Successful actors have an innate understanding of how to look good in a wide variety of situations. Certainly the Academy Awards, or The Oscars as they have been re-dubbed, offers a moment to shine with very little effort. The instancy of live television is, of course, a two edged sword and the contrast between the Academy Awards of today and the 1960-70’s is marked. The Academy in those days must have wondered just what they had to do to get the actors to fall in line. But different eras have different zeitgeists and we, actors notwithstanding, have a hard time resisting the moment.

One of Thomas Chippendale’s more unusual clients was the actor David Garrick (1717-79). Garrick changed the course of acting with a style that was realistic and less declamatory and garnered admirers that included the Royal Family. In so doing, he also made theatre respectable. His fame and influence are hard to appreciate fully, given that he was just an actor, a profession heretofore not associated with both probity and eclat. Garrick was said by Samuel Johnson (1709-84) to live like a prince and one proof of that was in Garrick’s slow payment of his bills to Chippendale, a high handed tactic used by many of Chippendale’s wealthier clients.

Garrick was also a patron of the artist Johan Zoffany (1733-1810), the German painter who had emigrated to Britain to seek his fame. Garrick met Zoffany in the studio of another artist, Benjamin Wilson (1721-88), probably because of Garrick’s Austrian wife who could converse with Zoffany in his native tongue. It was a turning point for Zoffany in England. Garrick found that Zoffany’s ability to capture him in various theatrical roles was better than other artists of the time including the aging William Hogarth (1697-1764) and he used these paintings in exhibitions to advertise himself. Public relations is clearly a fine art. Perhaps slightly finer in the 18th century.


The assumption about antique dealers, particularly ones that tend not to slip into selling items outside of their chosen field, is that they do not like other eras of design. I can only speak for myself in this regard, but that just isn’t true. I well remember being enamored of Art Deco as a teenager as well as making pilgrimages to the Paris Metro stops with Art Nouveau entrances. Also, the very first piece I bought was an oak chair that dates circa 1890 in the Arts and Crafts style. I also purchased a Thonet rocker that I restored from breaks and bad paint to what it originally had been. That was a labor of love, I have to add, as getting white paint off of beechwood is no easy task.

Learning about English antique furniture required one to learn that there are different levels of quality and condition to either look for or avoid. One reason that early mahogany furniture is so heavily collected, for example, is because the quality of furniture made in the 1740’s -60’s is consistently high. This is not true of all the furniture made post 1770. Additonally, dealers may prefer one year over another although the shortage of great furniture is requiring all dealers to be less choosy. There is also, and this is most important, the market to consider. Some items sell well consistently and some rise and fall. Sets of dining chairs, for example, need to be at least eight in number no matter how wonderful they are. Buying six great chairs can be like putting your money in cold storage.

To believe that dealers don’t like other styles is to short change their vision. After all, Andy Warhol led the most surprising of double lives by living in an immaculate town house with high style American classical furniture. I am mentioning this because in the recent issue of “New York Spaces”, there is an apartment in Clinton Hill designed by Jessica Warren that is, at least in the photos, wonderful. Furthermore, the space is classic town house with grand proportions and classical mouldings and yet the furnishings are completely modern. I don’t know Jessica Warren, but her work is very good. My guess is that she would have no problem using antiques in a modern setting just as easily as she has used modern furniture in a traditional setting.


Development in today’s world has taken on an impersonal context. Take any housing project at almost any economic strata and the sameness of what is created for each strata is evident very quickly. There is an assumed universality of need or want which belies individual preferences or taste. Individual taste, good or bad, is discouraged because it restricts the market. At the higher economic levels, the goal of the developer tends towards the absence of anything that might be personally evocative. Such emotions might win one client but lose ten. So it is best to build expensively and antiseptically.

England’s great country houses just reek of individual sensibility. A Gothick library here, a Jean Tijou wrought iron gate there, a Grinling Gibbons carved swag or a Joseph Rose plastered room are all manifestations of home owners proving themselves through their taste. The inevitable rise of the bar of sublime decoration (and conspicuous consumption) was a constant through the 18th century with very little of it failing to achieve something extraordinary. The competition to design something new and unique and then create it at the highest levels of craftsmanship bespeak of an era so unlike our own that it is hard to imagine this was only 2-300 years ago.

As much as this sounds as if it either distresses or depresses me, it doesn’t in the slightest. If ever there was a better reason for buying antiques, or anything atypical for that matter, it is this choice that one can make between the personal and impersonal. Impersonal is not wrong for many people, something that it took a long time for me to understand. But the personal, and the very best example of this highly individualistic sense of taste I can think of was in the houses and rooms shown in the first issue of the magazine of what was then just known as “Interiors”–they were just magical. They are worthwhile looking at if only to see what we have wrought in the last twenty-five years.


Everyone knows what it is like to be manipulated by moodiness. There used to be an antique dealer who was a master at this particular drama. He would look darkly if you said something vaguely silly and switch into strict school master tone, stentorian and morally superior. It was highly aggravating and also uncomfortable to be around. It was designed to make you uncomfortable and cause you to look for common ground with which to ease, or more accurately, appease the mood.

There is a lot of talk about false equivalencies in politics these days. The antiques trade is rife with false equivalencies where one piece is compared to another because they may look alike or serve the same function. I recently purchased a drum table and I have to say that it is one of the finest made pieces of English furniture I have ever owned. The table was made by a firm that truly understood how timber is best utilized. The table reeks of quality. Of course, it is brown and there lies the false equivalency. All brown wood is boring. How untrue that statement can be.

False equivalencies are essentially used to mask inequality. Moods are used to create an inequality, to put someone at a disadvantage. Their similarity, at least in my mind, lies in the essential dishonesty they engender. Of course, a bad mood is a bad mood and everyone makes false equivalencies, particularly parents with small children. But when the attempt is to be fundamentally dishonest, there is a knock on affect that forestalls intercourse and understanding. Not all brown furniture is equal after all.


Super Bowl Sunday, or Super Sunday as it has come to be known, looms this weekend and since my beloved NY Giants won’t be on the field, I won’t be watching. I don’t really care about football in general, but I have been a fan of the Giants since the 1950’s. I used to be a fan of the NY Rangers, but that has fallen away as the hockey leagues grew and rivalries, such as that with the Bruins, have partly diminished. To say I don’t read the sports pages would not be true so I am aware of what is happening, but my fandom is far diminished—except for those Giants.

The concept of sport hardly existed in the 18th century, at least in the way that we see it. Today, it is a major factor in societal equilibrium in that it offers entertainment for everyone. A boy from the slums of Rio is able to identify with soccer greats and to a certain extent, it gives him hope. In the 18th century, what the people identified with, at least in Britain, was their country and its success in expanding its empire and, of course, defeating the French. This jingoism was the pride of place that has been superceded by sports teams. Winning the World Cup of soccer is a serious event.

As a teenager, I was somewhat derisive of the Super Bowl. I thought it was a corny name and, of course, I thought that the AFC could not keep up with the NFL. That is, until Joe Namath came along and changed that concept. Someone gave me such ridiculous odds on the Jets that I took the bet and won big. But when I moved to England, I forgot football, at least the American version, until I came home and it took time to warm back up to the Giants. They just knew how to lose in tantalizingly agonizing ways. But they have won the big dance four times and there is always next year. Go Giants!