Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lamp Week: Lesson Two: Gilty PLEASURES

Photo courtesy of  Mary McDonald: Interiors: The Allure of Style
 Mary McDonald used her gold pineapple lamp in a show house to great effect.

 A little bit of gold in a room is never a bad thing: after all it reflects light and exudes warmth, two things that benefit nearly any space. Thus, it's only natural that for my second installment of LAMP WEEK, we are going to focus on gilt bronze, or bronze doré, lamps.  Several great pairs are coming up for auction soon, including these lovely examples at Kamelot, in Philadelphia.

Two pairs of 1920s gilt bronze lamps, at Kamelot on September 24th, estimate $800-1,200 (above) and $1,200-1,800 (below).

 But before we look at more examples, what is gilt bronze, exactly? Well, it means what it sounds like (phew!): a bronze object that has been gilded with gold. But we're not entirely out of the woods because the decorative term has several synonyms. Gilt bronze is also called gilded bronze, bronze doré and ormulu--the latter two being French terms that are variants of their word for gold, or.

Charlotte Moss loves gilt lamps. Here's one from her book, Charlotte Moss Decorates: The Art of Creating Elegant and Inspired Rooms. Note how the gilt lamp, which can look intense in an auction photo, seems appropriate when viewed in context, and complements the lacquer screen (below).
Bronze doré as I prefer to think of it (because I took French and need to feel like I didn't forget all of it), is a decorative technique that peaked in popularity in 17th and 18th century France (Hello, Louis XIV). It's created when mercury and high karat gold are mixed in an amalgam and applied to a bronze object. The object is then fired at a high temperature. The mercury burns off, the gold stays behind, and- volia!- just the kind of grand and shiny object that set Marie Antoinette's heart aflutter.

The technique is very effective. Too bad it's also highly toxic. Most gilders dropped dead before the age of 40 of mercury poisoning, so in 1830, France outlawed the practice. Today, most bronze-doré is actually electroplated, and often doesn't really have much gold in it at all. If you can find the early stuff, grab on to it-- but say a little prayer for the poor gilder and his family.

Okay, enough with the gristly details. Let's get to the goods! If you prefer your bronze less doré, this pair should do the job nicely...

Gilt metal lamps, at Michaan's in California on October 2nd, estimate $200-300.
 Most gilded lamps you'll find at auction tend to be parcel-gilt (partially gilded, though the word is parcel). My favorite style is the bouillotte lamp, which is absolutely as classic as a Kelly bag. (I've probably done enough history for one day, so if you're curious about bouillotte lamps--which do have an interesting story --please view my Art & Antiques Glossary.) Lots of love has been shown to the bouillotte, and if you keep your eyes peeled, you'll see them everywhere. Michael Smith uses them...

Courtesy of Michael S. Smith: Elements of Style
Mary McDonald...
Courtesy of Mary McDonald: Interiors: The Allure of Style
 Bunny Williams (if you can see it!)...

From Point of View: Three Decades of Decorating Elegant and Comfortable Houses.

I could go on and on, but I think I've proven my point about these handy elegant lamps. Several nice examples are coming up for bidding--so look around your home to see where you can add a little shimmer of gold. You won't regret it. Happy bidding everyone!
Louis XVI style gilt bronze lamp, at Leslie Hindman on October 2nd, estimate $600-800.
Pair of 1940s bouillotte lamps with candlestick holders, at Kamelot on Sept 24, estimate $700-900.
Pair of snazzy red bouillotte lamps. At Bonhams in Los Angeles on Sept 25th, estimate $700-900.
Pair bouillotte lamps, circa 1920, estimate $300-500.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lamp Week, Lesson One: Outstanding Opaline

photo:Nathan Schroeder, designer: Craig Schumacher, courtesy of House Beautiful.
A pair of blue Opaline glass lamps are given new life with contemporary shades.
You know how it is. You can go for days, weeks, months without really focusing on something, but once you do, you see it everywhere? Well, that's how I'm feeling about lamps. Yes, that's right, good ol' lamps. I'm rearranging my space and will need a slimmer pair of them. Since my existing ones don't appear to be going on Weight Watchers any time soon, I've been looking around and noticing wonderful, weird, warm welcoming lamps all over the place--so many great pairs, in fact, that, in an Auction Addict first, I am devoting a whole week (or rather, what's left of it) to a single topic. And so, I bring you...ta daa...


A jazzy Markham Roberts designed entryway with a pair of blue Opaline lamps.
Again, note how the updated shades take them from frumpy to fabulous.
The first type of lamps we're going to look at are Opaline glass lamps. I was inspired by the October issue of House Beautiful, specifically page 114 (top photo), where we see how designer Craig Shumacher used a pair of Opaline glass lamps to provide a welcome shot of color in his dining room.

Before we go any further, you might be wondering what Opaline is, exactly. The term technically refers to a style of opaque, colored glass that was produced in France during the 19th century by Baccarat and other less universally known manufacturers. The French were imitating the milky white glassware they saw emanating from Bristol, England and Venice, Italy. Opaline was produced in white, yes, but also yellow, sea green,  pink, and, the interior designer favorite: turquoise blue. The glass has a high lead content but is demi-crystal, not crystal, and is rarely faceted. Opaline was frequently used for vases, bowls. cups and dresser sets. Today, the term is used more broadly to describe almost any opaque, colored glass.

Okay, history lesson over--now on to the good stuff! I mentioned that turquoise Opaline is a favorite of many interior designers. Do you think Markham Roberts has an obsession or anything?

Turquoise Opaline in Markham Roberts designed dining room.
...and living room.
 That's okay, I love them too! And fortunately, several lovely examples are up for bidding in the weeks to come. On October 2nd, Leslie Hindman in Chicago has two fantastic pairs, as tall and slender as supermodels.(If you can scoop these up for anything close to the estimate, you should: antique dealers ask $3,000+ a pair for these and up.)
What's your pleasure? Milky white with gilt bronze accents, estimate $800-1200, or brilliant blue, below, estimate $1,500-2,500.

Three Opaline glass lamps, at Stair on Friday, September 23rd, estimate $300-500.

If these aren't the shape you seek, consider the sweet trio at Stair Galleries in Hudson, NY, above, or this butter yellow one, below, at Susanin's in Chicago, which clearly falls into the category of 20th century Opaline glass.

Yellow Opaline glass lamp, at Susanin's in Chicago on September 24th, estimate $100-200.
 For a final bit of inspiration, look how pretty this pink Opaline lamp looks among the sherbert tones in this stunning master bedroom. More lamps to come soon. In the interim, happy bidding everyone!
photo, courtesy of Elle Decor (I'd tell you more, but the photo is no longer up on their site!)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fall Is Here and the Witches Are Flying in

Vintage hand painted Gibson postcard, on eBay, starting bid, $100.

Auctions, like fashion week, get you thinking ahead. After all, by the time you see the catalog, reach the auction date, win, arrange shipping and receive your item, five weeks just might have transpired! Given all this, it's little wonder that we're already seeing holiday auctions featuring items for Halloween, Thanksgiving, even Christmas.
Vintage 1930s embossed paper witch, E. Luhrs, on eBay, Buy It Now price of $24.99.

Today, we'll stick with the black and orange. I went to Michael's recently and was put off by the rows and rows of very cheap, very unattractive Halloween decorations. A little kitsch is essential during the holidays, but why waste money on bad decorations that you won't want to pull out of storage--if they even make it that long? Better, I think, to edit your existing collection before it takes over your attic, then be selective about what you add to it.

Regular readers of TAA know that I don't usually write about eBay. I often find the site much too unwieldy: too much trash and too little treasure, and, increasingly, it's not an auction at all but a marketplace with virtual stores and fixed prices. But I set aside my gripes for the holidays. That's because, amid the junk, there are usually a few well-priced gems that can really spruce up your decor. The key to finding them is to be a little patient and learn a few key search terms.

Vintage design (read: brand new) Beistle H.E. Luhrs decorations, Buy It Now for $8.25 a set on eBay.
 Finding Halloween Items on eBay

1. Go "Vintage" -The best search term, the one you can plug straight into the box, is
"vintage halloween."  You can stay with these results or refine further by selecting "Collectibles," from the lefthand list. 

Vintage postcard, on eBay, Buy It Now price of $49.99

2. Pick your niche - The more specific your search, the easier eBay can be. For Halloween, once you're in the right area, you might browse a while, then pick one or two types of decorations for further research. One popular item is vintage postcards. There are hundreds available at any given time, ranging from the rare and pricy to the utterly affordable. Buy some sweet frames and rotate your collection. Noisemakers are popular too.
Darling Halloween postcard, starting bid, $.99 on eBay.
3. Learn the names - There are certain Halloween brands you might like but not even know it. One collected manufacturer is Beistle H.E. Luhrs, a Pennsylvania based company that has been making Halloween decorations since 1900. Luhrs is still in business today (see the set of eight cutouts, above). The company's most coveted pieces are from the first quarter of this century, and some can be quite pricy, though condition really affects value. Another coveted paper maker is Dennison, while T. Cohn, Kirchof, Chein and Bugle Toy are known for noisemakers.

Vintage 1930s Beistle Halloween game, up for bidding on eBay until Sept 21st.
1940s Halloween noisemaker. Buy It Now: $39.95. eBay

 Halloween at Auction
Nostalgia drives collecting and people are incredibly nostalgic about holiday decorations. To the novice, holiday auctions will surprise you: "some is going to pay $800 for that?" you'll think--I guarantee it. But scarcity drives demand, of course, and some of these bits of Americana are rare and mint. Below, a sampling of pricy Halloween items up for bidding at Dan Morphy's on September 17th, which also features Thanksgiving, Christmas, even Easter. You'd better starting clearing the trash out of the attic right away to make room for more treasure!

Rare advertising clock. At Dan Morphy in Pa on Sept 17th, estimate $600-900.

Lot of Three Early and Rare Jack O'Lanterns, at Dan Morphy on Sept 17th, estimate $200-400.

Who doesn't need a pirate pumpkin tiara? At Dan Morphy's September 17th, estimate $400-600.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Good Buy Friday: Stunning Carpets for a Steal

Master decorator Miles Redd rocks a Persian carpet with complementary tones of olive, French blue and amber.
The Persian Carpet. There are few decorative word pairings that sound more natural; all you need to do is drop in a different proper adjective and you'll see my point:  English Carpet? Italian Carpet? Taiwanese Carpet? Not quite the same cache, correct?

We've been conditioned to expect these two words together because high quality, hand woven carpets have been made in the Persian region for centuries. Interestingly, the art nearly died out in the 19th century to be revived by renewed European interest, fueled, in part, by the London Exhibition of 1862 and the subsequent obsession with Orientalism--but this is off point.

Persian gone wild! Albert Hadley's library features a patchwork Persian--what a great way to reuse old rugs!
More relevant is that fact that "Persian Rugs," while an evocative term, is also quite a generic one; there are huge stylistic differences between Heriz (the most popular style in the U.S.), Tabriz, Kirman, Oushak and so on. I will not get into those differences in this posting, but will instead talk more broadly about the process of evaluating and purchasing rugs at auction.

Markham Roberts capitalizes on the interplay of curtains, chair and carpet.

I'll be the first to admit: buying a rug at auction can be a little bit scary: after all a rug is no small thing and we all know you can't return them. But it is absolutely worth doing your homework and taking the plunge because wonderful carpets sell at auction for a fraction of the retail price all the time--more often than not to dealers. I'm serious. Last spring, I was at a famous Philadelphia auction house and the back room was a veritable bazaar, with about a dozen men in Islamic garb carefully examining a pile of carpets. One of the auction house employees told that me those "crazy rug buyers" bought most of the rugs at their sales--which they then sell in their Madison Avenue stores as rare antique Persian rugs. It makes sense that many of the antique designs favored by Americans would already be on our shores. However, it does not make sense for you to pay six times the price to the dude who simply picked it up in Philly!

A Lavar Kirman (read: a very nice Kirman), at Brunk Auctions on Sept 25th, estimate $1,500-3,000, above,
and a Sivas Carpet from East Anatolia, at Christie's on October 5th, estimate $3,000-5,000, below.

photo: Simon Upton, designer: Thomas Beeton, courtesy of Elle Decor.
Not just for the downstairs: Persian carpets look marvelous in the bedroom, enlivening that restful color palette.
photo: Simon Upton, designer Michael Smith. Courtesy of Elle Decor.
A 1950s Kirman Carpet, at Morton Kuehnart in Houston on September 18th, estimate, $2,700-3,000.
So buying rugs at auction makes sense financially, clearly. But if you're not happy with the final product then the purchase is no bargain. Here are some things you can do to ensure maximum satisfaction to go along with your minimum price.

1. Try, whenever possible, to see carpets in person. Rugs often photograph strangely. I find the beige backgrounds usually end up looking darker than they really are, while the red/blue toned rugs are often much brighter when you actually see them in person. Certain styles, such as Kirmans, which often have denser, more foliate-like decorative areas, photograph particularly poorly, as do most carpets with all over designs. Case in point, below. The top shot is the auction house photograph of a Kirman carpet. It looks dingy and, well, blah, doesn't it?

But when I saw it in person, it looked completely different. This is the same rug, below, in natural light.In person it was actually very light, with lovely subtle colors. Who knew?

2. If you can't see the rug in person, don't automatically give up: do more research!
If you find a rug that's on the other side of the country but it's the perfect size, or you love the pattern--you think--then request several additional shots along with your Condition Report. When the auction house complies, it typically sends the assistants running around the floor with digital cameras. The result is high-def photographs that give you a much more accurate idea of what the item looks like than the catalog shot. Increasingly, auction houses are uploading high-def photos on their own web sites (Pook & Pook, for instance, automatically uploads photos that can be Zoomified). All of Christie's photographs are high definition. In a few years, I'm sure this will be true for every auction house. But until sure to ask for photos with the camera flash on and off, as natural light gives you, far and away, the most accurate read on colors.

Hip, hip Heriz! A classic style, at Brunk on September 25th, estimate $800-1,500.

Mat-sized Persians can be had for $50 - $100 and look great in kitchens, where they hide all those
errant food spills and protect your joints from that unrelenting floor.
photos: Simon Upton, designer: John Dransfield & Geoffrey Ross, courtesy of Elle Decor.
3. Get your shipping estimate before the auction
Most auction houses don't handle shipping in house. They do, however, typically provide a list of recommended shippers right on their websites. What most people don't realize is that you can call a shipper before the auction and ask for a ballpark estimate. With rugs, the estimate will be pretty accurate given the fact that the height of a carpet's pile doesn't vary so much (aka the shipper has a fairly good grasp of the item's weight given its dimensions). Note that even extra large rugs can be transported across the country for a few hundred dollars. That might sound like a lot, but if you've bought a rug for $1,500 that you'd pay $8,000 in a retail setting, paying $300 for shipping, doesn't seem so bad after all, especially when you forswear the sales tax.

Oriental mat, offered in Chester Springs, PA on Sept 17th, estimate $200-300.
4. Know the terms.   I need to finish my guides, I really do. My in-progress "Frequently Used Art and Antique Terms" describes a few carpet styles. Here are a few other rug related terms that are helpful to know, some courtesy of the Oriental Rug Repair Co.:
  • All-over design - Rugs with an even, repeating design throughout the field.
  • Antique - An item that is more than 100 years old. Christie's, Freeman's, Skinner and the older old and established auction houses take this term very seriously; others not so much. 
  • Field - The main section of the rug, surrounded by the border and containing the central medallion or other motifs.
  • Flatwoven -A rug made without knotted pile.
  • Guard stripes - the thin bands that surround the main border, separating it from the beginning of the field.
  • Handle - The flexibility, or give, of a rug.  A rug´s handle might be described as flexible, stiff, or soft.
  • Pile - A rug's surface or nap, formed by the knots in the foundation.
  • Selvedge or (Selvage) - the edge of the rug, or place where the weaver has turned around and started going back the other direction. Often times, you'll see a reference to "reselvedging" which is when this area has been repaired.
  • Semi-Antique - An item that is at least 50 years old. When you see this in the description, you know that the auction house is at least attempting to be accurate.
  • Sheen-  The sheen is the luster of the pile. The older the rug, the better the sheen.
  • Warp - the threads of yarn that extend through the entire length of the rug, on which the weaver ties the knots. 
  • Weft - The width-wise, or horizontal, threads in a rug, passed over and under the warps to form the foundation of a pile rug or the design of a flat woven rug.

Note that repairs are an essential part of rug maintenance and so a rug that has been reknotted and reselvedged has actually been taken care of--it's a good sign, not a bad one! So take some measurements, and get looking--there are pretty Persians up for sale every single week. If you want to learn more about rugs, this is, hands down, the mandatory text: Oriental Carpets: A Complete Guide - The Classic Reference. Happy bidding, everyone, and happy weekend!
20th century Persian rug, in North Carolina on Sept 25th, estimate $400-800.
photo: Laura Resen, designer: Michael DePerno, courtesy of Elle Decor.
Persian rugs are a natural counterpoint to all kinds of wood, and all styles.

photo: Pieter Estersohn designer: Jennifer Chamberlain, courtesy of Elle Decor.