Having viewed the Patricia Kluge sale being held by Sotheby’s on site in Charlottesville, I have to say that it was mildly depressing. The furniture, some of it quite good, seems to have been cleaned to the extent of having lost its patina. I recognized a walnut stool that I sold to Stair and Co. that was for sale and it almost looked naked, no dirt, no nothing, just a monchromatic brown tone. This is the brown that gives the brown in brown furniture its bad name.

The key to great furniture is condition. As important as style, craftsmanship and materials are, condition is what makes you want to own a great piece. It is a function of patina and patina is everything. A replaced leg on a chair with great patina is forgivable, whereas on a chair with no patina, the missing leg becomes a bigger issue. Patina will frame desire in other words.

For many years, I have been trying to convince my clients that a “dry stripped” gilded frame is preferable to a regilded frame. Dry stripping is the cleaning off of successive repairs to old frames to return to what one hopes is the original gilding. The old gesso and clay have a distinctive look, but one thing is for certain, the frame hardly looks gilded when it is dry stripped. Most buyers of gilded furniture want to see gold, however. One of those regilded frames is hanging over the fire place in the Kluge drawing room–the base is beautifully carved. The mirror practically gleams.


Clearly, the most difficult aspect of walking into an antique shop for most would-be buyers is knowing what it is you want to buy. “I will know it when I see it.” Perhaps you will and perhaps you won’t, but I find that most people want to be talked into buying something. I find that concept to be very difficult. The easiest clients for me are those people who feel a pull towards something. You can see it in how they look at the piece and how they touch it. There is essential appreciation and a connectedness that you wish everyone would have to beautiful things.

I can’t imagine how the Earl Burlington was able to talk Robert Walpole, England’s first Prime Minister, into building Houghton House in Norfolk. Along with William Kent, Burlington took charge of the design of the house, the interior and the exterior and in so doing created one of the greatest English houses. Walpole must have been scandalized at the cost, or perhaps he wasn’t, but he certainly would have been aware of just how Queen Anne looked upon Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough and her expenditures on Blenheim Palace. The friendship did not survive that building project.

The question that lies at the bottom of building or buying, taste notwithstanding, is money. You can have all the money in the world and not have taste. What is unforgivable is thinking that you have taste because you have money. The two bear no relationship to each other. Furthermore, it is clear that a masterpiece is not going to be inexpensive. The two great patrons of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for French furniture, the Wrightsman’s and the Linsky’s certainly came to understand that maxim. But then they knew what they wanted.