Multipurpose Furniture

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love antiques. Even as a child, I was the one who wanted to save anything that belonged to a grandmother or great-grandmother. As a pre-teen, I rescued a Victorian chair that belonged to my great-grandmother (my father said would make good firewood). It now resides in our bedroom, and I still love it.

Thus, I was distressed recently to read an article that said young people today aren’t into antiques. The article said that young homeowners don’t like the upkeep of antiques and they don’t like “brown furniture.” So I’ve interviewed some of the top decorators and antique dealers in the city and asked them what trends they are seeing in the antiques business and who is leading the way.

Rivers Spencer, owner of the eponymous shop on Magazine Street, is finding resurgence in warm wood, in antiques and new pieces. Her recent travels to France and Italy showcased less painted furniture and more warm wood tones. Her clients, who span all ages, are showing high levels of interest in Art Deco and Art Moderne pieces. “The soft lines and nod to the glam look are attracting my customers,” she says. “They are also attracted to the wooden frames, upholstery and sleek lines.”

Piranesi’s clients are requesting antique pieces that have been adapted for 21st-century lifestyles. Co-owner Terry Voorhies points to an elegant 1880s altar from a church in Italy. The faux marble top was given a back, a center panel split in half to make doors and shelves were added to the base. It could now serve as a handsome buffet or bar for an elegant home. A similar piece, retrofitted, now dons the entrance of Broussard’s, an upscale French Quarter restaurant. Likewise, an early 1900s kitchen table was repurposed as a coffee table by cutting the legs and painting the top a soft gray-blue.

 “Our clients love the old and unusual, something that has a story,” says Voorhies. “But they also want something practical for today’s living. Often these antique treasures become the focal point in a room and are conversation pieces. Because they’ve been adapted to serve a completely new use, they become more than a beautiful antique; they serve a true function in the home.”

Petricia Thompson, whose store by the same name on Magazine Street, also finds customers updating antiques to allow for a more modern aesthetic. “I’m seeing bold, contemporary fabrics on lovely antique chairs – fauteuils, bergeres and dining room chairs just pop with color and life,” she says. “Farm tables make wonderful large computer desks and center islands for kitchens. More antique collectors I work with are mixing abstract art and antiques or Mid-Century Modern. It’s as if they are giving new life and uses to these wonderful old pieces.”

Truth be told: If a piece is well-made and classic, it can last generations and serve many purposes. Sure, you can update a piece by painting it, upholstering it with a contemporary fabric or changing the hardware. You can even give it a whole new purpose. Think of these updates as giving your grandmother a facelift … she’s still the same wonderful grandmother, she just looks (and maybe even acts) a little better.

A fine antique can be used in any room, so think out of the box if you find something you love. My husband I bought our first “serious” antique on Royal Street three decades ago. It was a linen press that has been used in our dining room to hold silver and linens, in a guest bedroom to hide a small flat screen television and in our master bedroom to hold sweaters and casual clothing. It’s never gone out of style, and to this day we love it.

And maybe that is the point of investing in antiques. Buy what you love, use it in different settings, and enjoy it. Forget the trends. After all, if a piece has lived a hundred years or more and served many families well, there’s nothing trendy about it. It’s a classic that will never go out of style.


Multipurpose Furniture

Piranesi Antiques and Decoration


Buy quality, not quantity.  If all you can afford is one piece a year, just do that.

Anchor a room with one big, simple piece with clean lines and great patina.

Place an antique mirror over a modern piece, or abstract art over an antique.

Start collecting by buying one great antique chest and mirror and go from there.


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