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Young New Orleanians Go Antiquing

Antique and vintage furnishings hold a growing appeal for young customers.

Holly Mabry

Cheryl Gerber Photographs

Ever since she was a child, which wasn’t that long ago, Holly Mabry has had a love affair with antiques, particularly French antiques.    
“When I was really little, maybe 7 or 8 years old, I’d visit my neighbors, Janet and Tommy Favrot; and walk around their antique-filled house; and think, ‘Wow, I really like this,” says Mabry, 25, a speech therapist who works with the elderly.

Her interest grew when her parents renovated their Fairway Drive home and purchased some beautiful French antiques. By the time she was a teenager, she was asking her parents for antiques for birthdays and Christmas, and a collection was born.

“My first piece was a country French armoire, which is now in my living room and houses my television set,” she says. It was followed by a vaisselier, which is now in her dining room, and a bonnetiere, which is used as a pantry in her kitchen. Along the way she has bought two trumeau mirrors; a buffet à deux corps; and some smaller pieces such as antique confit jars, some olive oil and vinegar cruets and a World War II basket once used for gun shells that now holds ivy in her kitchen.

Mabry is one of the many young adults who are investing in antiques for their apartments and homes. This new guard of collectors is finding that there are advantages to buying old rather than new.

“Young antique collectors are fairly specific in what they are looking for,” says Ashton Thomas, president of New Orleans Auction Galleries. He and his colleagues have seen an uptick in young buyers. “Generally they are ‘mission shoppers’ – that is, they are looking for a certain piece of furniture or art to fill a space in their home. But they want something unique, not mass-produced.”

Thomas has found that the young collectors are looking for good-quality furnishings and art but are also looking for a deal, which they can often get at auctions.

Likewise, Caroline Robert, owner of perch. on Magazine Street, is finding that her young clients are showing an interest in mid-century modern pieces, such as Murano lamps and glass, and they are realizing that fine antiques and vintage furnishings are good investments. A subset of young collectors prefers older pieces because they are environmentally conscious.

“An antique or vintage piece is something that has been on earth 50 to 100 years,” she says. “No new trees have been cut to make it, no energy is used in its creation, and there are no big trucks or gasoline used to get it here. It’s the ultimate recycling.”

Many new young collectors are a little tentative about buying antiques and vintage furniture and art, and Robert recommends they begin by creating their own “look book.”

“Take photos of pieces that you like in local stores, and clip photos from magazines,” she advises. “Paste them in a book or in a file. Eventually, you’ll see trends in what you like, and that will get you started. Plus it will build confidence in your taste.”

For Mabry and many young collectors, shopping in local consignment shops, going to auctions and estate sales or puttering around Royal and Magazine streets offers a world of opportunities.

“Ask questions of local merchants,” Mabry says. “They love to share their knowledge. Learn about different periods of antiques, different woods and ways you can use a piece. And buy one piece at a time. Don’t try to fill your house with a bunch of new things that will fall apart or you’ll get tired of.”        

When Mabry needs advice, she often turns to her mother, Nell, who has collected antiques for decades. Nell, a well-known abstract artist, often makes suggestions on how she can use a piece in a new and innovative way or how to update a finish. Over the years the two have used architectural pieces to enhance the millwork in Mabry’s Uptown cottage or to serve as art forms. And they have moved antiques from one room to another to serve different purposes.

“I’ve found that by purchasing one good piece a year or so, I’ve been able to fill my house with lasting furniture that I will love forever and will never go out of style,” Mabry says. “Plus, I really love the hunt.”

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