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Have Fun Furnishing with Antiques


Whether it’s a treasured family heirloom, a piece overflowing with history, or the item you couldn’t pass up on an afternoon hunt, an antique surely will be the focal point of any room – assuming it’s properly placed, of course.

“Old wood has a warm look due to years of exposure to air and sunlight, which is impossible to replicate,” says Carol Lehman, manager of Stevens Antiques in Frazer.

Perhaps another attraction for furnishing with antiques is that we relate them to precious memories of our youth. I can still picture Thanksgiving dinner seated around Nana’s expanded drop-leaf cherry table and eating from her “special” china she so carefully removed from the adjacent mammoth hutch. That great cherry piece was definitely the center of her dining room. A smaller corner cupboard provided a nice complement. I can even still remember what was in some of the drawers … .

OK, enough digressing. So how can you tactfully adorn a room with antiques?

“Oftentimes, what works well is in proportion to the space where it is used and in a style compatible with the home’s architecture,” Lehman says. “One or two larger pieces are much more effective than six small items in the same space. Lining furniture up against the wall is B-O-R-I-N-G! Also keep in mind that every room demands something tall.”

Lynda Petrov Williams, owner of King Street Traders and Fine Art Gallery in Malvern, adds, “An antique is usually one of a kind, so surely it will add a third dimension to predictable room design.”


Don’t Delay

The worst mistake you can make is not buying something you absolutely love.

“We always suggest customers buy what they like,” Lehman says. “When they do, they can always find the perfect place for it. Life is like that.”

“We hear the same story a lot,” Lehman continues. “Folks regret not buying something they admired here 10 or 15 years ago, and remember it with great detail. It’s a life lesson learned the hard way.”

Can I ever relate to buyer’s remorse. I once found the bedroom suite of my dreams but delayed buying it because it was a little more than I wanted to pay. When I inquired about it later on, it was sold. I still think about it to this day and can envision all of its beautiful curves and light maple hues. It would have paid for itself several times over in the time I’ve spent since then continuing my search.

Many of Lehman’s first-time customers are replacing “store bought” furniture that wasn’t made to last. Particle board and assemble-it-yourself furniture pops into my mind. Or, they have moved into a larger home that screams for quality furnishings. They’ve developed a sense of style through life experiences. “Usually they start with one piece and in the following months, return to buy more because of its positive response,” Lehman says.

Adds Petrov Williams, “A magnificent piece of art or furniture can certainly dazzle by itself. However, when complemented by other pieces in the room it can warm the environment, place emphasis away from the not-so-perfect, and make a wonderful statement of colors and shapes playing off each other.” And so the “collection” begins … .


What’s Old is New

Another way to incorporate an antique into an existing look is to transform it or use it for a function other than its original intent. Get those creative juices flowing!

Here are a few ideas from Lisa Vonderstuck, owner of Brandywine View Antiques in Chadds Ford.

  • Place a piece of soapstone on top of a Victorian washstand and use as a vanity sink.
  • Use a blanket chest as a coffee table or bench seat.
  • Rework an old boat oar into a curtain rod for a nautical theme.
  • Convert a corbel or column into a lamp stand.
  • Use a drop leaf table when guests visit; place it behind a sofa in the interim.

Take note of your furniture’s existing style when looking to seamlessly integrate antiques, Vonderstuck advises. For example, in a formal room, add mahogany furniture or Duncan Phyfe style (popular in 1930s and 1940s). For a country look, choose a pine jelly cupboard for an entertainment center, armoire, dry sink, or bar. Soften an industrial look (think stainless steel appliances) in the kitchen with old wooden milk boxes or sap buckets filled with kitchen essentials.

Finding the Right Piece

If you’re looking for a particular antique or have decided to collect a certain style, choose a dealer who already carries pieces you admire. Developing a relationship with a dealer will work to your advantage.

“Dealers are a wealth of information and are usually quite happy to share their knowledge and advice,” Petrov Williams says. “Showing a dealer your space by photographing it can also help to solve design issues. Why not try a piece on approval?” What a cool concept!

Many dealers will gladly add you to their “wish list” and keep you in mind when sorting through possible inventory or even attempt to hunt down your prized item. Again, if you can provide a photo of your desired antique, even better!

Spending a day antiquing can be a great adventure. Adamstown is the antiques capitol of Pennsylvania. Here you’ll find Renninger’s Market, with more than 300 individual booths indoors open Sundays 7:30am to 4pm. An outdoor area is flurrying with activity before the sun comes up. The Brandywine area is also a great place to hunt antiques, with a variety of shops scattered about the countryside. Googling the name of your town of residence or destination followed by “antiques” likely will reveal a list of shop choices as well.

Happy hunting!