A beginner’s guide to buying antiques

Want to start collecting antiques for your home or office, but no idea where to begin? Read this beginner’s guide to buying antiques. 

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

My top tip, whether you are buying for love or for an investment piece, is the most important thing is that you’re buying something that fits with your home and your way of life.

Visit fairs and galleries

If you’re new antiques, I recommend visiting art and antiques fairs, museums and national galleries to work out what you like.

The variety of pieces on offer is extraordinary. In London we are spoilt for choice! 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.

Build relationships with dealers

Once they know you, and you know them, dealers will be willing to find things for you based upon your taste and budget.

Discovery is often the hardest job, so enlist their support as they are best placed to hunt out pieces. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and capitalise on their vast expertise.

Start simple

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

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, will make a space sing.

They will also know exactly where to place a piece, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Quite often furniture dealers are interior designers too, and may be happy to help.

Buy what works for your home

As Susie Rumbold, Chairman of the 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.”

Think outside the box and 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 (below) can give a room lovely warmth and texture.

‘Serpent Noir’, wool tapestry by Sonia Delaunay marks the artist’s oscillation between the reinterpretation of ancient objects and the creations of new forms. It forms a pseudo triptych representing the different periods of the artists’ works. Size: 151 x 308cm. Exhibitor: Boccara.

Many dealers will let you try a picture or a piece of furniture before committing, so don’t be afraid to ask if you’re not quite sure if a piece will suit your home or office.

Come armed with measurements

If you’re shopping for large pieces of furniture, come armed with measurements. As the Editor of the Interior Style Hunter Grant Pierrus says:

“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. This will stop you for looking for unnecessarily items and items that just won’t fit.”

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 – so make sure who you’re buying from is a member of one of these. This will greatly reduce your chance of buying a fake.

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 over 100 experts checking every single piece to check it is genuine and of sound quality.

Research

Keep up to date with news. Visit fairs, research websites and talk to people. Let yourself be educated. As Grant 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 programs such as Pinterest it’s also so easy to save all your ideas and references and relate back to them so then you can try something similar to what you have seen somewhere else.”

Love what you’re buying

And finally, 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.

Mary Claire Boyd is Fair Director of The Art & Antiques Fair Olympia (26th June – 2nd July) and The Winter Art & Antiques Fair Olympia (31st October – 5th November).