It isn’t true that summer ends at Labor Day. These days, for a great many students, summer ended last week as they returned to classrooms. In the antiques trade, summer ends well after Labor Day, which is neither a good or bad thing unless summer has been a long dry spell of no business. If that is the case, you want to take your shot gun out and blow summer all to hell.

My summer has been quite pleasant. Buyers and sellers have been on the move and that is good. I have not quite accomplished all that I set out to do. This because I wanted to extend my windows to the floor of my gallery and because of a certain expert bureaucratese, I will be doing this post- rather than pre-Labor Day. Since my shop is a mess in anticipation of construction, I hope that the buying public will delay until I am cleaned up and ready to roll.

The only thing that I dread about summer other than a complete lack of business are heat waves. Heat waves pay no attention to the date and occur well after the calendrial end of summer. The first year of the International Show in mid-October fell on the night that Hugo started ravaging South Carolina and the barometer in New York City was through the roof. Anyone in New York City that wasn’t sweating that evening was already dead.


Visibility and location are what it is all about in the retail business. Or so I am told. My own experience tells me this is only partly true. People have to look. If they aren’t looking, they don’t see. They also have to believe in you, at least as far as selling expensive antiques is concerned. Being believable is a function of the buyer’s experience, of course. The less they have, as far as I am concerned, the worse it is for me.

In any case, I am in the midst of making my windows extend to the floor of my gallery. It is a straightforward and rather simple project. However, people and bureaucracies come out of the woodwork to throw wrenches into the project making it slow to a creep. If I were twenty years younger, I would be screaming at people. At this stage in my life, it is better to take two aspirin and think of the end result.

It is August as well which is the slowest of months. Even December has more zip to it than August. Not the weather, but the number of clients roaming the streets. Nonetheless, I am not expecting anything and more is happening than that. I love busy designers. I just hope they love me and are able to see beyond the thick layer of dust that construction has wrought.


Every once in a while, I read the new York Times with absolute awe at their choice of editorial content. (Actually, more than once in a while.) Today, there is an article entitled, “Is This What Happiness Looks Like?” This is an article with lots of photos, in other words not a cheap piece to run, devoted to the discussion of whether bright colors in the home make for happier people.

I think the article was supposed to just be fun, or perhaps it was tongue in cheek. One of those articles that signifies what New York City is really like. The philosophy of color needs, I believe, a great deal more space than this one got. This article was hardly a statement, more of a chance for decorators to have a few good sound bites published.

If they had asked my opinion, I might have suggested that the clientele subjecting themselves to the tastes of a decorator spend a little time learning just what it is that makes them relax. A glass of wine or a shot of bourbon in neon pink just may be the right thing, but if it isn’t it grows old real fast. Our homes are our refuges and they should offer as much a chance for rejuvenation as you can get in the 12 hours or so you get to be there each day.

Relaxation and comfort, in other words, require an effort to understand. Years ago, I painted my library apple green and I liked it for a while. But it did not stand up to the test of time and it is now a dark forest green. It is the right color for me, but in fact, the color is less important than what I have in the room. Books, of course, are the primary thing, but then I have antiques on sabbatical from my shop and they work very well at making a room to relax in.

I suppose what I started out to say is that the New York Times has these many sections every day that are other than the news and which are, in essence, the tabloid part of the paper. Instead of scandal, there is every facet you can imagine to do with modern times with the strongest emphasis being on fashion and design. But the articles don’t delve deeply. The intent is titillation. I guess you have to sell newspapers and cater to your market. The articles just should not be taken too seriously.

 

There isn’t a decorator alive who doesn’t say that their work is anything but timeless. Tell that to Dorothy Draper, Metropolitan Museum retrospective, notwithstanding. What is timeless is good taste and she certainly had that. Her work, specifically her interiors, are another matter altogether. What can possibly survive the onslaught of happy decorating?

The things that survive are the furniture and the objects. Look at the memorabilia sales that the auctions have been having. A crappy old set of JFK’s golf clubs for over $200,000! I would call that survival. What won’t survive are neon pink or beiges or black walls or striped walls or wooden houses or glass houses. Unless, of course, you are Phillip Johnson’s glass house. But that was an object of his anyway.

Life is a curious combination of enjoying the moment and living for the future. Antiques, paradoxically, are for the present and the future. Color is for now. Decorating is for now and if you are a color freak, live with it. If you are a beigeista, revel in your serenity. Sooner or later your choices will be painted over. And you will most likely be the person doing the painting.


In writing about bogus bargains yesterday, I focused on pieces that looked exceedingly inexpensive for what they were. Dealers who have been in business for a certain amount of time do not make such mistakes, that is underselling an item by not just fifty percent but by seventy-five to eighty percent. That kind of naivete, also known as stupicity, doesn’t make for a successful antiques business, unless……….

I would never hire a plumber that told me he charged only twenty-five percent as much as his competition. I would suspect a car that was being sold too cheaply unless I had an expert mechanic to look it over. Why would an antique dealer let a huge profit go untapped? How dumb do antique dealers look? Getting fooled, after all, is a two way street.  Understanding just where the joke lies is more important than anything.

Frankly, I believe that you can fool a lot of people a lot of the time and for some dealers, that is just enough. Looking at the world for what is real is not an easy task, one of the reasons being that it just costs a lot to get what you want–there are no “steals”. Getting a feel for reality, something I would like some of our politicians to do, is the basis for greater understanding. I must reiterate that if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it is a duck.


Most of the antique dealers that I know at the upper end of the trade really enjoy the decorative arts. Furniture in particular offers dealers the ability to create a sense of their own taste by buying certain forms or styles that are in a color and condition that they can relate to and promote. Dealers also need to enjoy the buying and selling as well as it is a necessary adjunct to being a dealer. These two sensibilities, for lack of a better word, are essential to top flight dealers and it is one of the most unifying aspects of the antiques trade.

Dealers, however, do not march in lock step. There are strong disagreements about taste, authenticity and knowledge in general. The vetting process at antiques fairs is a reminder of this and although many dealers have objected to assessments as well as reserved the right to further disagree with a vetting committee opinion, there is also a tacit agreement to abide by the rules. The system is far from perfect, but it has forced dealers to both raise standards and work within them.

In a discussion with a dealer the other day, it became quite clear to both of us that the unwritten rules of the antiques trade are not universal. He told me about a dealer offering a rare Italian cupboard dating 1540 for around $150,000 that he had been asked to look at for some clients of a friend. The clients, who had priced similar pieces before, were aware that great examples sell for close to seven figures. They sensed that they had a “steal” and were extremely excited. They should not have been.

The antique furniture market has become, with the use of the internet, about as transparent as it can be given the essential truth that every piece needs to be closely examined. You can look up just about anything and determine what the market for an item should be. Yes, there are dealers that sell things for less and there are some who ask big prices. Dealers are allowed to do this and if they have great knowledge, they probably should. But bargains such as the one in the previous paragraph are not real. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.