A peek below stairs
Stuart Hofgartner has arguably done more than any other local businessman to keep the flame of Hungerford antique trading alight. His TV appearances on Dickinson's Real Deals in the last twelve years have helped to maintain the town's reputation as an important destination for the antique hunter. But it is his passion for his business, Below Stairs of Hungerford, an Aladdin's Cave of 19th and 20th Century antiques, an enterprise he has patiently
Few of us can claim to have spent our lives doing the thing we love, but Hofgartner is one such man...
nurtured for the last thirty eight years, which made him so attractive to TV producers in the first place.
Few of us can claim to have spent our lives doing the thing we love, but Hofgartner is one such man. As a schoolboy, he used to scour junk shops and jumble sales in his home town of Hampton in Middlesex, snapping up interesting and unusual pieces of domestic and kitchenware using the money he earned from his newspaper and greengrocery rounds. After a career with W.H. Smith where he was in charge of newspaper distribution at Heathrow Airport, Hungerford's most well-known figure, married and moved westwards in search of affordable property.
It was during the course of the move that he realised just how much he had accumulated from his years of scouring pieces and that he would have to offload some stock. The then owner of the newly opened Hungerford Antiques Arcade offered Stuart a unit free of charge for a day and much to Stuart's surprise, he completely sold out - partly due to the fact that he had little idea of the value of his stock. That was thirty eight years ago. For the next two years he traded out of the Hungerford Antiques Arcade before purchasing the property across the street which became the Below Stairs we know today.
Across the years he has expanded the property by adding more rooms and buying adjacent buildings. Below Stairs are more than a retail outlet however, and as well as a brisk trade in valuations, he has two onsite workshops where skilled craftsmen repair and recondition his finds. Hofgartner is recognised not just for his considerable body of knowledge but his unique style, best described as Teddy Boy meets Edwardian dandy. He cuts a distinctive figure around town in his beetle-crushers and frock coats. Although he was unaware of it, he was tailor made for TV and when the production company RDF were putting together a cast for Dickinson's Real Deal they knew they'd struck gold in Hofgartner.
They were impressed with both his flamboyant appearance and knowledge of antiques and over the last twelve years he has been proved to be one of their most popular experts. His filming schedule is two days every five weeks and although he admits
that the twelve hour days can be exhausting, he and his crew of nine have tremendous fun. He loves meeting members of the public and has come across some fascinating pieces during his long career on the show. His high profile has attracted many visitors not just to where he happens to filming on the day, but to Hungerford between times, clutching treasures from their attics for appraisal.
Now nearly 70, many men of his age have either already retired or are thinking about it. Hofgartner has no such plans. 'I don't look on it as work at all,' he says, 'I have spent my life doing what I love.'