A Design Historian’s Take on Why You Should Be Buying Antiques Now (Hint: Your Wallet Will Thank You)

published Oct 7, 2016
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(Image credit: Breanne Johnsen)

There’s been a lot of press about antiques lately, but not the stories we’re so used to reading. It’s not been news about record-setting prices or celebrity auctions; it’s been articles about millennials’ lack of interest in collecting. While dealers try to engage young collectors and museums court a youth that’s interested in contemporary art, baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are left wondering what to do with all the belongings they’ve amassed, none of which the kids want (well, most kids, at least).

It’s ironic, really, that the boomer generation of the minimalist midcentury period collected so rigorously; today’s under 40 set embraces the minimalist spirit more fully with a digital, no-stuff existence. However, and regardless of your generation, why not enjoy this moment for what it is: a lull in the market. With the rage for antiques falling flat, now is the time for some incredible buys. I’m certainly taking full advantage.

(Image credit: Natalie Jeffcott)

As a regular hunter of all things storied, I’ve learned a few things about where the true treasures are buried. Though you should always explore all of your options (antiques shops, auctions and online sources), there’s no better place to find extraordinary deals than at estate sales—a now booming business as families look to unload housefuls of furnishings.

A quick search and a few clicks will bring up local listings and most estate sale companies provide photos that will help you decide which houses you want to visit. If you crave crème de la crème selections, go early, or hold off until the last day for the best prices. I’m fortunate to live in a city (Los Angeles) with no shortage of luxury neighborhoods, so the pickings are especially plentiful. Beautiful old homes in Beverly Hills and Hollywood often double as architecture tours and have revealed such treasures as actress Marjorie Lord’s 1820s pearlware tea service, all for a mere $10. Made by the English pottery Dawson & Co., a single tea bowl runs $65 from one British dealer.

Along the way, I’ve spotted an amazing range of 19th-century items: Persian rugs still in beautiful condition; gilded mirrors; candlesticks of all types in singles and in pairs; rows of leather-bound books; silhouette portraits; Imari and majolica wares; even a complete Victorian bedroom suite inlaid with floral marquetry. It’s worth noting that you’ll likely be in good company as you shop. I’ve elbowed my way past some of L.A.’s best-known interior designers at many a house sale.

“As a regular hunter of all things storied, I’ve learned a few things about where the true treasures are buried.”

(Image credit: Ana Kamin)

The key is knowing what to look for in terms of quality and age—caveat emptor, always—but the lovely thing about estate sale-ing is that no matter what you bring home, you always come away with memories. Most of my adventures are on Saturday mornings with my husband and our dog. We stop for a bite and run a few errands, and suddenly we’ve done what my parents always encouraged: making memories. I can pick up any purchase and instantly recall the house it came from and even where we had lunch the day we bought it.

The pleasure of collecting is beyond the object itself. It’s in the hunting, the surprises and the memories. So until millennials start wanting granny’s whatnots, gather your friends, explore your cities and see what there is to see. It’s your own marche aux puces without the flight to Paris. Laugh. Gasp at funny finds. Instagram everything. As you fill your cupboards and your iCloud, you might just find you feed your soul.