Monday, January 30, 2012

Your Bed, Your Sanctuary

Lauren King's master bedroom, as featured in Architectual Digest.
Maybe it's because the world has become a foreboding place, but in recent months, I've decided that the only bed worth having is a BED--a piece of furniture that's cozy and enveloping, that's a home within a home, a place where you can retreat and feel safe, comfortable, and at peace.

Auctions are excellent places to buy beds. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's the single least appreciated item of furniture you can purchase at auction. You get serious deals. This is because you are only rarely bidding against antiques dealers--they don't like to carry an item that requires so much room to display and can take a while to move. So that's one reason. The other is that the casual buyer gets nervous because older beds do not always conform to modern mattress sizes. But so what? Custom mattresses are available everywhere now. They cost about 25-30% more, but honestly, with a mahogany bed from Hickory Chair or Baker costing $10,000 and up, you are still going to be thousands of dollars ahead of where you'd be otherwise, with something more unique to boot that will better hold its value. 

This week, we will be looking at several styles of beds, beginning with my favorite style, the antique American or English wooden bed frame.

Bunny Williams's 19th c mahogany bed graces her bedroom in the Dominican Republic. From Bunny Williams' Point of View: Three Decades of Decorating Elegant and Comfortable Houses.
20th century oak canopy bed, at Christie's in New York on Feb 7th, estimate $1,000-$1,500.
Granted, you won't find many antique king beds, but you will find great deals on 20th century king frames, such as the ones above and below, which are coming up at Christie's next House Sale on February 7th-8th.
Recover the headboard, even paint the frame if you want, for a completely different look.Oak, four post bed, at Christie's on February 7th, estimate $1,500-2,000.

Antique Wooden Beds

Measurements for beds can be tough to interpret, since the auction houses give you the outside dimensions of the frame. This is particularly problematic for antique wooden beds. Will your mattress--spouse, five dogs--fit or not? To find out the answer, just email or call the auction house and request the interior dimensions where the mattress goes. (I'm telling you, if auction houses just provided this outright, they would have much more success selling beds, then again, they would probably sell for higher prices, so...)  The largest antique beds tend to be an inch or two off of a queen, which means that you can either get a custom mattress, or get a good restorer to try to extend the frame. A typical stripping and refinishing on a queen sized frame should run you between $500-$1,000. Update the rails or extend the frame, and you might be looking at a few hundred more.  But as you can see from the estimates below--and beds tend to really sell within or below the estimates, I've found--you'll still be saving huge amounts of money and saving an American treasure.

I love this room because it shows how, with a great bed, little additional adornment is necessary. From Country Living.

American Federal carved four post bed. At Neal on February 4th, estimate $2,000-3,000.

Beautiful 19th century canopy bed, at Cowan's Auctions, Inc, in Ohio on February 25th, estimate $800-1,000.

I normally don't like black and white designs, so I was surprised how well I thought this room came together. The strong mahogany furniture is balanced by the strong graphics and the result is very fresh, I think. From Country Living.
NEAL auction house in New Orleans is among my favorites for its consistently excellent selection. Up for bidding on February 4th,  a four poster American cherrywood bed, estimate $1,000-1,500.  

Curly maple cannonball bed, circa 1830. At Cowan's on February 25th, estimate $600-900.

Lovely country bedroom with bamboo canopy bed. From Elle Decor.

If you have to sleep on a twin bed, make it a twin four poster. They give the small frame stature and substance. One of my favorite Mary McDonald rooms, below, features twin four post mahogany beds and is another example of how the bold, some say heavy, American style of furniture goes well with strong graphics and colors.
From Mary McDonald: Interiors: The Allure of Style
(that's an orchid in the foreground, in case you were wondering).

A stunning pair of Louisiana convent beds. Estimate $500-750. (There is a note about the condition, but no note! Be sure to get a condition report, since the estimate is low).

A pair of white painted twin beds, at Christie's, New York, on February 7th, estimate $1,000-$1,500.
More beds later in the week. Happy bidding everyone!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

2012: The Year You Finally Become a Gift Giving Genius

courtesy of Martha Stewart

Gift-giving. When you get it right, you feel great, and can wholeheartedly endorse the expression, "tis better to give than to receive." But when you get it wrong...the fake smile, the insipid praise, the bland thank-you note--ugh!

Such painful moments should be enough to inspire a new approach to how you shop for presents. And, though you might still have a few pine needles left on your floor from last month, now is the time to make a change.  Don't worry: it's not hard. In fact, all you need to do is spend 30-40 minutes upfront and you'll be on your way to giving thoughtful, unique gifts forever after.

Intrigued? I hope so. The key here is keywords, alerts to be specific.The goal is to get the auction aggregator sites to do the legwork for you, allowing you to spend your precious time elsewhere--even if it's watching random pet videos or checking into the ultimate time sink: Facebook.
My sister loves owls. So do a lot of people! This came up in my search. She has five people in her family so...
Carved hardstone owls on petrified wood
. At Klein James on January 19th. estimate $200-300.

Live Auctioneers has, by far, the best tool for creating keyword searches, and allows a seemingly unlimited amount (I have at least forty on, so...) at no cost. To create them, go to your profile page on Live Auctioneers and click "Alert Terms." In the search box uptop, type in your keyword or words, then hit "Create Alert." I do advise you to then immediately preview it--it will help you make sure everything is spelled correctly, for one thing, and that the term yields the kind of results you're looking for.

Of course, there is an important step that precedes this, in fact, the most important step: creating your keyword list. Before you jump on L.A., you'll need to sit down with a pen and think about your family members and dear friends. What are their interests?  Are they intrigued by a certain historical event, era, decade or famous figure? Do they love a certain animal? Do they Scuba Dive? Flyfish? Who are their favorite authors? What colors do they like? Do they go crazy with the holiday decor? Do they love cheese? Wine? Monopoly? Asparagus?

You get the idea. The goal is to find a few relevant search words for each special person. One of my sisters, for instance, loves owls, is nuts about her German Shepard, and has a cockatiel, so I have searches on for each of those. My other sister loves whales and vintage santas, among other things. My mom loves woodcuts and is an avid birder. My dad adores his English Setter, and is interested in the Civil War, his Alma Mater, etc.

My parents moved to the Chicago area last year. The minute I saw the Copeland, "Chicago Pitcher, " which features historical vignettes, I knew it would make a nice gift for them. I researched the sales results and was able to secure one at a fair price. My mother's smile, when she opened the box, said it all. Success!

I have found many great items this way. The best thing about this method is, it's personal, yet fairly passive. I recommend LA for this because I like the way they impart information. When items come up that match your search, you receive an email with embedded photos and lot links to the actual description. You'll never get more than one email a day per search term, and you only get incremental items--ie everything that matches the search term since the previous email. Thus, even for a broader search term, such as "porcelain," it's rarely overwhelming.

My dad loves his English Setter and my sister loves her cockateil. This mixed lot of majolica may just be a done deal! At Skinner on January 19th, estimate $200-400. (Fingers crossed it goes for a lot less!)
Last year, I had a blog entitled: "Restocking the Gift Closet." Well, in actual fact, my closet is more of a clear plastic tub, but the message remains the same: always try to have a few small items on hand for quick birthday presents, housewarming gifts, hostess gifts, etc. Soap and candles are nice indeed, but for something with a bit more panache, I have a few favorites. One staple is an assortment of inexpensive pitchers, which can be used for either beverages or fresh cut flowers.

Two, clear pattern glass pitchers, circa 1900. At Horst Auctions on January 28th, estimate $50-75.

Please don't go to Pottery Barn, when you can get a stunning, handblown glass pitcher like this! At Keystone Auctions on January 28th, estimate $75-100.
I saw this lot and immediately thought: five special presents, plus one for the bidder! Six small Wedgwood jasper-dip pitchers: at Skinner on January 19th, estimate $250-350.

Other good "stocking the larder presents" include: paperweights, inexpensive candlestick holders, salt and pepper shakers, letter openers, magnifying glasses, small picture frames, serving utensils and trays. Or, look for lots of vintage bottles and fill them with bubble bath or vinegars. One thing is clear: the possibilities are vast. Online auctions enable you to find distinctive gifts from the comfort of your armchair--so what are you waiting for? Get your search(es) on NOW!
These nine paperweights feature historical figures--a bit specific for a host gift, but great for history buffs! Nine sulphide paperweights. At Kiminski auction on January 21st, estimate $200-300.
Circa 1970 brass letter opener in the shape of a sword. At auction January 18th, estimate: $20-40
It's hard to ever have enough serving utensils. Break apart this lot of sterling-handled utensils and you have seven hostess gifts nice enough to ensure you'll always have a seat at the table! At Leighton Galleries on January 19th, estimate $100-150.
Last year, I snapped up this lot of five pairs of brass candlesticks for $80. The brass polished up beautifully. I kept three (!) pairs for myself, and put the two smaller pairs in the gift closet. Don't be afraid of unpolished items--look for them! You often get a better deal due to a little surface dirt.

Green cut-to-clear vase, at Hewlett's on January 28th,  estimate $45-65.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Ring in the New Year: Mantle Clocks, Part Two

This Mary MacDonald bedroom has touches of black throughout--including the mantle clock on the shelf.
Courtesy of: The Allure of Style.

Last week, I focused on very fancy mantle clocks. Today, we will examine their humbler--but, to my eyes, even more delightful and useful--cousins.We'll start with the ever-utilitarian black mantle clock.

 Black Mantle Clocks

Jane and Stephen Garney's house, courtesy of Elle Decor. Photo: John M. Hall
In New Classic Interiors, the Italian-born, Chicago-based  interior designer Alessandra Branca writes, "Every room needs a touch of black to give it depth." I wholeheartedly agree. (And think about it: so often a room has a television, phone or some other black appliance in it; a black accoutrement helps tie in those disparate elements.) What could be a better, more charming choice than a black mantle clock? Black mantle clocks, rendered in either stone or cast iron, appear frequently at auction. (For a cast iron clock, be sure to include the shipping cost into your budget: these babies are not light!) Here are some fine examples...

Ansonia cast iron mantle clock, circa 1890. Estimate $225-350. At auction in Denver on January 15th.
Black slate and marble inset clock. At auction in Saugus, MA on January 12th. Estimate $200-250.
Keep one of these four clocks for yourself, above, save the rest as housewarming or anniversary gifts for special friends.
At Rago Auctions on January 13th, estimate $300-500. 

Ansonia four column marble and cast iron mantle clock, at Bruhn's on January 15th, estimate $150-275.

Japy Freres Duhme slate and marble mantle clock, circa 1900. At Cowan's in Ohio on January 12th, estimate $300-500.

Wooden Mantle Clocks

An Arts & Crafts clock in a Michael S. Smith bedroom. From Elements of Style.

Arts & Crafts style New Haven Clock, circa 1910. At Bruhn's on January 15th, estimate $100-150.
By now, you may have noticed that many of the lots mentioned in this and the previous post are available at Bruhn's in Denver. This is because the whole January 15th auction is devoted to clocks. Single category auctions like these attract experts: zealous collectors and antiques retailers. The good thing about these kinds of auctions is that the estimates tend to be where the market is: Bruhn's knows its stuff. If the estimates seem low, its because mantle clocks are an antiques store's dream: portable, storable, with tremendous eye appeal, and you're used to seeing those prices. One thing is clear: once you see what you can pay for mantle clocks in the wholesale market, it is highly unlikely you'll ever be capable of stomaching retail prices again!
Early steeple clocks. At Bruhn's in Denver on January 15th, estimate $100-175.

English Aesthetic Movement Shelf Clock. At Bruhn's on January 15th, estimate $350-475.

Franz Hermie German Bracket Clock. In Denver on January 15th, estimate $250-350.
Rosewood cuckoo mantle clock. At Fairfield auctions on January 15th, estimate $2,000-3,000.
To find out whether the clock you're interested in actually runs:  if the clock is in "Good" or "Excellent" condition, it most likely works. But to be certain: call or email the auction house and ask! I think it's nice to have them function, but don't overlook the ones that don't, as they make a beautiful addition regardless.

George III mahogany and brass mantle clock. At Skinner on January 14th. Estimate $1,500-2,500.

Viennese ebonized mantle clock. At Skinner on January 14th, estimate $1,200-1,800.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Mantle Clocks: Ring in the New Year, Part One

Courtesy of Bunny Williams' Point of View

Ringing in a new year causes one to consider the passage of time, of course. Thus, it seems only fitting that my first posting in 2012 is about clocks--mantle clocks to be precise. Mantle clocks are trusty, medium-sized timepieces, ranging from 8-18" in height, that, in our modern era, also serve as very elegant and adaptable accoutrements. Frequently found at auction and surprisingly reasonable in price, mantle clocks make wonderful wedding, anniversary or housewarming gifts for a cherished (and lucky!) friend or family member. They are also a great layering piece for one's own home. This week, we will explore several styles frequently found at auction in two separate postings. Today, we have the fancier examples, with the humbler, primarily American, mantle clocks coming later in the week. Enjoy.

Gilt Mantle Clocks

Bunny Williams's ormolu mantle clock.
Let's begin with gilt clocks, since they reflect the origin of the mantle clock, which began in 18th century France during the reign of Louis XV. We'll start with one of my favorites: Bunny Williams's ormolu clock depicting a gardener (seen here and at the top of this blog). I just love the gilt hydrangea that comes out of the "wheelbarrow." In Point of View, the designer writes that she found this timepiece in California (which wouldn't be my first guess), and "could not live without [it]." I love it too, and have never seen anything like it in all my years scouring auction houses.

19th c French ormulu mantle clock. At Roland, New York on January 7th, estimate $400-500.

French Empire mantle clock, at Freeman's in Philadelphia on January 25th, estimate $1,500-2,000.
Now, mantle clocks need not be limited to the mantle. Interior Designer Suzanne Rheinstein uses a gilt clock to great effect on a desk in this gorgeous green bedroom.

A bronze dore clock, above, enhances this green guest room, courtesy of At Home: A Style for Today with Things from the Past.

19th c. Empire style clock. At Freeman's on January 25th, estimate $800-1,200.
19th c French empire gilt-bronze clock. At Leslie Hindman on January 25th, estimate $3,000-5,000.

  By 1850, advancements in manufacturing suddenly made it feasible to produce mantle clocks on a vast scale. The Ansonia Clock company, based in Ansonia, Connecticut, manufactured thousands of cast metal clocks between 1850 and 1929. Clocks done in the French style, such as this Vassar clock, were  popular with those in the middle class with champagne tastes, albeit a less accommodating budget.

Ansonia Figural mantle clock. At Bruhn's in Denver on January 15th, estimate $275-400.
   On the other end of the spectrum is this stunning, 19th century Parisian clock. Given its generous dimensions (26.5" highx 15.5" wide), this clock must have adorned quite some mantle in its day.

French gilt-bronze figural clock. At Christie's on January 10-11th, estimate $4,000-6,000.

Empire Style

An Empire clock graces a mantle in a Bunny Williams dining room. From Point of View.
During Napoleon's reign, French design became decidedly more restrained. No longer looking to Versailles for direction, French artists, caught up in the democratic fervor of the time, harkened back to Greece and Rome. This rebirth of classic influences--neoclassicism--long outlived the emperor; indeed, it became the prevailing design style of the 19th and 20th century, popular to this very day. So-called "Empire" mantle clocks appear in many shapes and sizes, but the signature, iconic style is the portico clock, which gets its name because the clock face appears suspended between (or in some cases perched above) ionic columns. Depending on the style, portico clocks can look fantastic in modern settings.
Charles X Empire Clock. At Freeman's in Philadelphia on January 25th, estimate $800-1,200.

French Empire Style clock. At auction in New Jersey on January 16th, estimate $300-400.
This stunning Italian clock sold, fittingly, on New Year's Day. The hammer price was $500.

Michael Smith is one of my favorite designers. I've always loved this guest bedroom, which appears in his book Elements of Style.The Empire clock looks so wonderful on this dresser (though, um, it is a dresser has been so styled it wouldn't hold any of YOUR things).

A gilt bronze Empire clock with all the bells and whistles. In Palm Beach on January 16th, estimate $2,000-3,000.

A mantle clock can be a nice focal point atop a chest of drawers. From Point of View.

French Empire Style inlaid rosewood mantle clock, at auction in Denver on January 15th, estimate $475-600.

A neoclassical style gilt-bronze clock. In Chicago on January 22nd, estimate $600-800.

Suzanne Kasler uses an Empire clock on a sideboard.

As mentioned, there will be more mantle clocks to come later in the week. For now, Happy New Year--and Happy Bidding!