One of the most significant draws to the East End is the rich history it enjoys. There are homes standing today that were built as far back as the 1600s. In the context of our relatively young country, this is exceptionally old.
Thankfully, many antiques and vintage shops dot our landscape and offer an opportunity for residents to celebrate this historic region, in part, by collecting vintage items of note for use or display in their homes. Especially—but not necessarily—when working in a historic home, it’s nearly impossible to convey a truly eclectic, lived-in atmosphere if all pieces in one space are brand new. A truly beautiful space, whether it’s maximal or minimal, small or large, usually has at least a handful of older items peppered in to lend some patina and history.
When shopping, it’s important to carefully consider age: There is a notable difference between the terms “antique” and “vintage,” although the two are not mutually exclusive. Antique items are generally at least 100 years old and in a condition that is original or very much commensurate with age. Vintage items tend to be at least 20 years old and are often related to a decade: i.e., the 1950s, 1960s, and so on. They also may be recently refinished and/or reupholstered, or soon will require the same.
There are a number of retailers that specialize in items that appear to be antique or vintage but are actually more or less new. To the refined eye it is obvious immediately, but to newcomers it might be more difficult to ascertain. Be sure to check sources when possible and ask for references if needed.
Assuming the piece is indeed historic, it would then be smart to ask oneself: “Where will this go?”
While a pair of 1950s club chairs originally from a mid-century modern estate in Amagansett might look stunning in a showroom, they will first and foremost need to look even better in one’s home. It’s best to make sure that not only will one’s purchase make sense in terms of scale but also in material, pattern, color and so on—especially as it relates to the existing pieces around the room. (As always, aiming to complement, rather than match, is a good blanket strategy.)
Related to placement, another wise categorization is to determine whether something is mainly to be admired or enjoyed. For example, an antique sailboat model is typically for viewing, not playing, and thus would be an “admired” item, while a vintage Rattan rocking chair is likely going to be sat on and rocked, so it would be considered “enjoyed.”
When purchasing, it’s imperative to keep this in mind to ensure a long life for one’s new acquisition, paying particularly close attention to fragility. While antiques can be incredible in appearance, they’re often (but not always) best suited for mild or infrequent use. Vintage items, on the other hand, especially if updated for the 21st century, may be good as new and ready for everyday use.
Additionally, this kind of categorization is useful in activating a subtle, almost subconscious strategy of layering: When including and placing either antique or vintage items, it naturally feels best to have a balanced mix of “admired” and “enjoyed” pieces in one space.
Finally, on a potentially controversial note, it is probably worth sticking to a somewhat tighter age group on a room-by-room basis, unless one is working with a professional who designs or decorates for a living. While pieces from all decades and eras can be exquisite in their own right, mixing them too frenetically or without care can easily create an unpleasant or cacophonous picture.
For the best result, remember to keep things cohesive, such that all elements are carefully thought out, and can be admired and enjoyed both individually and collectively.
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