Antiques – that is to say furniture and objects over 100 years old – are a little off the radar of many home decorators at the moment.
Here are some reasons why you might not have considered them:-
You associate them with your grandparents or great-grandparents
Yes, but they probably favoured Queen Anne or Victorian style pieces in dark mahogany. The Antique market is so much more varied once you start looking and learning. Check out my blog on the pieces that work well in modern interiors, for a start.
The upkeep and restoration is too much
Granted some pieces require extra care, but so do white fabric couches and marble counter tops and I see these everywhere in modern magazines. In fact antiques have survived often because the quality of workmanship means that they can take a lot of wear and tear and still look beautiful. Ageing itself can add value as it adds patina. Gentle cleaning techniques, and avoiding direct sunlight is generally all that antiques require.
Furniture proportions don’t fit with modern lifestyles
It’s true that we just don’t use Armoires (freestanding closets) any more and coffee tables weren’t a thing in the past. That still leaves plenty of scope as the informality of modern homes can lend itself to a mix and match approach to styles. As to whether you should cut down, re-finish or adapt a piece, that really depends on the quality and integrity of the piece itself.
Fear of being ‘ripped off’
In reality antique shopping can represent good value in comparison to buying comparable modern pieces retail. Buying things is the way to learn and develop your eye. The fact is, even professionals make mistakes. It’s better to set a budget and accept that sometimes you might over-pay but if you have a piece that suits your taste and need, it really won’t matter in the long run.
Finding a good dealer who is willing to share knowledge and be upfront about their stock (age, condition) will be enormously helpful. Dealers do the leg work to find pieces, restore them and hold them as stock, sometimes for lengthy periods of time. I do get irritated when I see pieces that are mis-described by dealers (usually as older and thus more valuable) or attributed to famous makers without good reason. However, I think it really only matters if the price is out of step with the inherent quality of the piece.
Auctions seem like too much work
Buying at auction can be time-consuming but it has got a lot easier thanks to the ready availability of lot alerts, digital images and the internet. In general, Auction house staff know they are going to get a lot of grief if they miscatalogue something so stick with the reputable houses, study their catalogues online as well as in person if you can, and set your bidding limit in advance. It will be helpful to learn to read cataloguing so you can de-code terms like ‘georgian‘ and ‘attributed to’.
If you can’t inspect in person, you must ask for a condition report and if you are spending a lot of money, find an independent expert to do it for you.
A place to start might be to choose on piece for each room that brings you joy and adds a point of difference. It could be a chandelier, a mirror or a vintage rug. Your confidence will take off from there. And if you would like some more advice, do please get in touch.