Month: July 2018

Antique Mirrors

I like antique mirrors. Some people don’t because they just want to see their own reflection, but I think that antique mirrors really add to the look and feel of a room. If you have an antique bedroom set, why would you have a regular old mirror on the wall that anybody buy just about at any store?

However, antique mirrors do require extra care. You can’t just spray it with some glass cleaner and a newspaper like you can with the mirror in your bathroom, but they are not much harder to keep clean than keeping streaks off regular glass.

I’ve talked it over with some professionals and have come away with three different methods. All three involve using lint-free cloths. There are some microfiber cloths that work well, and some people use camera lens cloth. You can get packs of them online.

However, I was given a warning by every single person I spoke with. You have to be extremely careful to prevent “foxing,” which happens when moisture gets behind the glass and fogs up the silver. Slight foxing can give a piece a great look, but too much and you make it useless.

You can use a little paraffin (or kerosene) on your cloth. It helps protect the glass. You put it on, wipe off the excess, and let it dry. Please use paraffin in an area where you can open windows or keep it well-ventilated.

Ammonia is another good choice. Add a few drops to a bucket of water. Dip your cloth in it, wring it out very well, and then wipe from top to bottom in an S shape so that you don’t go over the same place more than once.

Lastly, you can use denatured alcohol (sometimes packaged as methylated spirits). It may have a bad smell because additives have been mixed with the alcohol in order to discourage people from drinking it. And while that does make it toxic, it is actually healthier for you than many artificially created cleaners. Denatured alcohol evaporates quickly, which will prevent streaks.

When a mirror gets too foxed, it will lose its reflective properties. If you like the frame and don’t mind, don’t worry. There is a process called resilvering, where a professional can try to restore or replace the layer of silver (or aluminum) behind the glass. Oddly, restoring a mirror can actually devalue the piece, so consider what your ultimate plan is. There is another option if the mirror is in really bad shape. An expert may be able to scrape the silver off the back of the original mirror and cut a new mirror to the same size. They make a vacuum seal with a water mixture to make the new glass stick to the old. This way, the original mirror remains but the reflection will be brand new.

As for the frames, it is best to simply wipe them down with a soft cloth and beeswax.

Follow these tips and hopefully you will be able to enjoy your mirror for a long time to come.

Favorite Pieces

I love decorating a space. I like making things feel comfortable, welcoming, and beautiful. Antiques help me do that. Warm colors, lovely details, and beautiful lines can strengthen any room’s aesthetic and make it a place you want to be. That is always my goal.

I have slowly been working my way through my house, changing out a piece here, adding a rug there. I keep my eyes open every time I am out shopping. It is so rewarding to find the perfect antique porcelain table lamp or a mahogany chest of drawers that makes the guest room look complete.

Antiquing for me is not about buying things. I could shop anywhere to do that. It is about connecting to the past and bringing it into my own life. Sure I could go anywhere and buy a reasonably priced coffee table. It may look nice, but it is probably made cheaply and will only last me a few years. That is an option. You may like your assembly-required, mass-produced particleboard coffee table. It’s probably very pretty and suits your needs perfectly.

I would rather have something with some history. I found an old WWI era steamer trunk that had been refinished, and that is what I use. I can sit in my living room and imagine the incredible journeys that trunk has been on and the people it may have belonged to.

By far, though, my favorite pieces are part of my bedroom set. I could not believe it when I saw it in the antique shop – a gorgeous Victorian bed frame and dresser. It looked like a beam of sunlight was shining right down on that corner of the store, calling my name. Everything was in fantastic shape. It was also on consignment, and the owner was very interested in making a sale.

I made what I thought was a very fair offer. I tried not to do a little dance at the shop when it was accepted and we made arrangements to have it shipped to my house – the top of the dresser is marble, and that added to the solid wood construction meant it was quite heavy, and would need to be carefully moved to my place.

Even after it was installed in my home, I couldn’t believe my luck. The dresser had the original mirror and tiny hinged glove boxes. The headboard is a summer/winter headboard, designed with a clever panel that can be removed, allowing for cooler breezes to reach the sleeper in warmer months. The first night I lay down to sleep, I thought to myself, “This finally feels like my bedroom.” As I fell asleep that night, and many nights since, I wonder who originally owned these pieces and what their life was like. I wonder how the furniture stayed in such great condition and all the items of clothing the dresser must have held over the years. I wonder what dreams people have had while tucked in under the swirling designs of that headboard’s woodwork.

And that feeling, that connection – even if it is imaginary or tenuous – is the reason I like antiquing.

What Makes an Antique

I have had friends call me over to their homes or the homes of their parents to look through their attics or storage units. It is something that I might enjoy if I just got to poke around and look. However, usually there is an ulterior motive. Everyone is hoping that whatever has been stored there was worth saving. More importantly, that it is now worth quite a lot.

Now, I like antiques. I’ve looked at loads of them in stores, at markets, and online. I’ve talked to dealers and read books. But I’m no expert. I am always so nervous when someone asks me to look over an item. How can I tell if something is authentic or a reproduction? There are ways, yes, and some of them are easy. Others are not and require an expert eye. For all of my enthusiasm, I would not call myself an expert by any means.

The difference between a piece just being old furniture and being an antique is simple: an antique is “collectible.” Your great granny’s rocker might be in good shape and very old, but if nobody would buy it, you have a useless old piece of furniture gathering dust and taking up space. Another thing that sets antiques apart is that they can usually associated with a time period or a certain style. For example, a Louis XVI chair or a Sheraton table. If it’s just “old” or from “long ago” it’s probably not antique.

When determining if something is antique, start by looking for any information you can find about where it was made, when it was assembled, or who made it. We call this a maker’s mark. If you can narrow it down to a certain company or even a location, you can research the piece and find out valuable information. An expert will know where to look and be more familiar with names and companies.

Look at how it is put together. That can also tell you a lot about when it was made. For example, you can pull out a drawer and see if there are dovetail joints. You may be able to tell if they are handmade or done by a machine. You can look at how the hardware was attached (many antiques don’t have screws). What are the inside of the drawers or the back made of? If it is plywood, it can’t be older than the 20th century.

Also check out the details: look at the hardware. Does it look brilliantly shiny, or does it look like it is original to the piece? If it looks new or has Philips screws holding it in place, it is likely a forgery or at least partially restored. How is it finished? There weren’t a lot of options for wood finishes, so it was usually shellacked, which usually led to a dull (not mirror or high gloss) shine. You might even be able to see the thickly applied layers.

For every attic I’ve climbed up into and every dust-mote infested storage unit I’ve been driven to, I have really only seen one or two pieces that were probably valuable. That is OK. Sometimes things have a different kind of value to them: if a piece brings you happiness or reminds you of a family member, bring it out of storage and display it proudly. What does it matter if it has little monetary value?