Storied History: Inspired Living
Tucked behind a discreet but distinctive door in the heart of Kitsilano lies a wonderland of beauty and elegance. This year marks Three Centuries Antiques’ tenth anniversary at this location, and while owner William MacKinnon has fond memories of the company’s previous decade in Gastown, he’s clearly a man at home in his surroundings — literally. For not only is this the address of one of Vancouver’s most exclusive antique stores, it’s also where William and his partner maintain their personal residence.
“I am blessed because I’m able to live surrounded by beautiful things,” he says. “And every one of them has a story.” And thus begins the exploration of one man’s passion for the past.
As we make our way toward the back of the first-floor showroom, William points out a few highlights: a set of china that King George IV dined on, a pair of 16th Century lamps whose original vellum shades are inscribed with musical notes penned by a 15th Century monk, a clock encased in a gilded sculpture of the Greek god Hippolytus. “I found that one in Buenos Aires,” he says of the latter, adding a clock of the same era currently resides in France’s Élysée Palace. “Back then, you’d go to the clockmaker and say ‘I want this in gold with a green marble base.’ So each piece was actually custom designed.”
We continue on, passing an ornate console table in Palladian architectural style that William says took him two years to track down. Finally, we reach the south end of the showroom and there, leaning against the wall, is William’s most recent acquisition — a piece that arrived only hours before I did. “This is the jewelry cabinet commissioned for Napoleon’s mother,” he says. His eyes twinkle with delight as he holds up the cheval mirror he hasn’t yet had time to attach in order to give the full effect. “Who would ever expect to find something like this in Vancouver? And it comes with complete provenance and paperwork.”
Next William gestures toward a curved staircase leading upstairs. Bronze sculptures and larger-than-life oil paintings fill the open, airy space. Chandeliers that shimmer with crystals and precious stones cast a soft glow across tables made of exotic woods — ebony, rosewood, satinwood, mahogany — often with intricate inlaid patterns.
Sitting on top of a Russian Baltic empire chest of burled elm are two gilded candelabras on white marble bases. “These took me 35 years to buy,” William says and a new tale unfolds.
In 1973 while on a buying trip in Florida, he saw, fell in love with, and purchased the first one. “Then in 2008, I was in Rome and happened to look in a dealer’s window. There it was — a candelabra that looked identical to mine. I held my breath hoping the owner didn’t have two because it would be unlikely he’d part with a matched set.” William soon negotiated a price, but it wasn’t until he returned home that he realized this wasn’t just a similar piece, it was his candelabra’s missing twin. “The arms on mine were numbered one through six. The one I’d just bought were numbered six through 12. Now that’s a long hunt — but it’s the hunt that truly is my pleasure and delight in this business.”
It’s been a long journey from university days when William made his first antique purchases — a framed Rembrandt-style oil painting and a brass bed. He has two degrees in music as well as successful careers in accounting and the hospitality industry. He’s also travelled around the world and back. Today, though, there are few places he’s more content than when playing the Boesendorfer Imperial Grand piano that’s a permanent fixture on the main floor of Three Centuries Antiques. “I play it every day for two or three hours.”
Three Centuries Antiques is found at 1662 West 2nd Avenue in Vancouver or visit www.threecenturiesshop.com