IAM Morris once said: “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” It’s a fabulously indulgent way to look at interior design, and certainly gives you an excuse to start buying antique furniture. But where do you start? For the novice, it can be quite intimidating – we’ve all heard too many stories about forgeries and dodgy deals. We contacted Nic McElhatton, Christie’s head of European furniture, decorative objects and early sculpture, to ask how to start collecting.
1. GO LOOK AND ASK
“I always tell people just to come and speak to the specialists in the auction house,” says McElhatton. “The specialists are so passionate about their job that they are delighted to pass on their knowledge – if nothing else, it gives them a chance to show off how much they know.”
2. DON’T WAIT FOR AN OPPORTUNE MOMENT
There’s no such thing as the best time to go to an auction anymore. “The summer months used to be quieter because lots of people were on holiday, but nowadays, bidding online and on the phone has changed things.” A near empty auction room does not mean there isn’t hot competition.
3. DON’T TRY FOR A BARGAIN
“While it entirely depends on the item, I usually advise sellers not to restore items before an auction. Getting things restored properly is expensive and sellers don’t always recoup the renovation costs when they sell.” Buyers should take note: buying something that needs work at a slight discount may prove more expensive to restore than to simply pay a bit extra and get one in better shape.
“The old adage says: spend as much money as you can. The piece you invest in now will be the one that generates a return in the future.” Always try to get the best you can afford.
4. ALWAYS READ THE SMALL PRINT
Christie’s offers a detailed “condition report” for all of its items, but not every auction house does. These reports describe the authenticity of a piece. Is the whole piece entirely from the time frame indicated, or have parts been added or amended later on? McElhatton says you should ask what an auctioneer means if he says something is from an era “and later” or in a particularly era’s “style” or order not to get caught out.
5. ALWAYS GO FOR SOMETHING YOU LIKE
“You can never guarantee something will increase in value, so you have to go for something you like,” says McElhatton.
Ocassionally items go out of fashion. “A few years ago, bureaus fetched much better prices than they do now. They don’t fit computers on particularly well, so people aren’t so interested in them anymore.”
NEED TO KNOW | START COLLECTING
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Christie’s interiors: 20, 27 September, 4, 25 October, 1-2 November, 8-9 November
Renovation work: Recognised and recommended antiques renovation experts available through the British Antique Dealers' Association (BADA).
Contact: 020 7589 4128 or go to www.bada.org