Burning Desire; Paul Chesney Has a Collection of 500 Fireplaces Reproduction Fireplaces, Such as the Georgian-Style John Soane Pattern Range, Are Keenly Priced the Simple, Clean Lines of the Burlington Makes It a Best-Seller Stonemasons in China Have the Necessary Skills the John Soane Pattern I, from [Pounds Sterling]1,900

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Byline: Katrina Burroughs

PAUL Chesney's multinational mantelpiece empire began with a skip inShepherd's Bush. Chesney, 52, explains: "I saw a Victorian cast-iron registergrate in a skip and asked if I could have it for my girlfriend's flat." A monthlater, in Camden market, he saw a similar grate, all spruced up, for [pounds sterling]400. "Ithought, if someone is chucking them out in W12 and selling them in NW1,there's got to be a business there." He was right.

Twenty-five years on, his firm, selling antique and repro chimneypieces, isworth millions.

Chesney read law at Cambridge and joined a solicitor's practice, but, he says:"By the time I qualified I had already started looking for something else." Hisfirst steps as an entrepreneur were shaky. "I started the business withabsolutely no market research. I thought, 'I love these fireplaces, so theAmericans will love them, too.' I borrowed [pounds sterling]5,000 from the bank and boughthundreds of grates. I had them shot-blasted and polished with graphite pasteand transformed into really beautiful objects, and then I contacted fireplaceshops in the US. They said they weren't interestedtheir fires burned logs, and my grates were for coal. So Plan A went out the window."

Stellar examples But Plan B proceeded nicely. In 1984, Chesney set up shop inthe railway arches on Queenstown Road, Battersea, then moved to his presentpremises on Battersea Park Road, where he began to stock 18th and 19th centuryEnglish and French marble fireplaces. His instinct was right.

"People would come into the showroom and say, 'I live in an 1880s house inClapham. What would be the right thing to buy?'" By now, Chesney was seriouslyinto fireplace history, reading books on architecture and design, and visitinghistoric houses to check out the chimneypieces.

Chesney has a wonderland collection of 500 antique chimneypieces and a smallarmy of craftsmen working full time to restore them. But this kind of prizecomes at a hefty price: a good neoclassical carved marble 18th centurychimneypiece costs [pounds sterling]30,000 to [pounds sterling]50,000. …