Ask the Experts | Renewal
What to do with stale, unloved art and antiques
It’s a common problem—that inherited antique dining set or that painting you bought fresh out of grad school, it just doesn’t seem to satisfy your aesthetic the way it used to. Our personal attachment to the art and antiques we own sometimes loses its luster, even when the piece maintains its good condition. While we may simply outgrow an item’s style or functionality, more often than not, art and antiques warrant a second chance. Local experts deal with this situation all of the time and have a number of suggestions for reviving your love.
“Art and antiques are usually cherished because they are strongly connected to memories and emotions,” says Valerie Legras, founder and principal designer at Valerie Legras Atelier. “Finding ways to breathe fresh life into pieces is key to reconnecting and restoring that enjoyment.”
Blake Erskin, NCIDQ and managing partner of Shotgun Design Group says when people fall out of love with their belongings, it’s usually because it no longer feels new to them. Managing Partner Amanda Connolly agrees. She notes that you can get used to seeing an object in one place and in one light and eventually feel the need for change. Of course, sometimes the pieces weren’t cherished to begin with — they were simply inherited and don’t really fit into your design plan.
When asked what designers do in their own homes when they run into this dilemma, most designers start by moving things around. Connolly has an antique dresser that first lived in her master and guest bedrooms, but when she moved from a 1903 Victorian to a 1960s colonial, it seemed out of place.
“Instead of letting it go for something new, I found a new life for it in my entry foyer flanked by two midcentury arm chairs and a collection of art pieces that I have acquired through the years,” says Connolly. “I love it there and how my antiques from various decades work together with an otherwise far more modern wallpaper.”
In addition to moving the piece to a new space, Valerie Legras recommends reframing art, reupholstering fabric and changing hardware as the first changes explore. If those don’t do the trick, try consulting a designer, artist, or craftsman and see if a fresh pair of eyes can identify new potential.
“Also, take the surroundings of a piece into consideration. Painting a room another color or incorporating an accent wall can completely change the look of the items in a space,” says Legras.
“Make it vibrant,” Legras says. “For example, if you have a big antique mirror, try hanging it on a wall with a bold, modern wallpaper. The unexpected pairing will make the mirror seem new again.”
Legras takes the same approach with upholstery, occasionally using contemporary, audacious fabrics on old furniture pieces.
At Sylvia T. Designs LLC, owner and artist Sylvia Thompson-Dias will often refinish a piece of furniture. To revitalize a classic look or make a piece more contemporary, she recommends adding a new finish or a touch of gilding to liven it up. She notes that changing your lighting can make a huge a difference as well. Just making subtle changes can sometimes be all you need to fall in love with an item all over again.
Penny Francis, principal pesigner and CEO of Eclectic Home, likes to use juxtapositions to breathe new life into antiques and art.
“To renew interest, always try pairing an antique with a modern piece of art or a classic piece of art with a very modern piece of furniture,” says Francis. “Baroque with modern — the juxtaposition in these total opposites create interest and conversation.”
According to Francis, one of the easiest ways to update artwork is with a new frame. Putting an ornate frame on a piece of artwork that had a streamlined, minimal frame will change the statement it makes, and vice versa. Similarly, an easy way to breathe life into antique furniture is to repaint it or simply change the hardware.
And what to do when the love lost is still … well, lost?
“I have found that struggling to include a piece that is affecting the entire design and feel of the environment means it is time to say goodbye,” says Francis.
When an object is a family heirloom, design experts recommend trying to keep the piece within the family. When that’s not the case, Lydia Blackmore, decorative arts curator at The Historic New Orleans Collection recommends getting a condition assessment and value appraisal done.
“If you are really contemplating getting rid of an object through sale or donation, understanding its value is important,” says Blackmore. “An appraiser can help you research your object and see how it fits in the current marketplace.”
When you find out more about the piece, you may find yourself falling back in love.
If you have a piece that may have historical value, Blackmore says not to hesitate to reach out to your local museum. When talking to a curator, she recommends having a general idea of its age, when and how it was first acquired by your family, who has owned it between the original owners and yourself (its “provenance”), and why you think it is historically significant.
“Even if an object doesn’t fit our collecting parameters, I am always excited to see new things,” says Blackmore.
If your unloved antiques and art are not museum quality or perhaps already on display, Blake Erskin recommends considering a donation or sale. When looking to sell, contact an estate sale company or auction house to gather information.
“If the client is wanting to donate the piece, Bridge House, Grace House or Habitat for Humanity are good options,” he says.
First, though, try giving your love a second chance. The adventure into reviving an item may just be the start to a whole new relationship. And never hesitate to call in the experts — the eyes of a designer may be all the therapy you need to restore your art/antique relationship.