November 28, 2023

There’s always been a taste for antique furnishings. These days, a widely acquired taste.

Antiques are hot partly because of supply chain delays and higher prices for many custom or mass-market pieces. There’s also the public’s turn toward sustainability: Environmentally-conscious buyers are averse to throwaway furniture, and are trying to reuse and recycle.

And as always, pop culture plays a role. Period-specific shows like “Bridgerton,” “Downton Abbey” and “Outlander” have given the styles of bygone eras a romantic glow. “Mad Men” stoked a hot market in midcentury modern furniture. And designers cite renewed interest in ’70s and ’80s decor, too.

It’s all led to crowds of designers and regular people at auctions, antique shops and estate sales. Online platforms, like vintage furniture retailer Chairish and collectibles site 1stDibs, also say sales are up.

The good news from a design perspective is that it’s easy and trendy to blend antiques into any room and mix them with pieces from any era, designers say.

A classic 18th century cherry dresser might be given glamorous, brushed-copper modern handles. A curvy ’60s floor lamp might light a room wrapped in prim Laura Ashley wallpaper.

More 20th century vintage pieces are popping up, whether it’s a finely carved Edwardian side table, a Le Corbusier chaise, a Pop Art-era mirror, or something as charming and small as a vintage book or ceramic.

The variety of old stuff is swelling beyond the boundaries of “traditional” decor. And a mix creates interesting stories in a room.

Designers who became famous for expertly blending periods include Billy Baldwin, whom Architectural Digest called “America’s dean of interior decoration in the 1950s and 1960s.” He created swanky homes for society figures, and favored a mix of modern and antique furniture. Baldwin said an older piece “gives a room flavor.”

Jay Spectre, known for sleek, dramatic interiors, was enamored of Art Deco. And female decorators like Elsie de Wolfe and Sister Parish excelled at giving elegant, turn-of-the-century European furniture room to breathe in light-filled modern spaces.

Today, designer Kelly Wearstler, for instance, brings an adventurous style to homes as well as to boutique hotels.

“My aesthetic is about mixology; always something old and something new, raw and refined, masculine and feminine,” she says.

Georgia Zikas, a designer in West Hartford, Connecticut, says modern art and an achromatic rug create a nice foundation for mixed furniture styles and dispel any dowdiness.

An example of an easy update: One of Zikas’ clients had a beautiful pair of vintage, crystal, Waterford lamps from her mother. They replaced the dated pleated shades with crisp, white, tapered ones.

Regional accents

Different parts of the country seem to lean in certain directions concerning antiques.

“For example, in the South, where I’m based, French antiques are most coveted because of our historically French heritage,” says Lance Thomas, lead designer at Thomas Guy Interiors in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

“I’ve found that coastal cities like West Palm Beach in Florida, and Malibu in California, gravitate toward vintage and antique Italian contemporary pieces. The Midwest leans toward American antiques.”

Thomas says more clients than ever are asking for antiques. He and his team recently took a two-week buying trip to France to seek them out.

How to buy

If you’re purchasing antiques sight unseen, Thomas says, use a reliable auction site.

“There are some very good fakes, and reproductions that would fool even the most experienced buyers,” he says. “A reputable auction site will usually vet and list whether or not the item is authentic.”

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