Upstairs and Downstairs with Antiques

Reprinted with permission from the Jerusalem Post

There is a story told about a dwarf named Gueridon who was a servant to King Louis XIV of France. It was his job to bring the King small cakes on a tray. Because of his size, he didn’t place the tray on a table, but instead, held it until the King was finished with his snack. From that time on, small, round tables were forever called gueridon, in honor of Louis’ loyal servant.

We are all heirs to history through antiques. Antiques are our bequests and our connection with those who went before us. They tell us how our forefathers functioned, how they dressed, how they governed, how they viewed each other, how the world treated them and how they treated the world.

Collectors and antiquares, those who deal in antiques for profit, are an unusual group. They have a deep passion for fine furnishings and accessories. Each shop reflects the tastes of past genera­tions; and each piece carries along its own history.

A typical shop contains pieces of heroic scale coexisting with smaller but equally splendid items, all arranged carefully in a seemingly chaotic setting. Regency writing desks provide display space for urns, wine bottles and mantel clocks. Typical items found in shops are ormolu (gold-colored) wall lights, carpets, watercolors in aged frames, bibliotheques (breakfronts) showcasing porcelains and smaller collectibles such as paperweights, snuff boxes antique toys, candlesticks of every material, crystal bibelots and jewelry of every period and description.

Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Biederman are famous makers of furniture items encompassing arm chairs, side chairs, desks, secretaires, commodes, high boys, low boys, gueridons and tables of all sizes and wood colors.

There are chairs with swan arms, throne chairs, and every so often an item appears that is so unique that it makes its history palpable. Such an item, once displayed, was a set of four Italian red-lacquer card boxes, each gilded and decorated with the symbol of the four different suits, adorned with an elaborate gilded royal signature! .

Among the treasures may also be found a mirrored-back etagere (show cabinet) which holds a collection of blue and white porcelain obelisks; or a secretaire, when closed is a striking but simple, unpretentious piece with a plain facade crafted from Ebony-toned woods facored by Biederman artisans.

Once the front panel is opened, small drawers, both hidden and open cubbies for desk necessities, become visible, making it’s inner appearance that of a doll house with miniature doors and tiny knobs.

Stools are an important item in the antiquaire’s stock. Prior to the 1700’s, dining rooms were unknown. Servants would move a table into whatever room was the most agreeable to the master, usually the bed chamber.

When a dinner party was held, the grand hall was the place that the table, which was a huge board of thick trestles, was utilized. All the guests sat on backless stools. The one chair with a back being reserved for the master of the house who sat at the head of the table. He was the CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD!

Stocks may teeter and drop if the U.S. President sneezes; But not so with antiques. They seem to be the only items that grow more valuable as they grow older. One brochure advises to invest in antiques.

Enjoy them while they constantly increase in value and they do! Recently, a good reproduction of a side chair which sold for $5,000 twelve years ago was appraised at a value of $50,000 by a reputable dealer; and it will be worth more every year. It is readily understandable why this occurs. There simply aren’t any more antique reproductions of this chair to be found.

Antiques are as useful in decorating today’s home as they were in the past. When a home appears to possess a definite personality or some stamp of individuality that sets it apart, it is most likely an antique dropped here or there that gave the room its extra pizzazz.

Every room can accommodate antiques. The entry hall is a natural, and sets the tone for the remainder of the home. An old brass door knocker, mirrors and pictures framed in antique type holders or a jardinere on a stand filled with ferns or interesting greenery are perfect welcomers to a home.

The salon today is meant for living and nothing can make a room come alive faster than the softening effect of antiques. Just as a gathering is more interesting and enjoyable when there is a mixture of young and old people, so does a room seems more charming when there is a combination of contrasting eras in furniture and accessories. A sprinkling of lovely things of the past is always in order.

A desk makes a good mixer for the salon. An old inkwell or a quill pen resting in the holder adds character to any desk. A brass table as a coffee table with an antique place on a stand presents a nice dollop of color.

Antique doorknobs can add a touch of individuality as can decorative old curtain and drapery tiebacks and lamps. These antique brasses embellish a room and make it truly enchanting.

Old glass paper weights make an interesting item to collect and when used in a group become decorative side table conversation pieces. They are generally found with an array of shells, butterflies, flowers and other phenomena in Mother Nature’s bag of tricks. On a tiered mirrored shelf, they give the effect of a shimmering box of jewels.

A tilt-top table is another useful antique item in use today. Tilted as a corner decoration is a luxury most small salons cannot afford; however, serving as a lamp table or a place for favorite bibelots or an “art” book, it makes a good-looking piece.

Clocks, pictures, mirrors and small sculpture on shelves and tapestry keep the walls from looking dull. Tapestries, especially, lend a certain dignity and touch of novelty to the spot to which it is assigned.

Of course, if money is not an issue and larger items of furniture are within the realm of possibility, all to the good. If not, even the smaller items will bring the desired effect to the room.

The dining room is an ideal place for decorating with antiques. Dining table and chairs are available, but pricey. A table with carving or inlays would be an investment and paired with Queen Anne or Chippendale reproductions would more than fill the bill.

For the small apartment, a graceful, drop-leaf table is a perfect choice. It can be folded back against the wall when not in use and brought out with both leaves extended for guests. For a larger room, used against a wall, with one leaf opened out, it serves as a good food center for a buffet. If a drop-leaf table with slim, tapered legs is the choice, it could be a partner to practically any other period furniture.

A collection of glassware, smartly displayed, can serve both a practical and a decorative purpose AND USE THEM!!! Letting a cup or glassware collection gather dust and never using it is a total waste of lovely objects. With care, there is no reason why one cannot use and enjoy a collection hobby.

While kitchens are designed to be super efficient, they should also be warm and folksy. A collection of old-fashioned kitchen implements, a row of apothecary jars used as canisters, old, framed newspaper items, baskets of all sizes and shapes hung on walls; pots of geraniums on window sills and mug collections are items that can lower the Level of the super-modern feeling and give a quieting effect on the kitchen.

Once the notion that antiques can be placed just about every­where takes hold, it will grow. Bedrooms, family areas and even bathrooms are places which can take to a sprinkling of antiques. While antiques are not on the Israeli priority list, they do exist here.

In Jerusalem, Ivan and Judy Halperin of Ivantiques, LTD, 52 King George Street, are true antiquares. Talking with them is an educational experience. They explain each piece in their shop and emphasize the history and special points of interest. Visiting their shop is comparable to an exciting walk through history.

William Morris was an English poet and craftsman. His philosophy was “Have nothing in your home, except what you know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” The knowledge of antiques is how to make the love of beautiful things useful.