With Earth Day on the 22nd, April is a great month to think about sustainable design at home. Since antiques are literally an “age old” form of green design that never goes out of style – particularly in a historic city like New Orleans, we asked antiques dealer Sarah Thomas of Balzac Antiques to weigh in. 

The first thing to consider, says Thomas, is the fact that antiques were made to last, and therefore a good investment, while today’s mass-market furnishings are produced with a built-in level of disposability. The hand-made craftsmanship and the quality of materials in an antique are far superior. A new custom piece with comparable workmanship and materials is likely to carry an exorbitant price tag.

“Inexpensive, contemporary furnishings are not going to last for long,” Thomas said. “And that is really wasteful. A properly made antique has been around for 100 years and will be around for 100 more if you take moderately good care of them.”

Thomas says even today’s higher-end solid-wood pieces are usually made with woods that are inferior because it’s younger and not as dense. 

On the other hand, she points out that not all antiques are created equal, and as the market fluctuates, prices vary. Today, she notes that the class of antiques known as “brown wood” is less in demand and therefore generally less expensive.

“A good 19th century armoire can be purchased for under $1,000,” she said. 

Pieces that consistently command more interest such as a marble top console or a classic Louis Philippe chest of drawers cost a bit more but maintain their value longer than new furnishings.

Thomas advises following inspirational online magazines and pinterest and studying the work of a famous designer whose work you like to learn what appeals to you. She also recommends finding a reputable antiques dealer willing to share their knowledge. If an antique speaks to you, look at the back, the drawer linings, the hardware, and the top to see if they are original or have been changed over time (the more original, the higher the value). As for working antiques into your interior design with a distinctive flair, she recommends “looking for extremes”.

“If you begin with a very simple Restoration Hardware sofa, it’s exciting to pull in an Italian gilded Rococo mirror,” she said. “That just sings.”

  1. Build a relationship with a dealer you trust.
  2. Learn what works. For example, antiques with simple lines work well with contemporary and modern designs.
  3. At the same time, don’t be afraid to “make it your own”. For example, a piece can be modified for a television or bar, or a huge armoire can be worked into a new build or renovation in place of linen cabinets.

About the Expert

In the antiques business for 25 years, New Orleans native Sarah Thomas loves to forage for beautiful pieces that are well-designed and executed.  She deals mostly in Continental antiques, is especially fond of transitional pieces that combine elements of the Rococo and Neoclassical periods, and at the moment is a fan of “clubby” designs from the Victorian era.