By LESLIE LINSLEY Citizen Columnist
I am currently busy with several writing assignments. For one of the magazine assignments, I was asked to write about an up and coming prestigious antique and designer show representing exhibitors from all over the country.
For this I had to interview lots of knowledgeable people about the topic. I decided not to cover it in a reporting sort of way, but to ask the question that's been floating in the air for quite a while: "Why should we buy antiques?" With the current trend toward everything new, where do antiques fit into the picture? It's a question many interior designers get asked and have been forced to address.
Last year, I was invited to a luncheon that included a round table of several people involved in this particular show. They included designers, antique dealers, head of a historical museum and me, I guess because I could report on the findings.
The purpose of the luncheon was to talk about the education of why it's important to collect, furnish and respect antiques, especially as they relate to the history of where you live. Do we have a responsibility to respect the past? If you live in an early home with a history relating to the island, how does this impact on the way you furnish your home? Both Key West and Nantucket have similar seafaring roots.
So, why should we buy antiques?
Some of the reasons offered are: the best of the old is beautifully made; it has lasting quality; it speaks of the homeowners' integrity; and it connects us to the past. It isn't just early homes that benefit from good pieces such as an antique dresser, a gilt-carved mirror frame, or a folkart whirligig in a modern setting that infuses the room with character.
One longtime antique dealer in early American folkart, George Korn from both Key West and Nantucket, said, "The antique world is changing and dealers have to be aware of this. The new, younger homeowners aren't interested in historic items, so it's up to the designers and dealers to present them in a new and updated way. An antique map, for example, can be framed in a simple, sleek modern frame rather than one that is ornately carved."
Another dealer said, "This is a good time to buy antiques as they are affordable. They will only go up in value."
An interior decorator of some stature added, "When you buy an antique piece, you buy once. It never has to be replaced. What you buy now can only go up in value."
A young woman who is in the business with her mother and has young children likes antiques because she did not have to baby her antiques. "I never worry about the kids harming it. This furniture was built to last."
Furniture with nicks and scars has a history, and you can only imagine generations past who have lived with it and enjoyed it, said another attendee. "They give it character."
A designer who is ecology-conscious had the opinion that a healthy home is the ultimate luxury. Antique furniture was created with less toxic products years ago. Wood pieces made before the 21st century were constructed with timber growth rings that simply don't exist today, enhancing its value as a treasured collectible.
My friend, Kathleen Hay, who is also a designer, feels antiques are the new stars of the environmentally conscious "green" movement. She recommends using old items in new ways: a garden statuary is unexpected indoors, and a reclaimed architectural remnant, or piece of furniture can be the start of your design plan. Accessories like early signs can infuse a room with interest.
Another link to the past in a community like Key West is to collect art from local living artists as well as from the past. My friend and artist Deborah Goldman has two remarkable Mario Sanchez paintings, and in my Nantucket home, I am proud to exhibit two paintings by Jack Baron that I bought when I interviewed him for my first book on Key West houses. Every time I look at them, I am right back there. This is what happens to many collectors of antique pieces. We remember the experience of the purchase.
I once interviewed a young couple in their Brooklyn duplex. There was not a stick of "real" furniture in the living room except for a very small Shaker desk. Hanging on the wall over the desk, and the reason for my visit, was an impressive early American hooked rug. And under the table was an Indian basket. I was working on a book about American-hooked rugs.
When I asked the young woman how long they'd lived in the apartment she said, "three years." She then went on to explain that they would eventually find the money for a sofa and other basics, but these antique pieces were a prize find that they might never justify buying again.
It said so much about them -- a reason to believe, antiques are for all ages.
Leslie Linsley has written more than 50 books on crafts, decorating and home style. She resides on Nantucket with her husband, photographer Jon Aron, and has a store that specializes in her creations. Her latest book is "Key West, a Tropical Lifestyle" (Monacelli Press) with photos by Terry Pommett.