At the beginning of a project, I advise my clients to spend more money than they intend. Choosing a piece of furniture that you plan to live with for a long time is like choosing a pair of shoes you’d be wearing every day for the next ten or more years.
Shouldn’t you buy the most expensive pair of shoes? Likewise, you should spend more on your interiors for the same reason.
My favourite—and expensive—pieces of furniture I saw and/or purchased for clients during the past year were antiques. More correctly described, they were previously-owned or used furniture, also known as estate furniture.
Antiques are sometimes dicey propositions. A chest of drawers from the 1970s could cost ten times the price of one from the 15th century, and this has turned the antiques industry on its head. The driver for price surges around certain styles and periods is that people want unique items that are well designed and have great style.
Here are some thoughts and recommendations for selecting great old things for the new year.
It takes two
A combination of access to good resources and educated, professional advice is the key to making the smartest antique purchases.
A leopard can’t change his spots
Just because a piece is old doesn’t mean it’s good. An ugly, cheap chair will most likely always be just a cheap and ugly chair. Professional interior designers who know antiques and the best of the best furniture periods will help you navigate the waters and steer clear of drek.
Seek out quality sources
Find antique dealers who pay high rents because they’re situated in fashionable areas or are close to interior designer resources—like those on East 60th Street in New York and on Melrose Place in Los Angeles. We call these antique boutiques. The dealers have taste. They understand the styles of discerning clients with good taste. They know that the pieces that are well designed, unusual, and can be seen as a real conversation piece in one’s home are what sells.
First, look online
An easy way to locate many high-quality antique dealers is through 1stdibs and Bond & Bowery. In order to view items directly, you can search these resources by city, period and type of furniture, or other criteria. Once you find an appealing item, accessing the vendor’s own website is easy. See, for example, the Amy Perlin and Todd Merrill sections in 1stdibs and the George Evans and Rue Auber sections in Bond & Bowery.
Seek out the shows
Antique shows in big cities are also great resources: The Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antiques Show, The Winter Antique Show at the Park Avenue Armory and the Brimfield Outdoor Antiques Show are a few that come to mind. The Brimfield, MA show is the largest U.S. market, bringing 6,000 dealers together in 120 acres of goodies for six days, three times a year.
Owing to high rents, many dealers are selling their merchandise at shows only. The dealers choose their best merchandise for the shows. Springing the extra dollars to attend the gala openings—or getting to Brimfield on the first day at the crack of dawn—is a great way to get a shot at buying the best pieces.
And if an antique show is helping to support a specific charity, giving a commission to a good cause helps ease the guilt of spending on one’s self, too!
Try other resources
eBay, antique web sites like Antiques and the Arts Online, and auctions are excellent ways that dealers are starting to sell their merchandise. Dealers save on having to pay store rent and the items are well documented and easy to see online or in catalogs. Emailing an image to your designer or friend for their opinion is easy and takes little or no effort.
Most antique auctions are now online. Their web sites have amazing search capabilities that are continually improving. Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Rago Arts are a few personal recommendations, but there are other great auction resources.
Buying a great piece of furniture is a true joy. The thrill of the hunt and the victory of the catch can be fun and very invigorating. Much like buying a good piece of jewelry, a fine antique can bring much joy for generations.
Then, the real fun begins: Once you have your prized piece, how do you display it to its best advantage?
Sister Parish redecorated her living room many times in her lifetime. The various incarnations were often shown in side-by-side photos.
I also like to look at old interior design magazines from the 1970s and see how the designers placed antiques. Seeing a French Louis XV desk in a peach bedroom with mirrored walls is very cool, and to a certain extent, quite comical. The fact is, many—and, I don’t mean all—antiques and special pieces can be reincarnated in many settings.
Placing your purchase well is like placing a jewel in a good setting or mounting a painting in a beautiful frame. One enhances the other. Imagine visiting the Metropolitan Museum and seeing the paintings without their frames, all placed in bare rooms. Needless to say, the paintings were painted and purchased without any regard for their frames or the rooms that they were to be placed in. They were created and acquired for their intrinsic value, beauty, uniqueness, craftsmanship and design. The trick is to make it your important antique pieces work within your overall interior design—and that is a subject we can tackle for another time.
Suffice it to say that you need to find and acquire unique pieces first. I hope your new year finds you acquiring some lovely old pieces, adding joy and interest to your beautiful home!
Inspired by the popularity of YouTube and videos on the internet, Irwin Weiner and Jay Johnson created Design2Share in November 2006, an online podcast of advice and inspiration on homes, gardens, and architecture.
For more great articles, tips, inspiration and more, visit www.casaGURU.com—The smartest way to find licensed and insured house experts—from home stagers to contractors to home Inspectors and realtors