A good gift giver tends to give the newest thing around. A great gift giver knows the value of giving the oldest.
Enter Villa Royale, a collectibles boutique that started out a year ago as an antique shop but has since also turned into one of the city’s top 10 cafes.
A walk around the District 2 villa is like a curated tour of the world’s best bazaars and antique markets courtesy of owner David Campbell. A 200-year-old religious European painting shares space with a stunning embroidered Mongolian saddle and a gorgeous hanging Moroccan glass lamp. The inventory for the shop marries two of David’s passions: travel and shopping. Before coming to Vietnam, David traveled extensively as Global Director of Sales for the Raffles hotel group, furnishing two homes with things acquired on his journeys. Instead of leaving these finds in storage, David decided to bring them over, keeping some for his own home and opening Villa Royale with the rest.
“These are pieces I know intimately because I bought them myself,” he says as he fingers a pair of vintage paper mache rhinos from Cambodia. “I can explain where it was bought, its provenance, how old it is…” It also contributes to the sensible pricing for these fine collectibles. “I try and price everything reasonably so the stock moves. I just need enough to be able to pay staff and the rent and for me to travel again to buy more,” he says with a smile. This year alone, David has made shopping trips to Istanbul, Paris, London and Morocco, bringing the best finds back to Saigon.
Popular with interior designers searching for truly one-of-a-kind pieces and furniture stores looking for props with wow factor for photo shoots, Villa Royale has something for everyone. “Tourists want to buy things reminiscent of Asia like temple baskets, gongs, Cambodian dancer statues and antique dressing mirrors. Locals get something unique, not from the markets, but something a bit more thoughtful as gifts and for themselves.”
For the woman in your life, David says that trios (tea sets comprised of an individual cup, saucer and plate) are trendy items for hen parties and high teas instead of complete matching sets, as are perennial favourites like silver tea pots, crystal sugar bowls, chandeliers and candelabras.
Gifts for him also abound in the form of vintage typewriters, antique humidors, old trunks that are amazing stacked into a side table, antique Vietnamese ceremonial drums and impossible-to-find decanters.
“When you go to a shopping center, just about everything is made in China,” notes David. “Coming here, you have things from Italy, France, Germany, England… and in lots of different styles as far as shapes and designs go. You can tell which era it’s from: art deco, nouveau, retro, from the Empire period. Even if you say you like everything, we’re all drawn towards one era in particular.”
Those drawn to European antiques will be thrilled to learn David recently received a container from Spain, the contents of a huge 300-year-old villa which was previously a candle making factory where goods were paid for in church antiquities. David is planning a January auction of at least 500 pieces, the first of its kind in Vietnam, complete with an auctioneer from a well- known auction house in Australia, in collaboration with Sofitel Saigon Plaza.
When everyone else is striving after the latest version of the same cookie cutter product, a unique gift that may literally be the only one of its kind in Saigon or even in Vietnam, speaks of thoughtfulness and care. “Even hand-painted vintage Vietnamese teapots with chips and showing signs of wear are fascinating because they’ve been used. They’re not brand new but have been in people’s families for decades. If every piece could talk, they’d have a hundred stories to tell,” says David.
Part of the shop’s charm is sitting down with David to talk about the pieces over a slice of the shop’s delectable homemade cakes (in a past career, David was also a chef along with having an art background) or over high tea with a gourmet selection of 24 TWG flavours.
8 Dang Huu Pho, D2
For the latest on new acquisitions and the upcoming Spanish estate sale, follow David on Facebook: VillaRoyaleAntiques
This colorful three-footed teapot with dragon spout and a heavy drip glaze with tan and turquoise hues is from Bien Hoa c. 1940. Ever since Bien Hoa pottery products were received with acclaim at an international exhibition in Paris towards the beginning of the 20th century, early Bien Hoa pottery has become very collectible.