Buy what you love – 10 tips when buying antiques

If you’re about to start building your antiques collection there are some easy steps you can take to make sure they’re authentic and right for you, says Mary Claire Boyd, fair director at the Art & Antiques fair Olympia.

Photo: Robin Martin antique vases

Starting an antique collection is a hugely rewarding experience.   Not only are you creating something you can display with pride in your home and potentially pass down to future generations, you will be learning so much as your antique buying journey is hugely educational.

My top tip, whether you are buying for love or for an investment piece, is that you buy items that fit with your home and your way of life.

1. Visit fairs and galleries

Firstly, visit art and antiques fairs, museums and national galleries and work out what you like.  The variety of pieces on offer is extraordinary. For example at The Art & Antiques fairs at Olympia you can see works by Picasso, Miro and Warhol all under one roof as well as a number of paintings for just over £100. 

2. Build relationships

Build up relationships with dealers. Once they know you, and you know them, they will be willing to find things for you based on your taste and budget.  Discovery is often the hardest job so enlist their support as they are very well placed.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions and capitalise on their vast expertise.

3. Start simple

Good entry level pieces for beginners are often the most simple pieces such as a console table or a side table – or perhaps a statement vase for your flowers.

4. Seek advice from interior designers

If you’re unsure, seek advice from an interior designer who can provide help on where a piece would go.  They know that just one piece of antique furniture, even in a very modern setting, can make a space sing.  They will also have the knowledge of where to place a piece in the perfect position so don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Quite often furniture dealers are interior designers too so would be happy to help.

5. Buy what works for your home

As Susie Rumbold, Chairman of the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID) says: ‘Identify gaps in your rooms that could take items of furniture and know what size you can accommodate without crowding in the room.  Generate well-lit spaces for eye-catching pieces by adding table lamps (either old or new) to provide mid-level lighting.  Be aware of scale: small paintings for example that worked in your first flat may look too small in a larger family home, so hang them in tight groups to give them more impact.’

6. Think outside the box and don’t be afraid to try before you buy

Art and antiques encompass a whole range of pieces.  Think laterally – sometimes a textile on a wall, for example, those sold by Boccara can give a room lovely warmth and texture.

Photo: Serpent Noir, wool tapestry by Sonia Delaunay. Art & Antiques fair Olympia exhibitor: Boccara.

Many dealers will let you try a picture or a piece of furniture in your home before committing. 

7. Come armed with measurements

If shopping for large pieces of furniture, shop armed with measurements. ‘It’s also a good idea to have photos on hand of the space that the item will go into as well as exact measurements,’ says Grant Pierrus, editor of the Interior Style Hunter. ‘This will stop you from looking for items unnecessarily that just won’t fit’.

8. Ensure authenticity

Making that first purchase can be daunting so protect yourself.  The art and antiques world has two key trade associations – BADA and LAPADA. To greatly reduce the chance of buying a fake, make sure that whomever you buy from is a member of one of these organisations. Similarly, major London fairs have a strict vetting policy to help visitors, meaning that each and every piece has been thoroughly vetted before opening to the public – with more than 100 experts checking every single piece to make sure it is genuine and of sound quality.

9. Research

Keep up to date with news.  Visit fairs, research websites, talk to people.  Let yourself be educated.  As Pierrus says: ‘If you are new to the antique hunt a little research goes a long way and by simply browsing the Internet and antique websites you will begin to see what you like and what you imagine in the aforementioned space. Nowadays with platforms such as Pinterest it’s also so easy to save all your ideas and references then relate back to them so you can try something similar to what you have seen somewhere else.

10. Love what you’re buying

The chances are you are going to be investing a significant amount of money on your antique collection so be sure to absolutely love the piece you’re buying.  Make sure you have a personal resonance with it – an emotional connection that will stand the test of time far beyond fashion and your current home. 

Find out more about the Art & Antiques fair Olympia which runs 26th June – 2nd July in London and showcases 160 of the world’s specialist dealers.

Our readers can also receive two complimentary tickets valid from 27 June – 2 July.

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