For many New Orleaneans, refurnishing a home has become less of a luxury and more of a necessity since Hurricane Katrina. This furniture frenzy can make even the most die-hard shopper a little weary, but if you are looking to replace antique furniture and art, buying at auction offers an energizing alternative to what may have become a tiring task. Not only will you find literally thousands of extraordinary items from around the world under one roof, receive quality service from highly talented and knowledgeable historians and experts, but there is an unparalleled element of excitement that only comes with “the thrill of the chase” that an auction can provide.
You don’t have to travel to London or New York to get this experience. In fact, antique enthusiasts from all over the world come to New Orleans for the unique buying experiences presented in our own backyard. John Abajian, a consigner with New Orleans Auction Galleries, notes that while they have a very loyal local client base, they also have a significant number of national and international clients who regularly do business with them. These clients typically bid via telephone or Internet, and hail from cities as near as Houston and as far as Hong Kong. Likewise, the inventory New Orleans Auction Galleries acquires comes from destinations around the world.
But locals are no strangers to the auction scene. In fact, since the storm, Katie Hovas, vice president of Neal Auction Company, has not only seen more of her existing local clients as they seek to replace damaged furniture, but she has also noticed a number of new faces. “Someone who has lost an antique isn’t likely to replace it with a reproduction,” says Hovas. “I think that sentiment is drawing in a lot of new clients who may love antiques but have traditionally purchased their pieces through a retailer.”
The Thrill of the Hunt
Jill and John Waid are among the many local auction aficionados.
“New Orleans is home to two of the finest auction houses in the country,” says Jill. “My husband and I lived here for nearly 10 years before attending our first local auction. Finally we asked ourselves, ‘What are we waiting for? Why aren’t we taking advantage of these fantastic events?’ We’ve been going to auctions ever since. It’s a fun aspect of our city that we are fortunate to have so close.”
Jill says some of her most-prized possessions have been purchased at auction, and include everything from a set of authentic Thonet café chairs to a mabe pearl and diamond ring. One of her favorite finds was a set of original Max Papart numbered prints that she came across during an auction preview. She took time to research the artist and the value of his prints before bidding, and learned that they were something truly rare. She believes that the more informed you are about your purchase, the more appreciative you are of its value and history behind it.
Art is typically a bestseller at auction because of the extensive selection available to buyers, ranging from sculptures to lithographs to textiles and tapestries, from all artists and periods and in all mediums. Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Auction Galleries noticed record sales in Southern art, as demonstrated during the highly successful May 2006 auction featuring the Southern art collection of Martha Ann and Ray Samuel. The Samuel Collection drew a standing-room-only crowd and set world-record prices for 30 Southern painters.
“Unfortunately, there was so much Southern art lost along the Gulf Coast as a result of the storm,” says Kelly Eppler, managing director of New Orleans Auction Galleries. “Since then, we have seen an increase of interest in this style as our clients attempt to replace something from they lost or obtain a piece of what is still left.”
Whether you are looking to replace an antique, expand your current collection, or even if you are looking for nothing in particular, there is something for everyone at an auction. And while it is hard to replace a family heirloom or a piece of great sentimental value, it is easy to find a gem amidst this great treasure trove. •
Restoring your Antiques
For antique pieces that are mildly damaged, furniture restoration may be a viable option
2005 Magazine St.
Mustafah Afaneh Furniture Refinishing
216 Chartres St.
New Orleans Conservation Guild (Art)
3301 Chartres St.
Shades of Light (Lighting)
1123 Josephine St.
Uptown Restoration Antique Restoring
7420 Zimple St.