AS A SENIOR SPECIALIST and the Director of Hindman’s sales of European Decorative Arts, the category of collecting that includes furniture, sculpture, carpets, ceramics, mirrors, and more, I am often asked what’s “in” and what’s “out.” My colleagues and I advise our clients on acquiring for their collections, how to furnish a historic or a brand-new home, and how our firm can help them with transitions in their lives. Regrettably, the word “collecting” has a public relations problem. People today are turned off by the concepts of collections and clutter… yet people are collecting. They do it on Instagram—collecting images, collecting ideas, collecting digital art, collecting people. Our job is to teach this new audience how easily the hoarder’s instinct (it is inside all of us) can be applied with great pleasure to physical objects. You might think “I am not interested in antiques,” but historic objects absolutely belong in contemporary rooms. Incorporating something with the patina of age adds personality and character; a single rare object casts its glow across everything else in a room. I would advise you should never hire a designer who only buys from manufacturers’ showrooms.
Historic design and decorative arts are as cherished now as they were in our grandparents’ day—what has changed is the way we use them in our homes. It is out of fashion to fill a house with collections and formal furniture; many people will buy two or three very good things, the best of the best, and juxtapose them against more inviting furniture in open rooms. If you bring home a 1740s gilded Rococo mirror with opulent details, give it room to breathe. It needs a stark white wall or an uncrowded room to show itself off.
Auctions bring modern and historic designs from all over the world to one’s doorstep, at a range of price points from entry-level to major commitment. It is possible to own near-museum-worthy examples of the finest furniture ever made, often for less than the cost of something from the Merchandise Mart and without waiting fourteen months in this supply chain-challenged climate. However, you should not expect instant gratification. Dynamic rooms with meaningful works of art take years to build; the process cannot be rushed.
There is a strategy to buying at auction, and the advice is the same whether you are spending $1,000 on your first chair or $100,000 on a major work of art. Do all your research and decide how much you want to spend before the auction begins. Bidding moves at light speed; only with preparation are you guaranteed to get what you want at a comfortable price. Be aware of the premium, a commission you pay to the auction house on top of the hammer price. Get a second opinion before making a big purchase. Seek the knowledge of an art adviser or a trusted and impartial dealer, who can protect you from paying too much, buying something fake, or otherwise making a mistake. Be aware that items may need “freshening” before they are ready to bring home. You or your designer should have preferred upholsterers, refinishers, framers, and restorers. Lastly, do not approach the auction looking for something. Have an open mind and let yourself be moved by something new. Experienced collectors do not look for anything specific, rather they say, “show me what you think is the best.” They are looking for beautiful objects made from costly or exotic materials, fine workmanship, or sometimes just a better version of something they already own.
Above all, have fun. Collecting is an encyclopedic experience that brings a lifetime of enjoyment. Find a friend or a partner who likes to learn, and you will never be bored.
The European Furniture & Decorative Arts department will present a live and online auction from April 20 to 21, with bidding beginning at 10 am, hindmanauctions.com/auctions/1017-european-furniture-decorative-arts. An online auction will follow on April 22, also at 10 am, hindmanauctions.com/auctions/1018-european-furniture-decorativearts. Bidding is available via Hindman’s Digital Bid Room, bid.hindmanauctions.com or the Hindman app. For more information, contact Corbin Horn at 312-280-1212 or [email protected]