Home decor

Shopping for antiques

Follow these 7 simple advices when shopping for antiques to add to your decor

1 – Know what you like and ONLY buy what you like

One of the first mistakes everyone tends to make is to buy stuff you do not really like only because it seems to be a good deal. Antiques are rarely a real investment, though they tend to keep a better value than new pieces, and the best antiques will always be the best antiques. There are fads for antiques and collectibles. Buying when the demand is high means higher prices and lower prices when you decide to sell. Auctions are the worst: resist the impulse of buying (or try to). I know it well, I have been there.

The table is a French-Canadian century-old farm table found the attic of an antique dealer’s barn. We may have paid $100 for it. The chairs are authentic Windsor chairs from Massachusetts. We paid $1,000 35 years ago from a good antique dealer. One year after, he wanted to buy them back for $4,000. We said no. We love them and use them every day so they may have lost their resale price. We will not know. Being part of the family decor is the real value to us.

2- Antiques or vintage?

It’s not because it’s old that it is antique. The official term is usually reserved for something at least 100 years old and of unique value. The more recent stuff is vintage, which is ok. Both may be collectible. Or popular for the style it provides, like the renewed interest for mid-century furniture and pottery. Or you may prefer vintage because it may be cheaper. Fine again. But not always, and the value depends of what others are willing to pay. Items that used not be considered as antiques, folk art for instance, are also being revisited and quite popular. If you thrift, visit flea markets or go to consignment stores, you’ll probably find more vintage than antiques. With the web, even sellers of vintage are more aware of the market value and demand higher prices these days. Garage sales or estate auctions with no reserves may be the last good options!

A century-old second-hand and fleamarket-find crock used as a vase and a folk-art stand from a regional antique store add a rustic charm to this corner, antiques or not.

3- Be aware of your needs and what you intend to do with your future acquisitions

Are they for every day use or for occasional display? Will the piece of furniture or dishes support the wear and tear of constant use? Do you want to shop for a complement to your decor or are you looking to build a collection? Or both? Your needs may change over time, but it’s necessary to ask these questions from time to time.

I started collecting French vintage Quimper faïence one stormy winter auction night (the best kind to bid on anything) when I won an 86 pieces set for … $150! At the time, most pieces could have been sold individually in antique stores. This tureen and the large plates I display on the opposite wall would have probably fetched more than what I paid for the lot. Some plates were chipped and more become so as we used the little men and little ladies as daily dishes when the children were young. Nowadays, we use them less and I occasionally add to the collection at flea markets or at consignment stores. Overall, they still are pricey even if they have lost so much of their resale value. The Quimper still has a special place in my cabinets, on my walls and in my heart.

4- It takes time and effort to know the value of antiques

Visiting reputable antique stores and online catalogues from famous auction houses may provide you with top values of the best quality of antique pieces. This does not mean you have to buy these, but you’ll be better equipped to understand why you may have to pay more for some antiques. Talk with antique dealers, visit museums, read books. Know that eBay and other online shops are not always reliable references in establishing values. Learn about marks and chops for ceramics, brands of potters and makers. Research the values and how to recognize antiques more easily or how to find the info when you need it. There is nothing bad about researching the web before swiping your credit card.

This very tall Japanese Imari ginger jar bearing a phoenix bird may be the real deal, if ever I take the time to have its Edo period authenticated by a specialist …or if ever I get tickets for the Antique Road Show! Meanwhile, handpainted Japanese pottery at auctions does not get high bids in my region, so the price I paid compared to a newer factory piece makes it still affordable, albeit on the pricey side.

5- Beware of reproductions

There are a lot of fakes out there. It may be easier to recognize older furniture than ceramics or paintings. If you decide to collect or spend a good amount of money (whatever it is, it’s your money), try reading about how to distinguish between fake and real. There are many good blogs or websites, including museums, experts and even eBay. Read the articles on specific subjects. For instance, older North American furniture will have dovetails, square nails, lovely hardware and original paint or finish. Stripped or restored pieces may look very good and have greater appeal but may value less. Look under chairs and tables, turn around dressers and pull out the drawers. Look for worn and scruff indications. A plywood bottom is never a good sign on a 18th century chest! Mind you, people are good at aging anything and everything! And a very good reproduction may sometimes serve you better.

Most of the pieces are Quebec’s original furniture in our dining room because we had an old stone farmhouse for 30 years. The farm table was in the house when we bought it and had painted legs. Now stripped, it does show better the richness of the wood. The chairs are reproductions because where you sit, you need comfort, sturdiness and height (old Canadian chairs were very low and stools would often be used around a long harvest table). As for the armed chair in the back, this one is probably an European antique – the same from Quebec would be 10 times (and more) the price. The rug is vintage Persian from an estate sale auction.

6- It’s not because you have one piece of antique that you are suddenly a collector

Resist the temptation of collecting for the sake of collecting. Having just a few cherished antiques is alright and you do not need to have every single pieces of flow blue or ironstone there are. Collectibles tend to make a better statement when displayed in a grouping and not scattered around the house. If you need it, you think it is affordable, you have the place for it, or it completes well your display or collection, then go for it. The real collectors are constantly weeding their collections to give place to better pieces. Getting too attached or obsessed is another dimension of collecting. Just sayin.

Collecting blue and white ceramics is fun and wonderful. These two small antique Chinese vases brought back from Vietnam are usually with their kinds on the master bedroom's mantel and displayed occasionally in the living room.

7- Eclectic is fine too

Period houses do not necessarily need period pieces exclusively. And antiques add personality and charm to any home, old or recent. It is nice to mix and match with newer pieces, from different origins or periods, as long there is a thread and some harmony in your home. After all you do not live in a museum. Collected pieces in the decor must represent who you are and your personality. Contained collections are better looking than spread and cluttered everywhere. Move your pieces from time to time in other spaces. And you do not have to show your possessions all at once. Think the Japanese way: displaying one piece part of the time, for a season for instance, makes you appreciate it better.

A decor moment in the entryway. A Georgian British oak dresser with a contemporary Indian mirror, a vintage basket and vintage Persian rugs. Art is a mix of original drawings, lithographs and watercolor. The chandelier is a newer reproduction from the Winterthur collection. A vintage Japanese ginger jar is on a stand at the entrance of the dining room while we glimpse two antique French Canadian period pieces.
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  1. April 11, 2020 at 7:18 am

    Really intetesting Celine! Thanks for all the great advice! I couldn’t see the pictures on my phone but I bet they’re lovely – I’ll try again tomorrow on my laptop. Happy Easter!

  2. Marijean Jenson
    April 18, 2020 at 4:09 pm

    Very interesting read Celine. Thank you!

  3. Karen Cozatt
    April 19, 2020 at 12:17 am

    This is a good article, Celine. I have antiques, vintage pieces, reproductions, pieces my husband made and some new pieces and I like the way they all look together. For some reason, I always seem to end up with glassware when I antique and thrift shop. What I need is more room to display things.