Vintage view: Clever uses for antique and vintage buys

It’s the spring season yet again, and if you’re doing up a dump and sick to death of trawling the high street glamour hangars — rejoice.

Enriched by a dozen house clearances, the general antique auction can throw up just about anything, from an unrecognised period gem to a pram load of typewriters and a vintage car.

The lion’s share of the bidding will be for a tangled ballast of everything else and prices are often on the floor for good strong furnishings that are useful all over the house.

Look up Collect Ireland ( www.collectireland.com ) or www.antiquesandartireland.com , a week or more before the event. This can save you a trip and the door charge if all that’s on offer is high end, when your budget is brave but lowly.

Sets may sell like a flash, but individual chairs, especially diners, are stragglers — despite even good quality and condition. Look out for everything from Georgian graces with attractive rails and sharply-carved relief to Victorian balloon backs with flirty knees in good structural condition, ideal for softening a corner or dressing a bedroom or corridor.

Rooted to a very plain country table, mix vintage chairs up in a harlequin dining set. Don’t rudely slap chalk paint onto rare tropical hardwoods that can be brought to a majestic shine with a little waxing.

Play with contemporary fabrics in a quick wrap to a drop-in seat, but otherwise factor in the price of any repairs and re-upholstery before splicing the air with a bid.

What’s a wardrobe when it’s not a wardrobe? It’s shelved and used as a dry store for tinned goods, pots and pans and small appliances in the kitchen.

Placed in the swag of an upstairs corridor to hold linens and towels for several bedrooms it’s a handsome sentry with a nice upward thrust. Set with a few hooks (hanging crossways a small old robe can be pinched) it can swallow up coats, shoes, gloves and handbags at the front door.

Choose from Odeon style Art Deco wardrobes, plain utilitarian 1940s oak and bosomy late 19th century pieces often with gorgeous veneers.

One world of caution for those attractive two piece varieties with the drawer bottom supporting a separate hanging section— secure the top section directly to the wall as dragging open the drawer, they can move apart and wobble forward over time.

Avoid mid-century to 1980s faux woods in cheap laminates — never likely to improve in class or looks. Still, let’s not dismiss Formica star-spangled furnishings as they can look witty in the right setting and now attract a devoted following with younger buyers.

Dressing tables form the 1950s-1980s can serve two purposes, not least their original role. With a nicely kicked out mid-century leg and rich veneer, match to a peer chair and use them for fluffing your feathers after staggering from the en-suite.

A deeper vanity plucked of its mirrors (separate these out into a triptych for any wall — very groovy baby) can make a nice and surprisingly convincing writing desk.

Dainty looks is one thing, but be realistic about lady-like leg room as an invasive apron will push your knees down and out into a cramp. Sit at the table and mime dabbling on a laptop.

G-plan Frescos turn up regularly and are just the sort of dimensions we’re looking for with their pouting handles, generous knee-hole and luxuriantly orange teak.

Examine tops for damage from toiletries and perfume, and run your hands over the sides where veneers can be plucked up but unnoticed in a shadowy auction room.

Commercial grade products are made to be heavily used and abused without the manners we afford domestic furniture and fixtures.

For that reason that can be close to indestructible bar a few grazes. Office, hotel, hospital and catering pieces are worth consideration for both the front of house, and the back-stage areas of utility rooms and garages.

Metal shelving, cabinets, free-standing steel counters from liquidated businesses big and small. These were expensive when new and if they meet your scale — contract them in.

With a bold, creative eye, nothing is off limits. I was wowed by a shop display recently rendered in scaffolding with all its pins, cross braces, square base plates, gobs of dried cement, rust and gouges.

Hammered up against sleek varnished plank shelving (also original), lightly sanded of snags, in an adult setting — this was a simple industrial story, written up chic.

Office chairs always attract attention, but with a wild range of quality, it’s important to know what you’re buying when viewing newer pieces. Having tested the clunk-click of the action (demand Volvo over Lada), get down on the floor and look for a label or foundry stamp in the metal elements of the chair.

A sneak peak on your internet-enabled phone should confirm quality. On that note — the phone, the phone, the phone. If you have internet access on the hoof, it’s a superb research tool for comparable pieces and pricing right from the viewing.


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