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No Place Like Home

The pandemic lockdown has taught us how important home is to our sense of well-being, our comfort, and our whole outlook on life. Now is the ideal time for re-decorating, re-purposing, re-modeling, and building anew. With these changes comes the need for different furniture. But where to begin? There are so many possibilities, so many choices.

A great place to start is with fine American furniture, with its four-hundred year tradition of excellence. Karen Keane, Skinner’s CEO, observes only half jokingly, “It doesn’t rust and they aren’t making any more of it.” This furniture is well made, often of materials such as old-growth wood that are no longer available. It’s forthright in design. It’s time-tested, practical and beautiful—and right now it’s a buyer’s market.

Intriguing pieces are increasingly available as homeowners down-size, right-size, and simplify. Important collections are being dispersed and offered at auction. There’s a great deal to choose from, and no limit to the imaginative ways that treasures from the past can serve the needs of the present and the future.

Shaker Yellow-painted Cupboard over Drawers, Hancock, Massachusetts, or New Lebanon, New York, 1840.
Sold for $9,375

Shaker cupboard: Clean lines, ample storage, careful construction—form following function, years before those words became a catchphrase.

Not so long ago, prevailing decorating wisdom favored a painstaking time-coordinated look. Like the period rooms in museums or historic houses, private houses were often close approximations in every possible detail of the styles of a short time span: furniture, color scheme, wall and floor coverings, window treatments. (Luckily, historical authenticity wasn’t usually allowed to go too far. Central heating and electric lighting were permitted.)

Important Pair of Classical Rosewood, Gilt-gesso, and Vert Antique Brass-inlaid Card Tables, Charles-Honore Lannuier, New York, c. 1815.
Sold for $262,500

Federal pier table: An eye-catching statement piece like this notable table adds visual excitement to any living room, hallway, or dining room. It’s about fine workmanship and impeccable design. It was the best of the best over 200 years ago. It’s the best of the best today, and will be next century too.

Times change and tastes become more venturesome. We’re a lot more relaxed about our surroundings today. Eclectic comfort has replaced academic correctness. Like fusion cuisine, fusion décor has come into its own.

Roycroft Five-drawer Sideboard, East Aurora, New York, c. 1910, quartersawn oak, mirrored glass, copper, ht. 52 3/4, wd. 56, dp. 22 in.
Sold for $8,125

Roycroft sideboard: Back to the future. This sleek minimalist Arts & Crafts sideboard sure doesn’t look its age (100 years and counting.)

Like great design of every period, American studio furniture is timeless. The artisans were also artists, and many of their pieces are sculptures as well as chairs, tables, and storage pieces. One-of-a-kind or limited production pieces by George Nakashima, Sam Maloof, Judy McKie and their contemporaries are increasingly found in museums, but they’re most at home when they’re at home—in homes of any and every design.

Judy Kensley McKie (American, b. 1944) Dragon Table, Massachusetts, 1997, cast bronze and glass, marked “JKM, 1997, 4/12,” ht. 19, wd. 65, dp. 24 in.
Sold for $62,000

McKie table: This bronze and glass “dragon” table is sculpture as furniture, furniture as sculpture.

For many people, these last months have been an enforced opportunity to take a prolonged look at the place called “home.” We’ve experienced changes in work, school, and family needs. We’re ready to move on to newer or older, smaller or larger, simpler or more sophisticated surroundings.

Regardless of the style or “look” selected, opportunities abound in antique and vintage furniture. From time-tested colonial and Federal design to mid-century modern to 1980s and 90s studio furniture, Skinner auctions offer a great selection of pieces that will refresh and enhance a home of any, or no particular, period.


Consider reading:
Skinner’s American Furniture Sale to Feature the Beacon Hill Collection of John and Marilyn Keane

This piece was written by Skinner New York Regional Director, Katie Banser-Whittle, for WAG Magazine in 2022.

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