Antiquing in Atlanta

Atlanta has a strong decorative arts community, and it’s bolstered by an array of antiques shops and markets. From dealers specializing in one specific genre to design showrooms at ADAC that incorporate a broad range of antiques with their contemporary lines, shoppers can find almost every style and period of antique. While some businesses ship via the proverbial container from Europe, others carefully curate inventory via private collections, auctions and estate sales. With such an abundance of antiques shops, markets and showrooms, Atlanta remains a trusted resource for designers and clients throughout the Southeast. Here, six designers share with former antiques dealer Suzanna Cullen Hamilton their perennial favorites in Atlanta, as well as shopping experiences farther afield.

Local Treasures: Unearthed

Shopping is practically an art form for AH&L’s panel of classically minded designers, who share their treasured local sources for everything from porcelain to paintings and pewter.

The Galleries of Peachtree Hills, an enclave of Continental-style buildings representative of the high-end shops and offices located within the development. Edgar-Reeves Lighting & Antiques, Robuck, Parc Monceau Antiques Ltd., Spalding Nix Fine Art, Jacqueline Adams Antiques and Francois & Co. were echoed by each designer as being a frequent source for antiques in Atlanta. “I love shopping at both Parc Monceau and Robuck because the inventory represents each proprietor, so it makes it a fun and interesting experience,” says John Oetgen.

ADAC has seen a dramatic change since it opened more than 50 years ago. Today, many ADAC showrooms that once only carried fabrics and wallpapers now incorporate antiques into their inventory. Ainsworth-Noah, Holland & Company and Travis & Company have been reliable sources for English and Continental antiques for many years. “Mr. Ainsworth’s eye is special,” designer Stan Topol declares.

2300 Peachtree was designed by Jane Marsden in the 1980s. While interior design and architectural offices occupy the beautifully designed European enclave, 2300 remains one of Atlanta’s most esteemed addresses for high-end shopping. Jane Marsden Antiques covers a broad range of decorative arts. “Jane Marsden Antiques & Interiors has been a treasured resource in Atlanta for decades, and it’s among our favorites in Atlanta,” says designer Margaret Bosbyshell.

Miami Circle has seen much development over the years and continues to serve as a sound antiques resource for designers and their clients. Dearing Antiques, William Word Fine Antiques, Foxglove Antiques and The Gables Antiques have been longstanding dealers located on Miami Circle.

Editors’ Note We love window shopping online at 1stdibs (which takes us from  Savannah’s Argyll & Jasper to Atlanta’s Bjork Studio and well beyond) and The Highboy, a fresh counterpart searchable by style and period; local dealers include The Gables Antiques and Jane Marsden Antiques.

Antiques 101: Crash Course

Our panel of designers share their tricks of the trade, from what to look for prior to purchase to finding a place for pieces of sentimental value. 

How important are provenance and authenticity to your clients?
“Authenticity is a direct ratio to cost, so we expect validation for an expensive item; however, there are charming pieces where pedigree becomes a nonissue,” says designer Carole Weaks says. Margaret Kirkland declares that while her clients love to hearing background information, most “buy for the aesthetics and patina rather than pedigree.” According to Stan Topol, “I shop only where I feel comfortable with the dealer and I know what I’m looking at and know it is correct.”

Do you shop with a specific list of items in mind, or does purchasing antiques happen more organically?
Quips Weaks: “Does anything beat serendipity?” Designer John Oetgen concurs. “I’m organic in everything; it’s so much more fun and creative,” he says. Margaret Bosbyshell always shops with a list but says “inevitably we stumble on fabulous pieces, and we always take those into consideration if they’ll work within the project.” Topol is always up for a challenge. “Shopping is my art form,”he declares.

Shipping is often a concern, whether from abroad or locally. Do you have any recommendations?
“Get quotes, insure everything and crate when fragility is a concern,” says Margaret Bosbyshell. Weaks admits the expense is a necessary evil. “Shipping is expensive, but we use regular shippers with whom we have an established relationship,” she says.

Do you initiate antiques shopping with your clients, or do you work with antiques they already own?
“I always incorporate quality pieces and rugs into my projects, whether I find those pieces or the client already owns them,” says Topol. Weaks says her clients usually already have pieces that they want to keep; but “once in a blue moon we have a client ready for something totally different, so we call this a dream job.” Oetgen enjoys infusing his project with fresh and often whimsical elements. “We like to find a few new and unexpected things so that the project feels fresh,” he says.

Do you ever find yourself in a position where an antique that a client already owns doesn’t quite jibe with your new design proposal? If so, how do you handle that?
“We believe in practical luxury, so if something is too fragile, worn out, not comfortable or the wrong scale, then we try to educate the client about it,” says designer Clary Bosbyshell. If the item is of sentimental value, says Weaks, she tries to incorporate it into the overall scheme, “but if something isn’t going to work, the client usually understands and agrees not to compromise the overall design aesthetic.” According to Kirkland, “often the scale or functionality can make a piece difficult, but we always try to find a home for it.”

Do you currently shop at auctions or via Internet sites?
“I shop at New York auctions for my clients, and I love the websites 1stdibs and Dering Hall because I can easily check availability and pricing from reputable dealers,” says Kirkland.

What are some off-the-beaten-path places that you shop in Atlanta?
“We frequently shop at The Stalls on Bennett Street, some of the markets in Chamblee and always at Scott Antique Markets,” says Margaret Bosbyshell. Kirkland says she finds “great containers at Boxwoods; I love Fred Reed Picture Framing for beautifully framed series of prints; and I cannot go into Star Provisions without leaving with something fabulous.”

What are your favorite places to shop outside of Atlanta?
“My hands-down favorite ever is Marché aux Puces in Paris, and it’s always on the agenda,” says Weaks. “Renaissance Interiors in Louisiana has beautiful and interesting pieces,” recommends Clary Bosbyshell. Topol notes that there are “fabulous finds in Buenos Aires.” John Oetgen shops “wherever I am in the world, from Highlands to the Caribbean. New Orleans remains a favorite of Margaret Bosbyshell. Kirkland shops at John Rosselli Antiques in New York, Mallett Antiques in London and the shops of the L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in Provence.

What is your all-time favorite antiques purchase?
“Every day we sit in the pair of 19th-century Gustavian bergère chairs I purchased from you and your mother [Deanne Levison], and I think of you often,” Oetgen tells Hamilton. “But I know the purchase that still drives you crazy is the one-of-a-kind Art Deco concave mirrored table that you sold to my client when you didn’t want to let it go.” Weaks notes that one particular client’s husband never responded to any antiques, but on a buying trip in France, he fell in love with a very large painting. It required architectural reworking in the study, but it made the design of the room. For Kirkland, her favorite piece for a client was a Victorian needlepoint rug purchased from the collection of Brooke Astor at a Sotheby’s sale. A favorite in her own home, however, remains a simple pine table purchased at Scott’s. Clary Bosbyshell’s favorite is also sentimental; her parents gifted her a Louis-Philippe marble-top chest as a wedding present. Topol says he “always loves a good rug.” Margaret Bosbyshell declares her all-time favorite an “English Regency mahogany server with mirrored doors.”

Suzanna’s Antiques Shopping Tips

Should I still expect to find period pieces with authentic provenance in 2015?
One of my favorite quotes from my mother, Deanne Levison, is: “If England and Europe had produced enough antiques by the middle of the 19th century for every antiques shop in Europe and America to still be turning up period pieces in the 21st century, then the Continent would have sunk.” The truth is that most pieces on the market today have significant age, but to think that every single piece is a period, authentic piece is unrealistic.

Do repairs and replacements matter in terms of value?
Absolutely. If a piece has new feet, a new top, a new backboard or other significant alterations, then the value is diminished. If inlay has been added or the piece has been enhanced in any way, the value is diminished. Gold paint in place of original gilt is one of the biggest problems on the market, as well as altered paint decoration and enhanced patina on pieces.

What does it mean when the description says “style”?
The word “style” is frequently used in descriptions to convey that it is made in the style of that period but not from that period. It is a syntax that makes clear that the piece was not made in the exact period of the original design, but it was made in the style of that period.

What should I look for when purchasing paintings?
Painting signatures are very difficult to authenticate because they can be easily forged, and midcentury European lithographs and prints are some of the most forged pieces on the market. The best advice is to go to a reputable dealer and spend a long time looking before you purchase.

How are pieces faked?
Today many pieces are faked by using old wood to construct new pieces in the style of period pieces. When wood is buried for a few years and wormholes get into it, the wood appears to be old. Surfaces can be highly polished or rubbed down to imitate period pieces. Painting signatures can be forged, and paint-decorated furniture can be easily altered.

Is there anything wrong with buying pieces that have aesthetic and decorative value?
Absolutely not; just know what you’re paying for. If you are paying for investment-level pieces, then make sure you are securing that caliber of items by purchasing from highly referenced sources that provide documentation. If it’s expensive but simply an aesthetic piece that you love and it makes your home special, then that’s OK, too. Just make sure that you understand what you’re getting for your money.   

When buying at the investment level, what is the best advice?
Go to an esteemed dealer who specializes in period pieces and has a strong reputation from multiple sources. This level of dealer will put a circa on the bill of sale, including an extensive description and any known provenance.

Is there such thing as a good deal at auctions?
You can certainly find good deals at auctions, but you can also spend excessively if you don’t know what you’re doing. Just because something looks good in a catalog doesn’t mean that it’s right or in good condition. Most people get caught up in the frenzy of the auction and end up paying very high prices. Finally, don’t forget that every auction hammer price includes the further costs of a percentage premium for the auction house and shipping expenses.

Are there certain antique pieces you might caution against purchasing?
I would never advise against purchasing antiques, but there are some forms that merit special consideration. Antique dining chairs can be fragile and a liability. People lean back in chairs and tug on the arms, both of which can break antique dining chairs that tend to be on the smaller scale. Also, a person only needs one dining table; make sure you know exactly what you want before you buy one. Take your time, and enjoy the acquisition process.