How to Find Antiques in Denver
Well, I told you in my last post about restoring wood windows that I would be back for a part two. I am *almost* ready for a reveal on that, but the last month I've been burned out. With school closures for COVID, the political climate leading up to the still pending election results, painting some legacy trim and sourcing several items for clients, I haven't had the mental capacity at the end of the day to tackle the windows.
So instead, let me give you a peak into something that brings me joy: antique sourcing.
What is an Antique?
A standard definition is that to be considered an antique, the item must be at least 100 years old. So that would put everything from early English manor furniture to turn-of-the-century Victorian facades to Art Nouveau lighting all in the antique category. Many Art Deco items would just now be hitting true "antique" status. More recent stylistic trends like Midcentury Modern would be more appropriately described as "vintage". Which is perhaps why the well-known marketplace, Ruby Lane, proclaims, "Vintage begins here."
But simply being old doesn't necessarily mean an item has value. It must also have some other important component such as it's beauty, rarity, unique utility, or other social-emotional connections to attain antique status -- otherwise, folks might just consider it "junk". But that's the rub; beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
I ascribe to the notion that who cares if it's truly an antique as long as you love it, it serves a need, it works with other things in your home, and you paid a fair price for it.
Where Can I Find Antiques?
Brick and Mortar Antique Stores -- Vendors and Brokers in Denver
Several of my go-to architectural salvage stores also have a selection of interesting antiques. Frequently it's a selection of furniture, wall art, sculpture or mirrors that they've found interesting and collected along the way. And in a lot of specialty cases -- lighting dealers, plumbing fixtures, etc. -- searching inventory can frequently involve digging around in boxes stacked 10' tall within a 100 degree storage bin.
South Broadway in Denver still has a solid selection of antique options, but drastically fewer than a few decades ago. It's always fun to drive down a block and then stroll between the stores. Each store has a particular flavor and focus, so take your time and figure out what you like! I love Corky's for anything oak and the bar backs at the Antique Broker always make me wish I had 15' ceilings and a large enough room to support one :)
As you move further out into the 'burbs, many antique stores have more of a "mall" model with individual booth rentals for vendors, presumably drive higher volumes of visitors. This allows for more variety at a range of price points (including some deals and steals!), but may make it more difficult to search thematically for a specific kind of piece.
Online Marketplaces -- Sourcing Antiques Directly
Then of course you have the peer-to-peer marketplaces like Craigslist, Mercari, and Facebook. While you can sometimes purchase entirely online, many times the online listing is simply an advertisement to facilitate a local exchange. And while Craigslist got its start in peer-to-peer, like so many platforms, they now support a robust community of vendors and businesses promoting their wares as well.
But more often than not, the quality of the piece, the seller, or the availability of options on peer-to-peer platforms can be lacking. Hence platforms like Ruby Lane and 1st Dibs have really taken off. They provide provenance and authenticity, and easily cater to trade professionals, because antique store owners and brokers are the ones listing their wares.
And while I haven't spent a ton of time trawling estate sales, many of our local servicers also fully inventory and post their antiques on their websites for easy browsing.
Online Auctions -- Bidding for the Good Stuff
And last but not least, you have the online auctions. eBay still reigns supreme. Earlier today, I was able to find the exact bronze round head slotted screws that I needed to finish installing the trim between my living room and library. And while their keyword search is somewhat limited by how well a seller optimizes their posts, their suggested products, based on recently viewed items and similar images from other available listings, is on point.
Another favorite of mine is Everything But the House. They used to facilitate a ton of local estate sales and had a warehouse in Colorado, but it looks like they now call Ohio home. That means there are larger shipping fees (and there are never any guarantees on what they have available), but I've seen old silver and Eastlake furniture go for under $10. Seriously. So $300 in shipping or coordinating a local transporter, doesn't seem that bad!
I find auctions addictive, so I only flirt with them when I can start building a collection of pieces with an auction item vs. finding that "last" perfect piece -- the latter is a recipe for overspending or disappointment when you get outbid. But they can be a fantastic way to find the perfect piece within a smaller budget.
How Can I Find Good Antiques?
Stealing a line from a favorite show of mine, you want to find the "good, old stuff" and not just the old stuff when sourcing antiques.
Define What You Are Looking For
Unless a client has a very, very specific request, I start all of my sourcing engagements with a design brief. This helps narrow down the period, their overall aesthetic, price point, and style. It also helps me feel out aspects that are non-negotiable for my clients, and those that might be able to nudge in a slightly different direction if we find the perfect piece.
Understand What's Available in the Market
With some constraints in mind, I almost always start my sourcing online. A couple of hours of online sourcing helps me get a sense of inventory and price points so I have a good sense of value and can more easily spot any diamonds-in-the-rough when I start picking locally.
Be Flexible in How Form Meets Function
While a constrained search can keep you focused and on budget, sometimes there simply isn't enough local inventory to fulfill a request. In those instances, being able to see "beyond a piece" is a really helpful skill.
Could a table with some scratches be brought back to life with some wax and love from a carpenter? Could a 60" tall bar back mirror be used in place of a traditional overmantel to more closely match an Arts and Crafts aesthetic?
That's where functional procurement meets the creativity of design.
Understand Your Limits on a Rehab
With unlimited time and budget anything is possible. But rarely do we have enough of either. It's critical to understand the amount of effort needed to repair a piece, install a piece or replicate half a set of something. It's easy to quickly double or triple your budget by selecting something that needs a lot more love on the front end.
But then again, if you are like me, maybe the rehab is half the fun?
On the hunt for the perfect piece? Contact Denver Squared and we can help source the right antiques to make your house feel like home.