Antique furniture is always at least one hundred years old. Many people make the mistake of thinking that second hand furniture which is from the 1920s-1950s is antique, but this is not the case. In the United States, there are many antique furniture styles, and it can be difficult to know which to pick. With a bit of prior knowledge, you can easily find a piece of antique furniture that matches your decor. However, some caution is needed, as reproductions are rife, and it is easy to make the mistake of buying something that is not actually an antique after all. Some people so actually prefer to buy reproductions though. Here is the lowdown on buying antiques, and the different antique furniture styles that are available.
Consider how it will fit into your home
Antique furniture can make any room look striking, but if the rest of the room is heavy on modern decor, antique furniture will look out of place. That is not to say that antique furniture cannot work in a contemporary setting – the key is to shop around for the right piece of antique that will be an asset to the room. A lot of time, this can be the fun part.
Learn the terminology
It is important to learn the relevant vocabulary when buying antiques, as you will come across them repeatedly. Here are some of the terms you should become acquainted with.
Buffet: This is another word for a sideboard, and is frequently instead of it. They are more or less the same thing, although buffet is a French word for a sideboard that is slightly smaller than the American notion of a sideboard, so it can be used to describe a sideboard that is smaller than you might be expecting. In both cases, the top of the buffet or sideboard is used to prepare and serve food, with the dishes and eating utensils stored underneath. The additional features will very much depend on how old the piece is, and which kind of antique furniture style it is.
Highboy: This piece is generally found in the bedroom, and is a tall chest of drawers that has legs to support it.
Chiffonier: This is similar to a highboy, but it tends to be taller and narrower. Some types of chiffonier also have a swivel mirror attached to them, but this will not always be the case. Both chiffoniers and highboys are frequently reproduced, as the lack of storage space in most modern homes means that their many drawers are in demand. Many reproductions of these are based on the Colonial style highboys, and the American Oak style chiffoniers.
Armoire: This is another word for the traditional wardrobe. In medieval times, the armoire was created as a place to store armor, as the name suggests. These days, they can be found in almost every room, but are obviously used to store clothes, for the most part. There is very little difference between an armoire and a wardrobe, other than the name. Both have doors and a rod across the top of the inside of the piece (to hang the clothes). However, an armoire is generally slightly large than the wardrobe.
Chifforobe: This is a cross between a chest of drawers and a wardrobe (thus the name is a combination of chiffonier and wardrobe). Generally, a chifforobe consists of a cabinet (for which to store clothes), which is attached to a small chest of drawers. This is sometimes set off by a swivel mirror.
Do your homework
If you are planning to buy several pieces of antique furniture, it is essential to become knowledgeable about antiques beforehand. Firstly, work out how to establish the value of a piece. Factors that are usually taken into consideration include its condition, history and whether it is a rare piece. Secondly, getting a second opinion from an antiques expert can be a very good idea. Someone who is trained in spotting antique classics is more likely to be able to tell you whether you will actually be getting as good a bargain as you might think. To stay abreast of the latest trends in antiques, you can read trade publications. Thirdly, weight and size will be a factor in your decision, as this will have a big effect on whether the piece will literally fit in your home. If it needs to be shipped, a piece this is heavy will obviously cost more to ship than a piece that is not. If you are buying your antiques through the Internet, look for sellers who are located in the same geographical area as you, so that it will not cost so much to have it shipped.
Antique furniture styles
Some antiques experts consider furniture dating from between 1845 and 1915 to be the best. Furniture produced during this period tends to be classed as either Victorian or Turn-of-the-century. The former has several different sub styles, some of which are briefly outlined here.
Rococo Revival: This refers to furniture produced between 1845 and 1865, which tends to be made from walnut, mahogany or rosewood. Parlor pieces seem to be the most popular. They tend to feature naturalistic carvings of objects such as fruit, flowers or leaves. It is still a popular antique furniture style today, and is often reproduced. Reproductions are easy to spot though – the carvings are generally flatter, and not as detailed as the originals.
Renaissance Revival: This refers to furniture produced between 1860 and 1880, and is generally made from walnut, mahogany, rosewood or chestnut. Common features include fluted legs, raised panels, heavily carved crests and cookie cut corners. Black or good incising is also a common form of detail.
Turn-of-the-century furniture refers to furniture produced in the period between the Spanish American war and the First World War. The usual walnut and chestnut was no longer in abundance, so oak was commonly used. Mahogany was also used, but not as much, as it was more expensive than oak. This antique furniture style had a lot in common with art nouveau style, as shaped drawers, curved legs and mirrors, and swirly carving were among the popular features.
How can I tell if an item of furniture is a real antique, or just a reproduction?
It can be difficult to tell, but there are often some definite signs. For example, antiques tend to show signs of ageing, and general wear and tear. This is to be expected, as by definition antiques must be at least one hundred years old. Wood shrinks as it gets older, so look out for indications of the wood having cracked or faded. There may also be jagged edges, because of the pre-motorized handsaws that were used to cut the wood. Another indication of a genuine antique is imperfections in the board widths. Most items of furniture that have equal board widths are much more modern than antiques.
Understanding antique furniture styles can be a nightmare, but as long as you do your homework and understand the options that are available to you and your home, it will make the process a lot simpler. Have fun shopping around to select the right furniture, as this is half the fun!