Living with the Past -July 2014

by: Leslie Linsley

photography by: Terry Pommett

One of the most anticipated events taking place on Nantucket each summer is the NANTUCKET ANTIQUES & DESIGN SHOW held under the tent at Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm. This is a major fundraising event for the Nantucket Historical Association and, now in its 37th year, has gotten bigger and better than ever.

The show includes a week of dazzling events from its opening champagne reception July 30 through Aug. 4. Managed by the prestigious Antiques Council, this event is one of the most highly-regarded antiques shows on the East Coast, attracting collectors and enthusiasts to the island. Dealers include many prominent names in the business. Not only will there be a wide variety of antiques and American folk-art booths from dozens of exhibitors, but this year the addition of 16 tablescapes from island designers will add a dash of contemporary to the mix. It’s the place to discover the unusual, the unique, the creative and the inspiration for decorating with a Nantucket sensibility.

You might be wondering what’s happening in the antiques world, especially here on Nantucket. With the proliferation of new houses and the current trend toward everything new, where do antiques fit into the picture? It’s a question many interior designers get asked and have been forced to address.

Before last year’s show opened, one of the island’s respected antiques dealers, Alan Cunha, hosted a luncheon on the terrace of his famed bistro, Le Languedoc on Broad Street. It was a heady gathering of people whose opinions have impact. The purpose of the luncheon was to talk about the education of why it’s important to collect, furnish and respect antiques, specifically those related to Nantucket’s history. Among the quests were Bill Tramposch, executive director of the Nantucket Historical Association, interior designer Elisa Allen, David Bernard, liaison to the Antiques Council and Kay Gregg of the Finnegan Gallery, specializing in garden antiques. We live in this unique place where the houses are older and more well-preserved than anywhere in the country and there is a collective attitude that those who own homes here have an obligation to respect the past.

So, back to the question, why should we buy antiques? “Brown furniture,” as decorators derisively are now referring to it, however, is ripe for reconsideration. Some of the reasons offered are: the best of the old is beautifully made, it has lasting quality, it speaks of the homeowners’ integrity, and it connects us to the past.

It isn’t just early homes that benefit from good pieces: an antique dresser, a gilt-carved mirror frame or a folk-art whirligig in a modern setting infuses the room with character. One long-time exhibitor, George Korn of Forager House Collection/Nantucket said, “The antique world is changing and dealers have to be aware of this. Good Nantucket pieces were in high demand 10 years ago, but the new, younger homeowners aren’t interested in historic items so it’s up to us to present them in an updated way.”

For example, an historic map of the island might be presented in a modern frame rather than one that is ornate. This year, along with his partner Thomas Livingston, Korn’s booth will feature a group of boats, weathervanes and dimensional sculptures that are easy to imagine in a modern home. Richard and Doris Beers’ watercolor paintings are part of the early Nantucket art scene, as are the prints of Tony Sarg. Their works are timeless and will tie your home to Nantucket’s past.

“This is a good time to buy Nantucket pieces as they are as affordable as they will be going forward, and American folk art is very hot right now, especially from Nantucket,” said John Sylvia, a third-generation antiques and art dealer, and owner of Sylvia Antiques and Four Winds Craft Guild on Main Street. “It’s amazing how many really good craftspeople were here a century ago. These pieces, like lightship baskets, whirligigs, carvings and paintings are at home anywhere in the country because of their fantastic quality and good design.”

Sylvia will be showing marine antiques, lightship baskets, carvings, sailors valentines, pictorial hooked rugs and paintings that deserve to remain on Nantucket. Always expect him to have the unexpected in Nantucket-related antiques and that’s what makes this an outstanding show. The dealers are simply the best in the country.

“Buy once and you’ll never have to replace. What you buy now can only go up in value,” said Sandi Holland of Nantucket House Antiques and Interior Design Studio. Her son Tucker and daughter-in-law Michelle are also in the business and, as a mother of young children, Michelle said, “You don’t have to baby antiques. I never worry about the kids harming it. This furniture was built to last.”

Nantucket designer Trudy Dujardin of Dujardin Design Associates said, “A healthy home is the ultimate luxury. Antique furniture was created with less toxic products years ago. Wood pieces made before the 21st century were constructed with timber with tighter growth rings that simply doesn’t exist today, enhancing its value as a treasured collectible.”
Interior designer Kathleen Hay, known for her neutral tones, mixed textures and always something fun in her elegantly designed rooms said, “Antiques are the new stars of the environmentally-conscious ‘green’ movement. Consider using old items in new ways: a coal shuttle re-purposed to hold magazines, a garden statuary is unexpected indoors, and a reclaimed architectural remnant or piece of furniture can be the start of your design plan.”

I once interviewed a young couple in their Brooklyn duplex. There was not a stick of “real” furniture in the living room except for a very small Shaker desk. Hanging on the wall over the desk, and the reason for my visit, was an impressive early American hooked rug. And under the table was an Indian basket. I was working on a book about American hooked rugs.

When I asked the young woman how long they’d lived in the apartment she said, “three years.” And then went on to explain that they would eventually find the money for a sofa and other basics, but these antique pieces were prize finds that they might never justify buying again.

It said so much about them. Antiques can be a link to the future as well as the past. ///

Leslie Linsley writes the “Life & Style” blog and column for The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.

Latest issue...

To view the magazine full size, click the image above.