I grew up in a house full of antiques and reproductions of antiques. My parents have a great eye for furniture and decorative accessories, and they have made a hobby out of hunting for the next great piece to add to their collection. I love going to their house, because I love hearing about what they like about the newest antique mule chest they acquired or about the gorgeous rug they were considering. It’s obvious that they enjoy living with each object they purchase, and it’s hard not to be infected by their enthusiasm.
But when it came time to decorate my own home, I found myself leaning in a different direction. Having studied history and design in my undergraduate career, I brought a love for modern design to my graduate studies at the Winterthur Museum. I spent my days with a sketchbook in hand, shining a flashlight up the underside of a chest of drawers, learning all about how mahogany veneer was applied to Federal furniture and why through-tenon joints on Windsor chairs were wedged. My appreciation for the craftsmanship of these pieces increased exponentially, but my foundation in more modern design acted as a lens, helping me see each object, whether plain or fancy, as a piece of design.
I won’t lie: I love antiques, but I don’t own a lot of them. Quite frankly, this habit started because my budget wouldn’t allow anything else! I first set up housekeeping with a mix of hand-me-downs and basic IKEA furniture. When I brought home antiques, it was usually in the form of a small Persian rug here or a nineteenth century picture frame there. As I played around with what I had, I realized that I could arrange my modern furniture around the older pieces to highlight them as the intriguing works of art that they are, and I rather liked it.
In the years since I first set up housekeeping, I have spent significant time working in the antiques trade. As the most fervent collectors have begun to retire their collections, antique dealers have started looking for the younger generation who will take their place, people like me. The problem is that, like me, few people in my age range (25-35) are interested in forming the sort of comprehensive collections that our parents or grandparents had. Savvy dealers are beginning to pick up on the fact that this generation is more likely to mix things up, to collect sparingly and eclectically – to mix design vocabularies.
So there are some who buy pieces here and there, but there are others who don’t even realize that they can. Through the popularity of programs like The Antiques Roadshow, many think that any antique worth having is worth at least five figures. While the most treasured, pristine pieces do exist in that rare air, selling for prices that outpace my annual income by a factor of ten, the antiques trade holds a well-kept secret: on a regular basis, beautiful and functional antiques come to market for significantly less than their reproduced counterparts from national catalog retailers. My goal for this blog is to talk about how antiques can fit into modern interiors and budgets, offering tips for styling and buying that will help a whole new audience appreciate historic and accessible pieces of design.