Paul Mrkusic runs Bancroft Antiques, a family business that he’s developed into a predominantly online vintage jewellery and antique store.
He is also CEO of the South African Antique, Art & Design Association (SAADA) and is a qualified architect. Paul’s beautifully designed home in Hurlingham, Johannesburg (featured in the June 2018 print edition of House and Leisure) is filled with an eclectic collection of design, antiques and mid-century furniture, not to mention (mostly) contemporary South African art and historical maps.
We chatted to him about what governs his collections.
how did you become interested in collecting design?
I studied architecture, which informed what I did afterwards. People often ask why I made the transition from architecture to selling vintage jewellery, and for me, it’s seamless. What made me become an architect was that as a kid I would point at houses and draw them, and my parents would say, ‘You’re going to become an architect one day.’
But I’m not sure that’s what I really wanted to do. I just found what people did in houses interesting. What’s always interested me is the development of design.
tell us a little about what you like to collect…
From an early age, I liked interesting things that made one think. It’s not so much about the material or financial investment and values – although it’s always nice to know that what you have spent money on does appreciate in value – but it’s also just about the stories that objects tell.
For example, in the dining room I have a collection of old maps of [Johannesburg]. I love seeing how the old farms that once were the city informed how the streets and suburbs have developed. Those kinds of interests have informed how I collect and the things I enjoy collecting.
are there particular designers you try to collect?
I’ve never been stuck on a particular designer or item. I like to collect quirky, interesting things that do something. So, whether it’s mid-century furniture pieces or a Biedermeier drinks trolley or the drinks cabinet at the end of the passage that opens out into a bar, they all offer neat surprises, and transform into things that are quite useful. It’s just about having a quirky piece that makes you interact with it, and can adapt to you as much as you adapt to it.
do you think it matters who the designers of certain pieces are?
I like to know that sort of thing, because it adds to the value and the history of a piece when you know where it comes from, but it’s not always important for me. For most of the pieces in our house, I haven’t been able to identify who the designer was. I’d like to be at the level of collecting where I know more about who made the pieces. Some of the pieces I could probably attribute to certain designers, but I wouldn’t feel entirely confident about that.
I do think it’s important to buy the best that you can and to buy an original piece that’s by a particular designer, because that’s where those designs come from, but you don’t always have the luxury of being able to do that. I’m always chatting to other antique dealers and they say, why do people spend so much money on badly made modern pieces when for the same price you get something that’s stood the test of time, has beautiful design, is well made and well crafted from such high-quality materials.