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July 01, 2013

In with the old

Decorating with antiques is an emerging trend that never left

Kathy McCormick

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One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

That’s never been as true as it is when you are talking about home décor — but the way people decorate homes today is much different than the traditional antique collector in Mother’s day. Long-gone are the fussy groupings of small collectables, the priceless displays of porcelain figurines, and the beautiful tapestry design on the rigid, uncomfortable chair in the sitting room.

Also out of style is the ‘shabby-chic’ distressed bureaus and tables that are often painted to look rustic, with sponged or ‘ragged’ walls to match.

Not to say those fashions are wrong — many people still love those looks. But today’s homeowners are trending toward sleek, contemporary looks that are even minimalist. No fuss; no muss. No worry about having a house full of dust collectors to worry about.

The popularity today of the many television shows revolving around seeking out and finding unusual treasures, whether it’s through garage sales, antique stores, auctions, storage lockers, pawn shops, or flea markets, has raised the profile of antiques once again. But this time, the treasures are different — and the uses of those things in the home have changed, say some of the experts in the field.

“Antiques are coming back fast and furious,” says Terry Dixon, owner of the largest and very popular antique store Sentimental Journey Antiques, part of the antique walk in Nanton, Alberta, and the new Iron Crow antique store in Calgary.

“People appreciate heritage more now, and they want statement pieces, not just knick-knacks.”

The key is repurposing.

“Some of the most popular and sought-after items right now are industrial pieces and also rustic, primitive pieces,” says Heather McCormick, founder of Rus Vintage — a business that has a unique approach as well. Rus Vintage rents unique pieces for backdrops for anything from weddings, to photo shoots, movies, or events. It’s a great way to make a statement without the cost of buying.

“These unique pieces are tougher to find and require thinking outside the box,” she says. For example, metal dental cabinets from the 1920s that are slightly rusted are now used as a hutch in a sleek, modern dining room.

“Incorporating something like this into your décor can really give your space a sense of history and warmth without being too stuffy or precious,” McCormick says. “The tension of rustic against modern can’t be beat and all it takes is a couple of interesting finds to really amp up the character of a space.”

Architectural items are also in hot demand, says Dixon, whose Iron Crow shop in Calgary is a bit different than the Nanton store. You’ll find everything from an authentic 150-year-old hand-carved canoe, to some old gas pumps and more traditional antiques.

“People look for things like general store dried-goods counters, big plank tables that they’ll use for islands; they’ll make vanities of old side boards.”

It’s all about finding something unique and using it differently and you have an instant focal point that’s economical since you only need that one special piece to show off your style.

Folk art is another hot item today, says Dixon. “People are interested today in that one conversation piece — not a cheesy, mass-produced item.”

Decide what your taste and style are and how and where you want to incorporate the items, says Rick Koftinoff, who is the auctioneer and owner of Rick’s Auction Galleries, which has an antique and estate auction the last Wednesday of every month at 6 p.m. and weekly Wednesday auctions the rest of the month. “Then you set a price range and you can go for it when you see it.”

Retro is another wanted item these days, says Koftinoff.

“Looking for antiques takes time,” says McCormick. “Half of the fun is the thrill of the hunt — but it doesn’t provide the instant gratification of walking into a store and leaving with what you were looking for that day. It just takes dedication and repeat visits to antique stores, scouring online sites like Kijiji, and visits to auctions.”

Don’t rule out picking through barns and garages of relatives, if they’re downsizing. Outdoor sales and flea markets in the U.S. have a great variety of pieces that you might not find anywhere else, but they require transport back.

The key is to do the research to know what to look for, how to pick out quality, and what prices are reasonable. Pricing is one question that comes up ­ and one that is hard to judge. It depends on the piece, its rarity, its quality, the demand for it, and the place where it is selling. Some areas just generally might charge more than other areas, just because of the popularity of antiques and the buyers living there.

Watch those many TV shows, visit antique stores and compare, look online, go to auctions.

“Always think what you want the piece for,” says McCormick. “Are you just looking to add character or are you looking for a collector’s piece that can be verified as authentic and from a specific period? Look closely at joints on drawers and layers of paint to determine if a piece is truly old or just looks old, if that’s important to you.”

If that isn’t important to you, and you love it, that’s all that matters.

Some repairs, refinishings and recovering can be done at home, but some is best left to the pros, especially if it is an authentic piece. “If you want some guidance on refinishing older pieces in a  fresh way, consider attending classes at a place such as Lauren Lane Décor where you can take an evening or weekend class to learn how to recover and repaint using proper technique,” says McCormick.

“Antiques stores have a great variety and you can look, touch and feel the pieces,” says Dixon. “Staff is knowledgeable and able to help.”

Auction sales may have great buys, but it is buyer beware, so you need to check the pieces out ahead of time and set a limit to the amount you want to pay, so you don’t get caught up in the excitement of bidding against someone.

Auctions take time — something that a lot of people don’t have these days, says Koftinoff. “But many people come for the entertainment value and the social atmosphere.”

Auctions are fun — and those who are looking for something unique and a bargain, may just find it.

Flea markets, garage sales and the like take time and lots of patience. You may find incredible bargains — but you may never find what you originally wanted.

And if it’s just a one-off event, consider renting, says McCormick. “All it takes is a few special items to make it a memorable event that feels much more personal. Again, think outside the box with things like a unique, antique dresser as a dessert or candy bar.”

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