Earlier this month I wrote all about how right now is the perfect time to buy vintage and antique items rather than new items because the two categories have something important to offer that new items don’t:
- History: They preserve and retain pop and broader culture as well as local culture.
- Quality: With few exceptions, craftsmanship and manufacturing standards have only decreased. Older items were made with excellent materials and high quality craftsmanship.
- Green: They help save the earth (and our beautiful local areas) by keeping items out of the landfill while lessening the demand to use new resources (metals, woods, transport fuel, etc.)
- Local Economic Impact: Antique dealers are your neighbors, not big corporations. When you spend your dollars locally, on American Main Streets everywhere, you directly help keep your community economically strong and active.
So armed with all this knowledge, I thought you might also like to know some terminology used in the antique world so that you know what you’re looking for. I’ve written in the past about some hot new antique trends for 2019, so you can check that out, too. But I thought I’d give you a little handy overview that you can clip and save.
Mid Century Modern: Strictly speaking, this style refers to the design movement from the early 1930s to to the first half of the 1960s, the “mid century” part meaning the middle of the 20th century. And the watchwords then were sleek, speedy, futuristic. So it’s all about clean lines, improbable angles, uncluttered surfaces, and the suggestion of movement. Think “The Jetsons” for an animated version of this, though American mid-century had some more earthy touches than the more international versions. Though mid-century refers to architecture, furnishings, homewares, art, and even clothing and cars, names to look for in furniture and homewares include: Eames, Noguchi, Jacobsen, Henningsen, and Teich and Piltz for mass production lithographs. But barring those big names, the style influenced a huge range of manufacturers and retailers and you can find affordable pieces today of the more mass-produced variety that still offer so much style, quality, and pizazz. Over half of our lower level is devoted to showcasing Mid Century Modern pieces while plenty of booths on our mezzanine level have mid century furniture, art, audio equipment, and homewares, too.
Rustic: More often than not, rustic refers to the most rough-hewn and folk-y of all furniture and homewares, from plain wood and punched tin pie safes to salt glaze pottery, plain garden benches, rope beds, and hand loomed/hand woven textiles or hand sewn quilts and cross-stitch samplers. Pieces are generally from the 18th century through the entire 19th century and even into the early 20th century from more rural locales. Unfortunately with the proliferation of the “shabby chic” and “barnwood” phenomenon, there’s currently a lot of repro — reproduction — pieces in the new market. While that can be appealing due to slick catalog stylings, your better bet for the reasons listed above is to seek out these items in antique shops. There’s a host of Americana in the real deal (in particular, a huge number of pie safes were found in African-American homes), and the weight, quality, and history oozing out of authentically old pieces that matters for preservation and presence. Sometimes rustic pieces will be signed or marked by the maker in some way, which is always a nice added touch.
Colonial: Some dispute whether there’s any actual style called “colonial” so let’s say that it’s more of a time-period during the American colonies (early 1600s-late 18th century) which then morphed into what is often termed “traditional” at mainstream furniture stores. As distinct from “rustic” Colonial refers more to the types of furniture adopted by the landed gentry and wealthier families (but which was seen in “middling” households as well) in imitation of the English style back home (before the United States became its own country in 1776). So think Queen Anne, often seen with shell motifs, Georgian with ball and claw feet, Chinoiserie ceramics in blues and whites as well as in Chippendale, and elaborate silver or plated silver tea sets and flatware. It’s the kind of style seen at the big Founding Father homes, and in stately manors. While some of the real 18th century pieces can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, the “Colonial Revival” of the early 20th century means there’s plenty of this lovely and well-appointed style to access today that are both very well made (more often than not American-made) and affordable.
Federal and/or Regency Style: In America we call it Federal style, or the period when the United States was really coming into its own as a country. But because of the popularity of Jane Austen, often you hear the term Regency. But let’s stick to Federal here. This style refers to the formal characteristics of how the state — The U.S. — defined its most refined presence and then how that spilled out into the wealthier households of the time. Here we had a throwback to Georgian elements, especially in terms of balance, but often with cleaner lines, simpler legs on sideboards and even chairs, and smaller decorative flourishes — fleurs des lis, harps, thinner rails. Federal style often had lovely veneer inlays of a contrasting color but without all the frou-frou! Eagles were a popular motif, as were uncomplicated geometric patterns.
Rococo: Less popular in America in its time due to its heavy European influence at a time when the colonies were both defining themselves and trying to eke out a living in what was clearly a pioneer wilderness at best, nonetheless Rococo had its adherents, particularly among the wealthier and more showy types. Characterized by curving lines, elaborate carvings, heavy woods, plenty of marble, and organic floral elements, Rococo makes no bones about its over-the-top qualities. Less gold than Louis XIV style furnishings, but it doesn’t entirely escape some gilding.
Of course, this list is far from comprehensive, but it does offer a quick glance at some of the most popular styles sought by vintage and antique shoppers today and can help you be more in-the-know when you’re shopping for your home!
For more insight into antiques shopping, download my FREE e-book guide to shopping antiques in our region.
— Ellen Boden, Proprietress, Staunton Antiques Center