Choosing Antiques

Antiques can add personality and charm to any home. When choosing antiques, you should always consider these things – condition, origin, workmanship, simplicity, rarity, and appearance. Since antiques are expensive, you want to make sure that the items you choose are worth the investment.

Antiques are a great way to add charm and personality to your home. You can buy expensive designer furniture, but it won’t have half as much value as a well-chosen, well-weathered antique piece. But value can be complicated, especially for first-time antique buyers. How can you tell at a glance if a piece of art has value, or whether it will work for your home?

Choosing antiques requires patience (you’ll have to dig through tons of stuff), an appreciation of history, and good visual taste. Antiques can be very expensive—sometimes more expensive than designer décor—so you want to make sure you’re making a good investment. Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing antiques to decorate your home.

1. Condition

When it comes to antiques, condition isn’t determined by the number of cracks and dents, the vibrancy of color, or how intact the finish is. It’s not uncommon for dealers to place more value on original damaged items than refurbished ones. Unfortunately, there’s no clear way of assessing an item’s condition. If you find something you like with a bit of damage, have it appraised by an expert. They’ll usually recommend repairs if they think it will increase the item’s value. Better yet, do your own homework: find an area of interest and get to know what makes an item valuable.

2. Origin

The origin (or ‘provenance’ as it’s called in the industry) of an antique piece has a great bearing on its value. An antique whose creator is known tends to have more value than one from an anonymous craftsman. Of course, pieces made by renowned creators will be far more valuable, although you may need documents to prove their provenance. It also helps to know the item’s history. Was it owned by the maker’s family for centuries? Was it used in a historical war? These little details add to the charm of the piece and make it more valuable.

3. Workmanship

Antiques don’t always have to be functional, but they do have to be well-made. When looking at an antique piece, try to picture the work that went into making it. Detailed gilting, sculpted knobs, and hand-painted décor all add to the workmanship value of an object. This is a common example of objects that lose value when repaired or reconditioned. A little damage on the original work is acceptable, as long as the art is still visible, but redoing the art using modern means can greatly bring down its value.

4. Simplicity

Interior designer John Saladino prefers what he calls “honest surfaces”—pieces with unpretentious forms and simple geometry. This particularly applies to antique furniture, which he says can be viewed as miniature architecture. Your antiques have to be easy to understand; otherwise they’ll only sit on your shelf, taking up space and not making a statement. You can go for bolder pieces, but make sure they have value and will look good with the rest of your décor.

5. Rarity

Antiques have little value if you can find them from just any shop. Look for unique pieces that are hard to duplicate. If you’re unsure, look around the shop: if there are pieces identical or similar to the one you’re holding, it’s probably not valuable. Be sure to take in the detail: a piece can be rare in form, color, age, or the material used. Look for subtle differences that just might be valuable. Rare pieces will be more expensive, but remember that their value increases over time.

6. Appearance

Since you’re decorating your home, it’s natural to look for things that look good at first glance. Not all people will appreciate the history and provenance of an object, but they’ll all recognize a beautiful piece for its face value. Before heading out to the shops take stock of your home décor and keep a mental image of it with you. Use it as reference for choosing antiques: if it will look good on your shelf, then it’s definitely a good choice.