What comes to mind when you hear the word “antique”?




I could go on for a while here, but you can fill in your own blanks.  In the minds of many, antiques are unfashionable, pricey, and breakable collectors of dust.  While such pieces do exist, there is a secret underbelly to this world of old things that is surprisingly affordable, sturdy, useful, and stylish.

For kicks and giggles, let’s compare two similar pieces: one antique from a nationally-recognized (but local to me) auction house and one from a nationally recognized catalog retailer.  Here we go.

Lot 736
Early 20th Century Carved Oak Two-door Book Cabinet, with two short drawers above cabinet doors, the interior with four adjustable shelves, approx. ht. 57 3/4, wd. 40 1/4, dp. 14 in.
Estimate $250-350
Sold for $456

First up, a solid oak 2-door book cabinet from the early twentieth century, offered by Skinner at this month’s Discovery Auction (aside: if an auction is labeled “discovery” or “eclectic,” it’s generally code for “affordable” and “not overly precious;”  in other words, a great shopping opportunity).

I rather like this one, especially with the shelf space on top.  I can picture this in any room, from the dining room (extra platter storage!) to the bedroom (linen closet for small apartment dwellers!) to the living room (books and media!).  The form is very practical, which is probably why Crate and Barrel makes a similar version:

Crate and Barrel Westmore two door cabinet

Crate and Barrel Westmore two door cabinet $1199

This one is just a little shorter than the oak cabinet at Skinner, and the drawers are reversed from top to bottom.  Otherwise, there are definite similarities.  I recognize that the styles are a little different, primarily in wood color and edging details; however, the basic form and elements are similar enough to warrant comparison.  The Crate and barrel cabinet is made of a mixture of hardwood, veneer, and manufactured wood.  It’s also a little shorter than the cabinet from Skinner.

The main area of difference that jumps out to me, though, is the value.  When I first saw the oak version in the Skinner catalog, I was a little shocked.  My husband and I recently moved into a new, slightly larger apartment, and we have been shopping around for a few new pieces of furniture.  I have noticed, to my chagrin, how terribly hard it is to find a bed, an armoire, or anything built out of solid hard wood (I take that back: I found those pieces, but then I couldn’t find my credit cards… they all went on strike at the huge prices of said solid wood furniture).  For our budget (think the first stage after IKEA and hand-me-downs), we couldn’t find anything that wasn’t mostly particle board or manufactured wood.  While I know that the latter has become pretty reliable over the years, I couldn’t bring myself to spend what feels like big bucks to us on something that might or might not last to become my childrens’ hand-me-downs some day.

Seeing the price estimate on that oak cabinet, then, made me wish very hard that I had need for another bookcase (I really don’t).  Just for a point of contrast, here’s what you can get at IKEA for about the same money:

BJURSTA Glass-door cabinet IKEA 4 adjustable glass shelves

Glass-door cabinet, birch veneer

Interesting, huh?

So what did I say at the beginning…  that contrary to popular belief, antiques can be affordable, useful, sturdy, and stylish?  Well, the affordability is certain here… useful?  I’d say so.  I may have more books than most, but there are so many creative possibilities for shelving units, especially one with doors. Sturdy?  Youbetcha.  That heavy oak isn’t going anywhere.  What about stylish?  To be honest, I resisted oak for a long time until we were given some lovely pieces by a friend (including our dining table).  When I began to play with the caramel tones, I realized that they mixed easily with the espresso and white finishes of my more modern pieces, rather like mixing neutrals in your wardrobe.  You’ll want to be careful, arranging a careful mix to either balance or accent the oak, but I found that it added a lot of visual depth to a room that was looking very much like the dregs of my coffee pot (all espresso stain, all the time).

That’s just one example, but hopefully it gets the wheels turning.  What do you think?  Do you believe the myths?


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