As I was driving under an oak tree in Lake Forest the other day, I realized once again that great color is a relative concept based on just how much you have seen. The tree’s leaves were a violet red on the outside and yellow on the other side so that when you approached the tree, it was red with glimpses of yellow and once you were under the canopy, it was yellow. It was extraordinary.

Does that mean that the the trees that I saw in the University of Wisconsin Arboretum the next day, Acer rubrums that shone pink in the afternoon sun, were any less beautiful? Not at all, they were stunning too.

Collectors of English furniture almost always strive to buy good color. It is as important as design or provenance. Designers, as a rule, concentrate on form and of course, they have to make things fit. As an antique dealer, there are certain things that I can’t resist and great color is one of them. Sometimes, I find that the adjective “great” covers a lot of ground.


Imagine a time when people never went anywhere. By that, I mean that a majority of people in an entire country, seldom went further than ten or twenty miles from where they were born. It is an astounding thought for a 21st century person.

I mention this because in 18th century England, if you were a cabinetmaker, you not only had to be good, but you had to be adaptable to new styles. You had to move if you were good and if you were smart, as Thomas Chippendale was, you were the first to publish a design book to advertise yourself.

I am bowled over by the magnitude of the English furniture business in the 18th century. It was not unlike the steel business in the U.S. in the 1950’s or the car business in the 60’s or the computer business in the last twenty years. You had to be good (which is why English furniture is still so great to live with because it lasts) and you had to be smart. If you were as smart as Chippendale, you made your name for all time. Donald Trump should be so lucky!


I have never wanted to make history other than the obvious family history that is inevitable if you marry and have children, which I have. Being famous appears onerous and susceptible to Boldface Names or Page Six and that does not appeal.

But I enjoy history and am currently reading Jared Diamond’s, “Guns, Germs and Steel”, a book that tries, quite plausibly in my opinion, to make sense of how and why civilization developed the way it did.

I was a teenager within ten years of Holden Caulfield. Salinger’s understanding of the rigidity of the era as seen through Holden’s eyes is not that different from my own view of that time. I was taught never to go into New York City without wearing a tie. Today, personal behavior is hardly restrained at all and yet society’s rigidity is hardly different. Today, the rigidity is far closer to the mindset of Orwell’s “Animal Farm” making the 1950’s and 60’s appear benign.

I look at my antiques with pleasure, however. Imagine the Victorians who were living with some of what they could only have thought were “dated” pieces of furniture. Imagine the pride of possession when the items were first delivered and that they still render pride from people like me. These thoughts have a kind of musical quality that I can’t quite put my finger on.


The power that an object has is far greater than what it is. In the NY Times this morning, there is an editorial on a small museum in Fargo, Noth Dakota commemorating Roger Maris and his season in 1961 when he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. A flip of the page and there is an article about the Boeing 707 that was Air Force One which flew seven presidents millions of miles which is now hanging in the Air Force One Pavilion at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. One can only imaging the conversations within the walls of that plane.

There was a sale at Christie’s in London this week commemorating the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the decisive battle between Napoleon’s navy and the English where Nelson, almost anticlimactically, died with the victory assured in the arms of his first mate Hardy. The sale was a financial success.

English furniture represents history to me. Indeed, style as I see it is a manifestation of the moment and that moment is always human and endowed with pathos, politics, culture and, in short, history. This is what is forgotten by people that buy English antiques for investment. Living with history has its own rewards.


I had lunch today with someone that I have known since I was five, over fifty years if you must know. His wife loves antiques and would love to buy but she feels that they are all just too expensive. I don’t know whether I should sympathize with her or not. She reads all the design magazines and consistently runs across one dealer in New York City that she feels she must visit. I asked her if she had done her homeworkl on the dealer to determine whether they belonged to any trade organizations that would allow her some recourse if her purchases turned out not to be genuine. She had not.

She countered my suggestion by saying that she did not want “museum quality” things because they were too expensive. My response was that you get what you pay for and that buying something cheap probably means that it is cheap. My lack of sympathy centers on my friend’s intense desire to believe that an antique is an antique because a store owner says it is, particularly if the store owner has sold enought to designers that get their work published.

Is this sour grapes on my part? Not really, because I know that she will never be a client of mine. Frustration is more what I feel because I don’t make the case very well for buying from reputable dealers. I am also frustrated by people who believe that genuine things can somehow be cheaper if you go to the right store. In the end, it is the wishful thinking that I object to. It is far, far better to develop a relationship with a dealer you can trust who will work for you than to believe in fairy tales.


I think I gave a negative impression about the clients who wanted to anthropomorphize my chair. We do it all the time to the objects in our lives and I would be the last person in the world to say it should not be done. What astonished me about the clients is that they (both) wanted me to say that the chair was one thing or another. That is a personal thing for the most part. I should have just said that it had been spayed.

Design does have a gender feel about it. Art deco is generally masculine, even those ladies with long sinuous legs that hold globes that are lamps. Art nouveau is much more feminine. Arts and crafts is masculine, so spare and muscular.

I will say, however, that great design transcends gender. It isn’t that the objects lose their gender feel, but that they enter into a scheme that creates a tension that is a melding of all aspects of a space from the carpet, the paint, the ceiling, the mouldings, the fabric, the furniture, etc. It isn’t easy, but when it is great it is astounding.

I was perusing the latest edition of ‘Architectural Digest’ and saw a chair being advertised that was boldly carved and gilded. If it has design antecedents, they are 18th century Italian, but this chair was less a design and more of an attempt to create that feel–masculine in this case–that someone might feel they had to buy for a man’s study. The chair design fails in my opinion because it would require everything in the room to cooperate with it. In fact, it is a hotel lobby piece or something that would be good on a stage.


I think the only editorials worth writing are the ones that really mean something to the writer. I often read the NY Times editorials and wonder at the task of writing several columns a week about something you care deeply about.

I care deeply about good design. There is good design and bad design (particularly in antiques). There are beautiful things that are timeless, even if they are a few years old and there are unattractive things hundreds of years old.

Editorializing about design is difficult. There are few designers given free reign as there are almost always the client(s) to satisfy and whoever heard of a client having bad taste? Years ago, some clients were in my shop trying to figure out whether a chair was masculine or feminine. I did not sell the chair to them.