Gently Used and Right at Home
Fate in the form of a traffic jam rerouted me straight to my newest old piece of furniture.
The detour sent me to an unfamiliar side street. There I encountered a warehouse bearing a large sign: “Antiques.” I screeched to a halt. It was Sunday. The store was closed. My first instinct was to break in.
How had I missed this large cache of antiques right in my own town? Back home, I look up the company, Olivier Fleury Antiques, online and find a stockpile of European antiques and vintage pieces, including the piece I’d been looking for.
I’d been in the market for “Just The Right Piece” to replace the “Just For Now” table that had landed between our back door and our built-in bookcases – and stuck.
See, two years ago when DC and I were getting married and merging our households we found our disparate furnishings got along about as well as President Trump and CNN. Egos were involved. Blending his black leather Americana with my Old-World European looked a bit like having a biker to tea.
In a fast-moving game of squatter’s rights, we parked our respective pieces, and, to pacify any resistance, said, “just for now.” Some furnishings fell into place. Others grew on us. Some never quite fit in – like the little distressed white wood table.
I stubbornly hung onto the shabby chic table mostly because I’d overpaid for it years ago. However, we’d also come to depend on it. The table by the back door became a way station for keys, purses, mail, grocery lists, sunglasses, lunch sacks, laptops, gym bags, and dog leashes. As the rest of the home’s décor evolved into what I hoped was a sophisticated blend of contemporary furniture and fine traditional pieces, the shabby chic workhorse looked like a country girl in jeans at big city cocktail party.
I’d been on the lookout for something more refined and less Bohemian, sleeker but not pretentious, more up to date but not showroom precious. Then came the traffic jam.
Online, the mirrored, three-drawer chest from Paris, circa 1950, gleamed like a little sentry.
“Honey?” I take my laptop over to DC, who is so fixated on the Penguins draft picks that if a parade of belly dancers sauntered by, he wouldn’t notice. “You know how you never liked my distressed wood table by the door?”
“We need to get rid of that table,” he said.
“What do you think of this?” I put the laptop between his nose and the television. “It’s got some imperfections on the top, and some wear near the bottom, but isn’t it charming?”
“Why would you buy someone’s old furniture?”
“I like that it’s not perfect.”
“I will never understand,” he sinks his brow into his palm. “Why do some things have to be perfect, like the lawn, and others you want not perfect?”
I shrug. How can I explain?
Next day, I zoom over to the warehouse and meet the charmingly flawed mirrored chest and charming owner Olivier Fleury, who had me at bonjour. After some minor negotiations, I buy the perfectly imperfect chest, which Fleury delivers the next day. We agree: It belongs.
A little later, during a conversation about old furniture with fine art and antiques appraiser Dorothy Long, of Billings, Montana, I tell her about my recent purchase, how I traded a shabby chic distressed table for a Mid-Century mirrored chest of drawers. I send her pictures.
“What a great example of how you can successfully mix lovingly used pieces from the past with traditional and contemporary furniture of today,” she says.
“This piece is definitely more on trend than what you had,” Long adds, verifying my instincts. “The shabby chic look is trending down, especially in big cities. Those pieces no longer look right. All of us are updating.”
Because not everyone gets the beauty of buying used, (Ahem!), I asked Long and Fleury to fire off the benefits of buying someone else’s old, imperfect stuff. Here are 10 reasons:
Because patina adds to the charm, said Long. The imperfections give it character.
Because you can get something no one else can, so you don’t become part of what Fleury calls “duplicate America.” You can’t find the piece in a catalog or at Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware.
Because it’s green. Why buy new, when perfectly good already exists?
Because you can relax around it. Brand new furniture is like a new car. You sweat parking it for fear it will get its first ding. But once it has a few dings and scratches you relax. The same with furniture. If someone puts feet up or drinking glasses down on an old piece, so what?
Because it adds to the sense that your interior, along with your taste and life, has evolved over time.
Because it has a past, a story, and carries a sense of nostalgia.
Because they are a good value. Especially if they’re not yet antiques, which must be 100 years old by definition, older furnishings are more affordable than comparable new pieces.
Because vintage Mid-Century pieces are a great design bridge between new and old.
Because the craftsmanship is often better than some of the quickly manufactured items on the market today.
Because a market for used furniture lets you sell your old furniture. Distressed wood table, anyone?
Perfectly Imperfect -- This vintage, Mid-Century modern mirrored chest not only adds a touch of glam to a dull corner, but its used condition means no one will flinch when keys and dog leashes get tossed on it. Plus, it was one third the price of comparable new pieces, and better made. Photo courtesy of Marni Jameson.