As the dwindling supply of antiques pushes the prices up, few people today starting to furnish a home can afford to purchase by the roomful. In the September issue of Art and Antiques the editor, Paula Rackow, writes, " As the magazine continues to guide you in building your furniture and decorative arts collection, a new department will introduce you to practical alternatives, alerting you to the best reproductions on the market" In traditional and eclectic interiors, It is amazing how one well placed antique with good proportions, graining, details and patina can take the "newness" off a room of good reproduction furniture.
The rule of thumb for first purchases is to invest in a chest- the best chest you can afford. We live in such a mobile society, and, if you find yourself moving, the versatile chest can be used in almost any room of the house. The size of the chest is not so critical as it is for larger pieces such as dining room tables or sideboards which may be over or under scaled when moved to a different house.
Antique dining chairs and tables are some of the most sought after pieces . If budget dictates a choice, an antique dining table with reproduction chairs is a good combination. A table will stand up to more wear over time than the rear legs of good period chairs with “unsympathetic sitters“.
Antique furniture blends beautifully with the clean sparseness of contemporary interiors. The simple lines of Louis XVI, Directoire, Biedemeier and Queen Anne integrate perfectly with the clean but forceful lines seen in contemporary furniture. An ornately carved antique, by contrast, is elevated even more to a work of art in an interior of otherwise contemporary furniture where it may be the sole provider of elaborate decoration.
Commercial applications for antiques come at a time when the trend is for a more residential feeling in many workplaces as a result of the "hi-tech" - "high-touch" philosophy. Good pieces immediately give the impression of success and stability and balance the wealth of machinery in offices today. A small dining table makes a good size work desk and can be used in conjunction with a nearby chest for storage. Dresser bases can substitute for credenzas behind a desk and breakfast tables or medium size gatelegs are perfect for small conference tables. Unique lamps can be made from antique vases, urns, candlesticks or many other interesting items. Even if a room is well lit, a lamp sitting on a desk or end table gives off a warm incandescent light that counteracts the harshness of overhead fluorescents.
Other decorative accessories that have outlived their function can still be enjoyed by adapting them to more contemporary uses. For example, lap boxes once used for correspondence while traveling are works of art with beautiful graining, ornate marquetry or inlaid brass designs . The interior writing surface was usually covered in leather with gilt tooling around the perimeter and fitted with small "cubbies" for writing accessories such as pens and nibs. The more valuable lap boxes have secret spring loaded compartments. These boxes along with porcelain platters, and tole and papier mache trays can be enjoyed daily by displaying them on custom made stands and used as coffee and occasional tables.
Before you buy that antique ask yourself these questions. Is the piece the right style and scale for the room? Is the condition and age and amount of restoration reflected in the price? And finally, does it feed your soul?
*Published in NFocus magazine October 1998.