws have to be beautiful, though not a distraction.” They also produce loose covers for chairs and made-to-order ottomans, the simple shape being particularly well suited to displaying a single piece of exceptional fabric. Also popular are cushions encased in 1930s embroidered images of crinoline-dressed Bo Peeps in pastoral idyll, a between-the-wars craze. Clients come to their West London and Suffolk appointment-only offices to choose fabrics and antiques (they will also scout for specific pieces). Custom furniture ranges from $1,300 for a Victorian piano stool in contemporary linen with faux mother-of-pearl buttoning and antique tassel fringe to $6,000 for a curved-back chesterfield with a 19th-century needle-lace panel.
If this vintage reworking is a British trend, then Covelli Tennant acknowledges a debt to the cult firm Squint, which re-covers 1950s Arne Jacobsen Egg chairs in clashing patchwork florals and wingback chairs in a mix of Indian quilts. At the other end of the spectrum is Plinth Limited, an antiques dealer that uses more classic tones, up-holstering a 19th-century daybed in antique velvet fragments or a Georgian armchair in vintage coat linings.
Covelli Tennant’s blend of old and new means that the furniture works well with modern and classic decor. “It’s original and bespoke, yet the vintage elements have a reassuring familiarity,” Tennant says. “Combining old and new in one piece is a more subtle statement than something extremely contemporary or truly antique."
Pieces from Covelli Tennant can be ordered through its appointment-only offices. For information, call 44-7855/256-007 or go to covellitennant.com.