Archive for the Antiques Category

Care of Antiques (or Skip the Pledge!)

Posted in Antiques with tags on April 19, 2010 by dutchnduchess

Antiques owners often wonder how to care for their furniture made of beautiful patinized wood.  The short answer is ‘very carefully’. Ask yourself which commercial products were around when this furniture was made you can quickly self-diagnose the best way is an old, simple way.  First rule,  “Skip the ‘Pledge” or any commercial cleaner you find at most supermarkets for that matter.  If you have cleaning staff, you’ll want to give clear instructions.  Remove entirely any supply of commercial cleaners, or tape a handwritten reminder around the can whicm  might save hours of restoration woes later. The best way to  maintain a wooden surface is  to regularly dust with a soft cloth or feather duster and periodically wax it with a bit of elbow grease–like a once-a-year routine.  Just before  holiday is a good time to get things sparkling for upcoming gatherings  It takes years for a ‘patina’  or natural aging of wood to occur. This  cannot be duplicated although ruthless traders attempt such.   If in Belgium or the Low Countries use bees wax or paste wax from a local ‘menusier’ and if in the US  try, Johnson’s floor paste wax.

If furniture is placed in an enviroment with ‘dry air’  devise a way to create moisture. For example, when wooden furniture is placed near a radiator or other warm spot,  fill a small bowl with water and place inside if possible or if on legs, place it underneath. This will help to supply moisture and delay formation of cracks caused by drying of porous woods. Cracking  is  inevitable in pieces with  woods abutted as in construction with planks like table tops, or in which a different wood is  used as an underpining   than that on the outside of the furniture (veneers). Veneers are usually made of a more expensive wood or from a section of a tree with a particularly decorative effect –and all shrink at theirown tempo.

Placing wooden furniture in a sundrenched room may over time bleach areas of the furniture most penetrated  by direct, bright rays. Just as for  a good gardener, care instructions and amount of  sunlight are important matters when positioning furniture in rooms with windows and southern orientation (strongest sun).  Take note if other objects in the room cast shadows to forecome  odd patterns surfacing over time. This also can be avoided by  moving the furniture to a different location that would change the light orientation and lessen tendency of bleaching.  To remedy bleached areas, the furniture color can be corrected but no tby spots. The whole piece is brought to equal neutrality and then re-stained, which may compromise the original patina and can effect the valuation.

If the wood cracks, let a professional woodwork restorer make recommendations, especially if the surface is French polished. It is not a job for an amateur, as many variables can mar perfect intentions:  movement. timing , dust , lack of enduring muscle power — any of these can  cause the shellac to bloom or  unexpectedly turn white in sections and the process has to be started from scratch after first removing the layers completed. Ouch!  A professional job will last for years but there comes a time when the shellac has turned , or scratches have penetrated it beyondtouch up level. If this is the case, it is best to leave this job to someone not only trained, but with an experienced hand. Some styles of furniture require a high gloss finish typical of the period. ”French polishing’. The only correct way of application is by hand, in figure eight patterns, tediously building up over 36 layers to an almost mirror sheen. Be careful, there are restorers who claim to provide  this service and use spray cans! Such finishes will have a rough, minute bubbly surface, quite visible without magnification.
French style pieces will often have metal ornamentation or “ormulu” and it should also be regularly dusted. Use a soft toothbrush to reach intricate grooves and passages.  Often the top surface will be of marble which can only break if dropped or with high impact knocks.  Use a  soft , moist cloth to wipe and restore its natural luster, avoiding all commercial cleansers with pumice or fine grity  substance, as used for marble  floors.

For textiles and upholstery, a little water delicately applied immediately and dabbed dry with a colorless plushy cloth or towel, works wonders to remove or minimize  even the worst of stainmakers like red wine and coffee.  When possible, pre-test  an indescriminate area to prevent irrevocable watermarking before tackling large areas.   For luxury fabrics, (ie. silk, raw silk, linen, wool, cashmere and specialy dyed products) consult the internet or deliver to a local drycleaner with exact information aou the spill as soon as possible.  The best method to forecome mishaps is to proactively anticipate mishaps and apply a commercially available protective coating such as “Scotchgard”.

Finally,  if the furniture is relocated in a household move, you might want to make sure that that written instructions accompany new ownership, including any special assembly notes, (i.e.pegged doors, secret compartments fittings,  etc.). Photography, videos and eventually dvd  can be very useful for movers or new owners

The golden rule of thumb for d-i-y lovers who contemplate projects with showpiece antiques is  –when in doubt , don’t. You would be wise to at least consult a professional before indulging in unknown territory that can result in countess hours of  ‘corrective surgery’.  Don’t do anything in a hurry. Antiques take a lot of abuse but proper care on a timely basis insures their true glory will  shine illustriously for many years to come.


The Un-Distructible

Posted in Antiques with tags on April 19, 2010 by dutchnduchess

Taste is as evolutionary as it is individual and it changes with lifestyle.

Picture this:As a child, growing up in a flat in Amsterdam, space was at a premium and  I wasn’t allowed to have a lot of toys and projects displayed at one time. Things  had to be in order if we had guests unexpectedly or by invitation. As an only child, I probably spent more time around adults than children with siblings.  I matured faster than many of  my peers and moved out of my parents home at an early age. I remember thinking how I definitely did not want dark, old furniture dominating my living space ( like many of my relatives and parents had).  I went with an oversized white leather sofa suite  in a rather small scale space, typical of Dutch architecture , minimalist walls and a huge  arc lamp, with trajectory swiveling  360 degrees but usually positioned to fall over a glass topmammoth /marble base  coffee table — Any other space  was consumed by stereo equipment to balance out my headbanger heaven.

I can always relate to clients who come to us with desire to make a transition in their decor that involves adding antiques to a relatively modern environment.  I enjoy furniture without apparent history as well as those in which I am profoundly enlightened by well-documented provenance that is connected to a particular style, name or manufacturer.   And oh yes,  my taste has changed. I have to admit to having some of the ‘dark’ furniture at which I once so proudly scoffed!

Many newlyweds start out with ‘early attic’ and when kids come along, they decide to keep it for a while or not add anything to maximize playspace. My parents were in their thirties when they married and created me. Their decor reflected an appreciation inherited showpieces and mature taste. All are happy as the ‘little sprouts’ toddle and bump and fall as carefree and innocent as childhood allows.  Later, we stroll through labarinth of disposable, trendy furniture like Ikea, and antiques is a word that fades out of our decorating vocabulary for a while. Why is this? 

William Morris believed simple philosophy was that a home should only be filled with the beautiful or the functional. Why not from the very beginning? If  ‘ little sprout’  takes a magic marker to a 300 year old trunk , it’s wood.  Just remove the marker bits and re-stain the area. It may even add extra character and until little sprout takes his/her art to safer surfaces. And if s/he wants to crawl on top of it,  it won’t hurt.  It’s a survivor of hundreds of years already. Scuffs? been there done that , Heavy marks and nicks? BTDT too. I just have one magical word  to say to you…

Patina!  It’s what makes or breaks the beauty and ‘story’ of your antique piece.  It’s miracle is that it has survived so much already, there’s little you can do that won’t add to it accumulated ‘character’.  So don’t hold back –start enjoying the world of collecting when the bug bits you.  There are some good bets that although pricey on the front end will save you money and even increase in value for you in the longer term. If you are a young parent considering a transition in your decor to  ‘real furniture’ that can withstand teething marks and magic markers here are some tips  you might find helpful:

Look for indestructible pieces of solid construction out of pure woods not MDF or other composites that cannot sustain water or damp and simply are not lasting.

Trunk lids can translate to smashed fingers, so bungy cord the trunk or cover it, when Testoster Ronny is in the room.  If you have the luxury of keeping antiques in their special room, still bungee cord it unless its in bright sunlight,  which over time can  create  subtle to stark strapmarks.  One grandmother turned her trunk upside down for about a year, and put cloth on it, untill it was ‘safe’ for grandkids to be around it. 

When you have ‘big people’ over it will be easy for children to model  appropriate behavior with several attentive watchers in the room to monitor and firmly  instruct.  Kids learn faster than you think. It will be more a problem with visiting children than with your own before you know it.  A good way to teach small children is to stage a little tea party just with them, kind of like a dress rehearsal before ‘company’ comes. Let them get involved in everything, handwritten invites, dressing up, picking out what to serve and on what, etc.  Use apple juice in coffee cups for example — so they get used to the idea of seeing  ‘big peoples’ cups and saucers.  Have some kids topics to talk about and keep the time short so it doesn’t exaust their attention span. Reward their behaviour by change of clothes and wild and raucous play where  this is allowed.

Acquire things that you can hang up high. By the time toddlers grow up to it, they know what it is. Consider Flemish mirror for example. (separate topic in sidebar). 

Oak, dark , rustic pieces can withstand markers and stroller bumps best.  Some parents never remove things like this because its part of growing up and becomes part of the story of the furniture or amusing  family anecdotes.

Another good addition is an antique bed for kids.  Sadly, most antique beds are perfectly sized for kids and the smaller scale will give their room more play space. The styles are quite variable and the construction is of solid wood , which is very durable and can be restored easily in later stadium. Unlike other choices, you’ll retain value and as child matures, the bed can be re-invested when child wants to exert his or her taste.

Accessories like wooden ship winches,  antique croquet balls, cigar moulds are pretty indestructible and can’t be swallowed. They add little touches of character and converstaion pieces , and provide great excuses to amuse children with history, enrich their study experiences, relate to family travels.

Any search engine will spit out an endless list of actions in attempt to childproof a home in general. Not all circumstances are controllable all of the time as kids constantly remind us. Starting early to show your appreciation for antique and collectibles might be one of the nicest gifts your family will share in more ways than one.  If your taste changes, don’t be shy. There’s a myriad of things to collect that fit all purses. Go with your heart desire and start tracking the marvelous!  It will provide a lot of fun and enrichment as the family explores the markets together and can enjoy the rich history of these wonderful pieces.

Can Antiques Survive Kids

Posted in Antiques, Tracking the Marvelous with tags , , , on May 22, 2009 by dutchnduchess

As a dealer I often  meet couples with young children who seek a solution to be able to have antiques and children in the same household.  What advice is there to successfully manage this ?

We change things all the time? whether it’s  tires on a car or seasonal clothing or bigger things like homes.  The first step is consider  ridding oneself of unwanted inventory. Have a look at what you’ve got that might reap any proceeds and parlay them large or small into the antiques budget. Coordination is not always perfect, but luckily you don’t have to do all at once.  With online auctions, free listings and a company bulletin board or two, this task has become a lot easier.

The next step is to inform yourself along the way. This can be done by aesthetics or pure function or both. Antiques don’t have to dominate a decor. Start small and have fun with the historical background of items. Some of them are quite fascintating and tell a story how life was in a different time.  This can be a wonderful event to share with children, who sometimes become fascinated with with  history as a subject in school or find reason to visit a museum or adapt ideas easier by relating to progression of development . Collectors come in all shapes and sizes as well what they collect. Many of the experts on popular  programs about antiques confess their interest grew from early exposure that fascinated their interests or attached them to a loved one with fondness and enthusiasm. It’s something the whole family can do, as there is adequate subject matter and items to please everyone.

As far a furniture goes, we all have our early attic or early American dorm room decor. It can be liberating as well as a blatant sign of maturity when one wants to do away with this ‘era’ in our decorating life.  In my case, it was  probably the one time that fear of the unknown did not exist simply because almost anything would be an improvement at least when considering looks. I have to admit it was functional until the bottoms fell out of the drawers and the sides of the bookcases grew gradually V-shaped, ending in a callamitous sound in the night that could have been much more disastrous picking a 2-yr old out of the book rubble.

LouisPhillipeCabinetTo look for kid proof  furniture look for sturdy, well built items. A small chest can be a wonderful place to stash toys as well as bank Dad’s feet before the sofa. The cost for such items make them attractive items to start with antiques. There come in many different sizes, kinds of wood and they run the gamut from carved to panelled to smooth and basic. In addition to storage, if the top is flat they make wonderful informal table top display or seating areas. Older one will have inside the top on one side wall an extra box-like addition, used in former times to store candles.  Before buying you’ll want to check hinges are tight and sturdy and inquire about keys and locks and if advised from the dealer they are in working order, check to make sure.  Look for dust or powdery wood piles that might signify woodworm.  If symptoms are evident, this can be treated and should be taken into consideration. Unless the pesky insects have  been long busy and actually weakened or completely eaten away  the form, this is not as serious as it might sound. Woodworm is fairly common and there are sure ways to quickly eradicate this problem. Top reproduction houses spend many hours trying to train staff to  how and when to recreate such characteristics in many styles of furniture and items in modern day use and charge extra for this ‘look’.

Of course there ia a hierarchy of items and price scale. On the higher end if you have to buy or may you have to chance to acquire one from a family member, it’s possible to consolidate the function of smaller pieces into one bigger one, such as an oversized cabinet. This can easily convert a fairly busy room into a minimalist setting with one big show stopper clutter holder or the family room entertainment center.  These often have secret compartments and range in two basic storage solutions. One has big rectantular space in the cavity while others have doors at the top and drawers at the bottom. These have advantages of moving as they are in components and are assembled unbelievably simply.

Another smart addition for young families is the single door cabinet which comes either with a clear glass or with a mirror fitted in the door. This versatility of this piece is a charming addition to its exterior looks. Use them for dishes or books or collections of things you want to display (glass front) or  stash clothing in them by hanging space or on shelves (mirror front). As you might imagine, they go just about anywhere and exist in formats that fit in modern day ceiling heights. Your purchase checklist should include checking  locks and keys are in tact, ask if the owner/dealer already has the alternative glass or mirror depending on which is in it now, if the mirror is beveled, and if there are shelves, that they are adjustable and made of strong wood that does not bow under duress of books or other heavy items.

Antiques and small collectables are available at markets. in stores, on the internet and sometimes just by keeping a good eye peeled at the right moment. Programs that chronicle antiques history and values are full of individuals who acquired goods from unlikely places but always started out with a little desire and grew gradually into a keen interest.  Enjoying childproof antiques can be enjoyed by many who are far from expert but simply practice the first rule of buying any antique item– because you like it and wouldn’t mind having it around for a long time–just like (most) kids!

Dutch or Boule Front Chest of Drawers

Posted in Antiques on May 21, 2009 by dutchnduchess

dutch_boule-chest-of-drawersRanked number 9 on the DnD  Top Ten Antiques to Buy in Belgium list, the Dutch chest of drawers  is one of the most exquisite pieces of furniture one can own. Why? Because unlike styles that take their name from its region the Dutch boule front is representive of furniture making at its best. Kings and queens in reign borrowed furnituremaker like teenagers and lipstick. If one had a beautiful model it was soon noticed by the royal house and subsequently came into fashion, but only by the richest of families. These were showpiece items in their day and this has not changed.

What to Look for
The veneers. On the top, notice what in the trade is referred to as the ‘mirror’ . This is the quartering a certain section of a tree to  make a thin sheet of wood which has to be cut and used at the same time to assure the patterning will match symetrically. Depending on the part of the tree used, (i.e. the heart , the root ) the pattern becomes a ‘flame’ or a repeat of cirular formations ( sliced knots) the trade calls ‘oysters’.  If the commodity of the sort wood is scarce (the root), the price of the veneer is more precious.

As for the carcass, one must look on the inside of the drawer. The carcass is usually a cheaper, more available  wood than the those used on the exterior like pine. Due to this as the furniture ages, the two woods, having been sawn and constructed differently, will shrink in irregular tempo with each other although pressed and glued together quite magnificently in the onset, eventually cracks may form and this process has to be reversed and done again if restoration is desireable.

Characteristic and advantageous to the restorer of such pieces,  Dutch furniture is rarely highly varnished such as ‘French polishing which can be up to 36 coats of varnish, and may be prone to flowering or turning dull if the process is not done by trained ‘menusier’ [French] or  professional refinisherof woods. Therefore if one is lucky enough to find a Dutch chest of drawers, its restoration will not entail a costly and tedious process of removing such a finish before undertaking renewal of its apparent lost glory.

Dutch chest of drawers are maintained by dusting regularly and occasionally going over the surface with a wax meant for this purpose. The brands vary from country but in all cases, never use a commercial product such as the American “Pledge” spray. As the chest is made of solid wood throughout, minor blemishes such as watermarks or wine spills can be easily remedied and are not a cause for alarm. If French polish is desired, one should request that it be done using acrylic shellac, so that any wine or other alcohol spills will not blemish the surface– a  noted improvement from tradition methods and materials.

Dutch furniture is highly sought after and in such regions as the norther corridor of the United States where early settlement was influenced by the Dutch, it can command prices over that of its origin.  Companion pieces to the Dutch chest of drawers have a similar boule front such as the Dutch cabinet–the zenith and honored crown of the Top Ten Antiques to Buy in Belgium. [see separate blog  and feature comparison]

Trunks or Chests

Posted in Antiques, Tracking the Marvelous on May 20, 2009 by dutchnduchess

chestRanking number 8 on the Top Ten Antiques to Buy in Belgium, the chest or trunk as a furniture item reflectsa melting pot nature of availabilty in Brussels. They come in a variety of sizes, woods intricacy or simplicity of design and price range. Its unpopularity in the current trend make them a great target for acquistion at fair prices.

What to look for
Older chests have a certain patina, but unfortunately this is deflty faked and the buyer must move on to more tell tale signs that mark the genuine. Check the hardware. Like bathing suit straps, something may be mismatched in its life and variation in color of wood will be obvious and not match the  original surface protected by the original  hardware. If not then it originality has been compromised, and although not a dire situation, still if the vendor says it is totally orignally, this may be used as a monitor to test the integrity of the seller/vendor/dealer. Thus buyer beware and hoist the first red flag if s/he  adamantly claims total originalityfor example. Call their hand and get them to melt some of the price down if the candlebox is missing. Look for signs of wear where it was and be careful not to make false claims yourself. It works both ways. 

A nice touch inside the older chest is the candle drawer which is small built in with a lid that parallels the inner narrow side . Lids of both the candle drawer and trunk shave each other when closed. When the trunk /chest is open the lid to the candle drawer can serve as a prop so you can manipulate things handsfree.

Another sign of age is the direction of the wood panels. Look on the insde at the direction of the panels/planks on the bottom. Are they running parallel to the narrow ends, thus vertical from a center front aerial vantage point?  Or are the planks on teh bottom running horizontal length wise , east and west from this vantage point?  The latter is  usually a younger chest.

Although not always an issue, check that all four sides can be visible if you plan not to place it against a wall or foot of bed. Also models wiht arched tops are not good solution for extra seating  or display space. A  flat top is much better suited for coffee table replacement in front of sofa for example.  

Chests are very versatile and due to their simple construction, easy to maintain. They take an inordianate amount of abuse so high traffic areas and families with small children can do little wrong with such and investment.  Chests/trunks/coffers show age by the patination as well as the construction inside and out.  Outside there may be carved panels as during the Renaissance or flat and crossbanded, with simple intarsia as on later designs. Motifs vary in style and by country. The coutry or origin is sometimes determined by sort of wood or if the corners are mitered or dovetailed.

The chest is the forerunner of modern day chest of drawers. The transition style which combined one solid cavity with one drawer or two smaller drawers at the bottom is referred to as a mule chest. The drawer was added for organizational ease and later the carcass became fitted with a multiple number of drawers and the chest itself grew out of fashion and the decoration on its facade equally less important.  Thus the older the chest the more beautifully formed on all four sides and the more decoratively carved one will find the exterior facades.


Posted in Antiques, Tracking the Marvelous with tags , , , on May 20, 2009 by dutchnduchess

pewterRanking number 4 on the Top Ten Antiques to Buy in Belgium, pewter takes a special place in my heart. My father was passionate about collecting and  I came to know it and love it through him. Pewter is a combination of two metals that has been has been used for table service since dining utensils and  plates were begun to be used.  Often pewter is  the base metal for silver and silverplated items, a variety of vessels are collected not unlike those designed of silver such as tankards, tea and coffee sets, platters , plates  not to mention common utilitarian items for cooking or ingesting food,  or creating medicinal potions and soups in the field during harvest or wartimes and innocence of keeping soften foods warm enough  for baby bunting.

 Age and patina
The easiest way to determine old pewter is to search for stamps that give a variety of clues depending on the item and the age. If the bottom already says  ‘etain’   or 96% whatever, or has a modern company name on it–give it up. It’s made yesterday. 

You want to find a stamped rose with a rise in the metal with clear edges that in the trade, ‘stand proud’  and are not soft and rounded which  usually shouts fake. Look for symbols that signify certain places, assay offices, years or factories without using words.  Special books with page after page of symbols and codes for various countries are necessary to pinpoint the origin of older patinized pewter or ‘tin’ [Dutch] or Etain [French pieces.  

Paired with patinized oak, pewter looks very aristocratic in modern households and takes one back to simpler times when mealtimes and families gathered without distractions such as ipods, tv’s sports clubs or other technologies that connect us in distance but separate us  the immediate environment- like  two people in a car and both on the cell phone.  Pewter is relatively soft metal and therefore prone to scratches from knife marks and rim ripples from  common and practical usage. Aged pewter has a warmth in the patina that looks especially nice on dark oak. Precautions
Pewter is faked profusely but it is has not been in the popular upswing for several year thus while experts can spot signs of falsehood a mile away there are scrupulous and even  well meaning vendors  who are oblivious that they  are offering  fakes for  unreasonable asking prices and coversely those who ask low prices for really old and valuable pewter!  Information is power and before any purchases are made, I suggest you visit a few exhibitions and ask a lot of questions while literally holding the good stuff in hand and getting a feel for the mark, the color and form that leads to it unmistakeable beauty only found in the authentic patinized examples of pewter.


The rarest pieces are found from the time period around Rembrandt and the newest are well marked on the bottom with all kinds of finishing suitable for dishwashing.
Americans think immediately of Paul Revere and the days of the Revolution but pewter was a vital part of the pub and familial social scene. Even  today with new metals that mimic pewter and can be used in the dishwasher.  Getting back to the antique sort, …..although it has a simple elegance, historically it was a commonly in  daily use as evidenced in the rollicking good times depicted in quaint outdoors gatherings in Frans Hals paintings.  Pewter vessels, plates, spoons, serving utensils , embossed or repousse plates , rigglework decoration are prized items to the collector., curator and decorator alike.

Flemish Mirrors

Posted in Antiques, Tracking the Marvelous on May 20, 2009 by dutchnduchess

mirrorRanked number 2 on our Top Ten Antiques to Buy in Belgium,  you’ll have to go far to find one single item as decorative and as practical for the investment. Its decorating versatility is downright fun. They look good everywhere so expect indecision or take the easy way out and  bargain for bulk and et more than one. They look wonderful in pairs. In the antiques world you can’t go wrong with a genuine pair of most anything.  

Look for a rectangular shaped box with a frilly multiple, graduated arch on top of it. Totally it will look like one piece but it is composed of actually five separate mirrors: a central larger  one, flanked by four on either side. All are encased sort of like a stained glass but  with brass in place of lead. This construction gives it a silver with gold color ‘outline’ when viewed from a distance.

Construction and Marks of  Quality
The brass or  gold part  has been embossed with a sculptural pattern. The  process to formulate the bas relief  [ low sculpture]  is called  ‘repousse’ . This term is  used generally by dealers to describe this classy  little mirrored box. The mirrors are noticeably old and the better examples will display beveled edges. The center mirror may lead to a hollow cavity  forming a small storage area, lined also with teh repouss or sculptured brass. If viewed from the side it  appear to form a half trapezoid shape. Mirrors of better quality and condition will also display a set of three brushes on hooks. The inner carcass and top of the brushes are lined to mimic the same  ‘outer’ design in the repousse or bas relief . Besides looking smart, the mirror can be functional if this feature is in tact. When the middle section does not hinges and a door knob, thus not featuring the storage cavity, the price may be in the same range , but the decorative crest will be exceptional in design and may have been tediously ‘punched’ to reveal an underlying mirror in place of  solid brass relief. Both are highly desireable and alway deliver bang for the buck.

The backing is sometimes replaced with modern MDF. The mirrors can have damages ranging from losing the silver on the mirror, having obvious breaks or chips, lacking beveled edges–all of which  can be altered with a little time and money but when against the dealer is  fodder for haggling with the seller.

Really anywhere. When dramatically positioned with stark contrast on a dark wall with candles beneath (sconce) or  in the entrance  to deter a winter flurry  on the shoulders or shedding pet hairs — it will take  on the intended mood or function without quibble.