Sunday, March 18, 2018

Antique Collecting: You Don't Need to Wait Till Your Kids Grow Up

Our dining table and chairs - when we have company, we pull this table out and chairs down to fill the room.
The last room in our antique home to be furnished is the dinning room, because it operated as our playroom.

Well, thanks to the ingenuity of my husband, it is now both a dinning room and a playroom - and a dinning room filled with antiques, no less.

Antiques and children don't normally go in the same sentence. The visceral response to their juxtaposition is "disaster waiting to happen!"

But, if you acquire the right kinds of antiques and keep a few things in mind, it is all possible.  Here's what I have learned:

1) Acquire the right antiques. This is not the stage of life to buy eighteenth century beauties. We eventually want an antique/good reproduction Tiger Maple farmhouse with green Windsor chairs, but not with our motley crew.

But mid-Century, Art Deco, Victorian, and even select early 19th century pieces depending on their wear can work just fine. Like the Victorian Larkin bookcase, below, which cost $170 from a consignment shop on Route 4 (aka "antique alley" here in NH). It had early veneers on it, but painted plus Spode hardware to match my china, it looks just fine.  Or the reproduction chairs, above, which we got for free down the road in a post-moving sale purge. And that skirted chair? Thrifted for $5. Clearly we won't care if a child trashes it!

Painted Larkin bookcase with every-day china, $5 thrifted chair, and a grandmother's tea caddy saved from rotting in a basement, stripped of its veneers and given a pain and varnish job.  

2) Go shabby chic 

Now the 1830's table, pine top and ash legs, was $800, definitely more than I'd feel comfortable having kids play with. Normally. But this was a one-time workbench, so it is already well-loved.  New crayon marks and knicks make it look even better.  Plus, I added two coats of clear varnish just to be sure, and purchased Currier & Ives laminated placemats for messier projects.  

Take-away: In this day and age of shabby/grandma chic, you can easily buy worn-looking vintage if not Victorian pieces for very little and not worry too much about the added love your children will bestow on them. 

tea caddy, wide pine floors, green milk paint
Currier & Ives laminated placemats

3) Vintage fabrics are often child-proof

I had a woven French table cloth from Les Peuces ("The Fleas") in Paris remade into a runner (used to be square - I had my seamstress pulled it apart down the middle seam and sew the long ends together). What you should know about those vintage weaves, or pure cotton muslims or even cotton-poly fabrics - most any stain is going to come out with a good soak with British Vanish (you can get it on Amazon here - so much better than OxyClean!). They don't make 'em like they used to!

1830s 7x2 workbench with vintage French woven tablecloth. 

4) Put the delicate stuff out of reach, and the toys within easy reach

So anything of some value in this room is either behind glass or out of reach. The glass cabinet in the Larkin locks (though I did replace the expensive Wedgwood fine china in the Larkin with our still-lovely Italian Spode every day stuff - just in case!), and those Tiffany lamps are super sturdy. The table lamp is put just beyond toddler reach, and the floor lamp is actually protected by both the table and the green sewing basket. I also didn't pay a fortune for them - both for $150 at a moving sale. The phone is vintage, but cheap enough ($20) that I don't need to worry about it with toddlers. 

Whereas the breakables are harder to get to, the more interesting toys are within easy reach, like the wooden toys in the vintage apple crates (20 BPS in London), or the marble works, legos, crayons, or play-do in the vintage blue box on the table ($10 at a local garage sale).   

I love the space in this room - it feels so simple and roomy, even though its a relatively small room.

5) Hide the ugly! 

If you are worried about the aesthetics of combining antiques with childrens' paraphernalia, you can either purchase vintage/homemade/wooden toys as I mostly do, or you can hide stuff away. Writing desks/Larkins are amazing for this purpose. The kids know right where to look if they want to draw, use a workbook, do a puzzle or color.  

6) Train your children. My kids are kids, but I hope they are learning to care for the nice stuff, and begin to discern beauty from the not-so-beautiful. I've written on this before, but I think it is am important piece of a child's education to learn what beauty is and how to define and identify it.

Question: Are you waiting to collect, or have you figured out ways to go for it, and not keep your nice stuff in storage?  Would love to know what you do!

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