Antiques evoke many reactions from people, eliciting a comment as simple as, “I grew up with that,” or, “My Grandmother had one of those.” Whatever our response, antiques have been around for centuries, and furniture that appears antique, to even those of us with tremendous knowledge will refer to something having been made a century ago, as a reproduction.
I’m gratified that antiques have started to sneak back into the hearts of many because, for a long time, they began to lose favor. However, I believe most seasoned designers have always used them in their interiors as a way to give a home desired character and soul, as well as a collected, nurtured presence to the space. Wherever the origin, and whatever the purpose, each piece offers up itself and its past to a much more modern world. By the way, antiques are not represented by just furniture, but also by accessories and lighting - both large and small. I personally have a home filled with outstanding antique pieces that I have collected and put into every room. I love them, not only for their look but also for their function. From the start, and my earliest quests to furnish my home, I was usually able to afford the antique far sooner than a new piece with less character or purpose. I enjoy the history that is packed into each one, these pieces tell a story without even knowing from whence they came.
I follow many designers on Instagram, and love their excitement when sharing a find from an estate sale or flea market that dramatically changes their personal space or that of a client! Another great thing? Antiques provide instant gratification when shopping local. No ordering required. There is a seemingly never-ending supply of homes that are full of great stuff when homeowners are downsizing and moving to smaller homes that are more easily managed. Be aware of estate sales, boutiques, and antique stores . . . and, always be on the hunt.
A dear friend of mine, Toma Clark Haines, “The Antiques Diva,” hails from Oklahoma, and has mastered the worldwide antique industry with her intensity and knowledge of antiques, as well as her expertise in her ability to source them. Her one true intention is to make people aware of the “gold” that comes from living with and loving antiques. I would never want to stop my constant quest for the things I love. That’s part of what makes me a maximalist. The rest of this story I’m turning over to Toma, to allow her to take you on the journey of how she does it.
Antiques are another way of traveling. They transport you to other times and other places allowing you to experience how other people lived. An American by birth, I’ve lived overseas my entire adult life moving to Paris at 25 - living five years in Paris, five in Amsterdam, eight in Berlin. I currently reside in Venice.
As a child growing up in rural Oklahoma, each night we ate dinner with the antique silverware my great grandparents brought over with them on the boat coming from Britain to America. As we would eat, I would imagine the lives this cutlery had seen. The dinner conversations they had overheard, the mouths they had fed, the tables where they were sat. And it sparked my imagination.
As an adult when I first moved to Paris at 25, my first weekend living in France, I set off to the Paris Flea Market. As I would travel in Europe wherever I went, I sought out local flea markets and antique districts. This was my version of cultural cruising - exploring a culture through shopping for pieces from the past. When we understand the past, we understand the present, and it prepares us for the future.
At first, I shopped for myself. I wanted my home to represent who I was, where I had been, what inspired me. But as I began decorating, my home friends began asking me to help them buy antiques for their home. Before long friends of friends were asking me to help them source, and almost by accident, a business was born. As a joke one day in the Paris Flea Market - the exact moment I secured a friend an unheard-of discount (40% off) - a champagne cork popped and as a joke I quipped, “And that’s why they call me ‘The Antiques Diva.’” I had a shopping sack in one hand, champagne glass in the other.
Initially, the dream was to write a book, but when 2008 struck the book project was killed. Dreams are a funny thing - had I achieved my dream at that time I wouldn’t have achieved my destiny. I failed forward. I had already begun blogging, and readers of the blog had begun asking if I would take them on antique buying tours.
What started as a 1 one-woman company quickly grew because I realized what I didn’t know. I surrounded myself with a team who knew more than I did. Today I offer
one-on-one customized antique buying tours in Europe, Asia, and America, working with a team of 31 people in 16 countries. We are the world’s largest company offering an antique sourcing service. Working with both the public and trade, we help clients buy antiques. We translate, negotiate, and liaise clients with third-party shippers.
The number one rule for buying antiques is to buy what you love. When it comes to pricing for antiques, price is subjective. Always negotiate. The discount amount depends on where you are - you may get 5%, you may get 25%. The best way to get a discount is to simply ask, “Is that your best price?.” The right price is the price you paid. If you love it, you’ll never regret your purchase regardless of what you paid. Check for quality when sourcing antiques. There are subtle signs. Heavier chairs often indicate they are older. Hand carving versus machine cut indicates both quality and age. Check hinges on drawers.
Are they glued, dovetailed, or nailed? When buying antiques you want to touch and feel them - get to know the piece. You’ll often be surprised. Did you know about the hidden drawers in Secretaries? Is there a maker’s mark? The best thing about antiques is the patina! I often joke to clients, “Don’t point out the imperfections to an antique dealer or they’ll charge you double!.” Just as we get wrinkles and gray hair as we get older, pieces get patina and you’re paying for the timeworn texture. Do ask your dealer questions! Most antique dealers are in this industry because they love their profession. Ask the age, where it comes from, what it was used for, what type of wood it is (or other material), its country of origin. Afterall when you’re buying antiques - you’re not buying mass-produced items - you’re buying a story.
A Last Word from Rich
Toma has the job I could only dream of. Her extensive knowledge is truly remarkable, and her passion is only second to being an amazing mentor! My one true desire is to take her up on the irresistible invitation to “house sit” her cats, Feona and Fortuny, in that fabulous Venice apartment. Her website is below if you’d like to know more!
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Rich Schell Interiors
1731 Mt. Washington Avenue
Colorado Springs, CO 80905
Toma Clark Haines is “The Antiques Diva.”
CEO/Founder of The Antiques Diva & Co - the world’s largest antiques touring company. Offering services in Europe, Asia, and America. Ad&co also offers a training and mentoring program for antique dealers.