How to Decorate With Antiques, Part 1

For some the thought of living with ‘old things’ is repellent, but for those who’ve experienced the richness afforded by a well-selected and smartly placed antique, the experience is more thrilling than traumatizing.
For as long as humans have been surrounding themselves with furnishings it has been understood that without the balancing influence of the past the future, and all its bright, slick and shiny newness, can make for a rather flat and uninteresting living environment.

To better understand your relationship with antiques decide which of the following groups best describe your relationship with antiques:

1. Staunch Modernist – Can’t bear to live with anything made earlier than 2000
2. Mixer and Matcher – Currently living with 50% new and 50% antique pieces in a well-balanced compilation
3. Time Machine – My home is literally a blast from the past where everything is old, older and oldest.

I’ve always believed home decorating should be a freeing experience so the idea of becoming a slave to any of the above, broad approaches to using antiques in a home, should be avoided. As Shakespeare famously said, “To thy own self be true” and this carries weight in the home as well as in the areas of interpersonal relationships. Another way to put this is, in the context of what you choose to surround yourself with, is “know what makes you happy”. If stark minimalism is your thing then attempting to surround yourself with the trappings of a richly detailed antiques filled interior will prove most unsatisfying and thus should be avoided. But know this too. I’ve never seen a more successfully realized minimal interior that has not had at least one rich flourish, usually a fine, sculptural antique. Sometimes that one piece helps put the surrounding pieces into perspective in a way not possible without its embellished reference to the past. Know too that the inverse is true too. Once starkly elegant modern piece slipped into a room layered with historically prejudiced pieces can cause all those antiques to be seen in a light impossible on their own account.

In the world of music we see the truth of “point and counterpoint” illustrated most fully. One element cannot exist to its fullest potential without the balancing properties of its “counterpoint”.

So as we consider our personal relationship with the idea of living with antiques we’ve launched ourselves into the much larger discussion that includes what type of pieces make sense for our lives, budget and long-term collecting goals. Understanding each of these facets will help us understand the best steps we can take to bring into our lives the beauty and historical perspective offered by antiques. They can also relieve any guilt associated with the subject. Just because people around you love (or hate) antiques neither represents a defining “must” for you.

Know yourself first and the right pieces will follow.

In the next article on antiques we’ll look more closely at 5 distinct approaches to buying and living with antiques and what you can expect with each. I hope you’ll check out this ongoing conversation.

Mary J. Gibson

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