A new series we are introducing to the Art & Antiques Show Blog is “Form and Function”, particularly geared for the young collector. In this series we will be discussing the form of various antique pieces-history, style, construction and materials-as well as the function of those pieces, both when they were made and now. One question I get asked a lot in my business is, “What should I do with this thing?” Many times people inherit something that doesn’t fit cleanly into their current decor or style. In this series, we hope to give our readers ideas and inspiration for practical and decorative uses for antiques, and also challenge them to think “outside of the box” a bit. In this inaugural post of “Form & Function”, we will be looking at how a small antique sideboard, not so great in “form”, received a second life and redeemed itself for its “function”.
I am a hunter-gatherer and I never turn down unwanted or discarded antiques. My poor wife is constantly having to make do with the crazy pieces I bring home from work and incorporate them into our house. A typical conversation usually goes something like this….
ME: “Hey, Honey, look at this really cool early 19th century oil painting I found of this woman in the Gainsborough School!”
MY WIFE: “Are we related to her? If not, she’s kind of creepy.”
ME: “No, but it’s in the Gainsborough School and it’s a really nice portrait. Can’t we stack it over the tapestry going up the stairs?”
MY WIFE: (Silence, followed by) “She would look really nice above the garage in your mancave. Why don’t you try her there?” (mancave is a nice word for the unfinished room over the garage where my wife relegates a lot of my cool finds).
I think she’s getting used to it now, but six years ago she thought I was a little crazy when I dropped everything in the middle of final exams to rent a U-Haul and drive up to the mountains of north Georgia to rescue a barn full of family furniture that had been offered to me by a distant cousin. This cousin’s father, being the first-born son, had received the lion’s share of the family furniture, but my cousin’s fiancee did not appreciate the “gift” and wanted it out of the house as soon as possible. You talk about Brer Rabbit in the briar patch…I was more than happy to take all that “awful furniture” off her hands. Though, there was one problem I had overlooked. It wasn’t exactly my style either…
Just what my young bride wanted, right? Well, for those of us who grew up in the South, inheriting this kind of furniture from someone at some point is inevitable. Although the style was far from my taste (I’m more of a Hepplewhite man), I could not break myself from its history. Above is my great, great grandparents’ parlor in their Druid Hills home in Atlanta, circa 1930. This furniture had been in the family since before the Civil War and was hidden in a cave during Sherman’s burning of Atlanta, along with the silver and the portraits. He burned the house and this was about all that survived from that unpleasantness.
I struggled with whether these family pieces were worthy of adoption into my modern home. I guess I sort of put them through a litmus test. In this case, many of the pieces had survived the Civil War and been added to by later generations. A fairly intact collection, they had a value to me beyond dollars. Although I didn’t want my house to look like a replica of my great-grandmother’s parlor, I decided to make my ancestors proud and use as much of their collection as I could. Which brings us to the lucky winner of this week’s “Form & Function”……
Form: What is it? A sideboard! This type of dining set was very popular in the 1930’s. It was made by a company called Berkey & Gay based out of Grand Rapids that made furniture from 1866-1948. They particularly produced large quantities of dining room furniture. Stylistically…how can I say this nicely?..it is a combination of Queen Anne and Victorian styles, veneered in a bedappled walnut, which was very popular in England and America in the thirties. From a connoisseur’s standpoint, there are few redeeming features about it. Though integrating this Victorian plantation furniture into my collection of English and French antiques would be a bit of a challenge, I decided to think of it as a house warming present from my deceased ancestors and give it a whirl. (We can only hope our kids use this logic when they inherit our stuff one day….)
Function: In the spirit of being green and limited by a tiny apartment, we decided to use the smaller sideboard as a changing table for our daughter’s nursery. This was the result.
The standard changing pad fit nicely on top and the backsplash of the sideboard even helped with added security. There was just enough room left for baby wipes and a small basket of diapers. For everything else we had excellent storage beneath.
The storage was convenient and accessible, yet hidden by the decorative doors. Would my great- grandmother be proud? She’d probably be horrified to think that what once held her china and silver now held diapers and wipes. My wife says it was the best changing table she’s ever had and that she hasn’t had that kind of storage since.
So, there you have the sideboard turned changing table. (My apologies to our readers for the less-than-stellar photographs and the baby in the background, but we are long gone from that apartment and I never dreamed I’d need a good photograph of this piece). The sideboard has since come full circle and made its way back to a dining room.
The Pampers have been replaced by the Mottahedeh, and the changing pad by the candelabrum, but the happy memories of the function that little piece served still remain.
Wall color and fabric choice can always be used to help soften and modernize furniture in a room. Breaking up sets and mixing pieces from different periods and styles can help enhance their look as well. Antiques add much warmth to a home and the gratification of preserving them is worth so much more. I encourage our readers to consider all the places where you might use that family heirloom before kicking it to the curb. Think of children’s rooms, playrooms, and dens, and other less obvious places where you might recycle these items.
Have we used all the furniture I picked up in the U-Haul that day? No, but we have used what we could and my wife and I have developed a great affection for the diminutive sideboard and its versatile functions. I am now always on the hunt for these little gems and the Wolfson Show is a great place to find them.