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In With the Old

Antiques don't have to be expensive pieces for admiration only. Instead, say experts, start small, find something you love and use it.


An antique doesn't have to be 18th century mahogany or 17th century silver. It doesn't have to be labeled Ming or Louis XVI or Hepplewhite. It doesn't even have to be expensive.

What it must be, to fill an appropriate role in your home, is something you love and appreciate for its link to history. An antique can be a wonderful Navajo rug, an old fishing basket or a pair of tin candlesticks. "What's the magic of antiques? They represent the romance of another period in time--one artist speaking to an audience across the years," said Los Angeles interior designer Frank Pennino.

He was one of four top-flight California designers participating in a discussion during the recent Los Angeles Antiques Show. The second annual show converted the soaring Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Air Center into an elegant international marketplace, and the shopping was serious.

Antiques? Los Angeles, with its Pacific Rim sensibilities, seems more hospitable to glass and metal modernism than the rococo. "It is more modern here than some other parts of the country," said Dominique Browning, editor of the resuscitated House & Garden magazine, who moderated the session. "But it's also a place where the old, such as Spanish colonial oak furniture, is easily integrated with the new."

And, she added, just as the velvet ropes have come down in most museums, so have they in most homes. "Antiques should be something you can live with, sit at, eat on." Her notion of getting antiques off the pedestal was echoed by Kerry Joyce and Rose Tarlow of Los Angeles and Paul Vincent Wiseman of San Francisco.

The image of antique shows being the exclusive turf of the wealthy was one of the myths dismissed by the experts. "Antiques don't have to be expensive," Wiseman said, "they just must have some character."

The character, Pennino said, is the mark of a hand. "A craftsman had looked at a block of wood and seen a baroque scroll." It is this artistry--the soul of making furniture--that disappeared with the industrial revolution, he said.

Joyce, who designs the architectural interior before starting on the furnishings, had some advice for beginning antiquers. "Learning at first seems overwhelming," he said. "Start with what's attractive to you and learn the details of that period. Then, expand."

And if you don't have the budget to start big, he said, start small, with such things as mercury glass, snuff boxes or amethyst glass bottles.

The best place to develop a discerning eye, Browning said, is with a dealer and attending antique fairs. Then you can start shopping "lower on the food chain" at estate sales and flea markets. "Don't be intimidated by economics," she said.

Emphasizing the versatility of antiques, Wiseman showed slides of rooms with various mixes: Swedish chairs in a game room, a Renaissance fireplace with Andy Warhols, Renaissance cooking implements in a very modern kitchen and a Miro painting with a Russian chest. "You don't have to fill a room with antiques, but at least one creates a soul in a room," he said.


If there were any basics laid down about decorating, it seemed to be an agreement that color should be used discreetly, and that too many antiques in any setting can quickly become clutter.

And although "eclectic" is a popular word these days, it can be a trap, said Tarlow, famous for her original designs and top-of-the-line adaptations of antiques. "Certain things just don't mix well." Decorating a house in one period is fine if you are comfortable with it, she said, in answer to a question. "I think everything in my house is something I really love, and that's the only prerequisite for buying an antique.

"If you're doing something for effect--because you want people to walk in and drop dead--go to a funeral parlor," she added.

Someone asked for any rules about mixing and matching fabric patterns. Joyce, who said he's seen only two chintz patterns he liked, prefers plain fabrics, adding: "In my dream world, everything would be white."

Pennino said it all depends on how much pattern-mixing the client can handle. "I like to work from one dominant pattern," he said. "Say the curtains." Mimic the subtlety of nature, Wiseman advised: "Look at the desert. There are lots of elements but nothing stands out."

In final proof that there are no ironclad rules, a member of the audience asked each panelist to respond to this scenario: A young couple with very little money inherits a $1.4-million highboy from a grandmother. Thinking about the problem of balance in a room, what advice would you give them?

Tarlow: "I would use simple, upholstered furniture, very little color, treat it as sculpture and appreciate it as such."

Joyce: "With great reluctance I would advise them to sell it and furnish the rest of the house. Even after taxes, that's a lot of money."

Wiseman said one of his clients had a similar inheritance: "They set it in the dining room, framed by an upholstered screen, and it became a unique object."

Pennino: "The young couple should ask themselves how much they love it and how much it means to them. There are a lot of pieces they can put with it and treat as an overall ensemble."



Yes, some antiques may be affordable, but that's not to downplay the moneyed world of antiques.

Some sample purchases at the Los Angeles Antiques Show: Daniel Stein Antiques Inc. sold a Regency writing table for $18,500, and Marshall Edward Antiques sold a pair of 32-inch marble medallions for $60,000.

"The show has truly come of age," said Sally Wright of Richard Gould Antiques in Los Angeles, who served on the organizing committee for the second installment of the show; the committee is already planning for next year. "People came expecting to see the best and they responded with their pocketbooks."

And, she added, it was possible to make a small purchase. She sold a 19th century gilt saucer from Derby, England for $30.

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