My French parents-in-law are huge antique fans. Starting at the age of 24, my father-in-law began to frequent les brocantes (antique markets) and les ventes enchères (auctions). He now has a very handsome and quiet accomplished collection of paintings, Louis XIV-XVI & Napoleon I-III furniture, superb wine vintages, a stunning silver set and an assortment of crystal that would rival any store.
Over the years, nay decades, he has developed such a depth of knowledge about antiques – their value, their design, their craftsmanship – that he is a veritable encyclopedia of information and for me the perfect teacher, like his father was for him.
One of our first lessons was in lighting, especially lamps. Many interior decorators will tell you that lamps add charm and character to a room. My father-in-law will tell you that an early Empire lamp with original gas fittings, hand painted decorative panels and gilded edging is a much better investment than an IKEA lamp from the ARSTID collection. But then again they aren’t anywhere near the same price point.
This comparison also highlights a generational gap. For my father-in-law, buying a piece of furniture that is not made to last is like buying designer clothes for an infant. In the long-term it’s a total waste. It’s part of his European après guerre perspective. (The generation of Europeans who grew up during the World Wars.) He advises me to save up a little (instant gratification is certainly a feature of my generation), rather than spending 40€ here and 50€ there at IKEA and the like, for pieces of intrinsic value that are an investment as well as an adornment.
To be honest, I have done both. Some of my furniture is from IKEA and I love it for the simplicity and functionality. And I know that many nowadays like its modern sleek minimal look. But my style is much more antique than modern. I like gilded lamps and silver and tapestries, floral patterns and crystal and paintings of people from the 1800s. So I’ve tried where I can, pocketbook and time permitting, to accent with the good stuff.
In the end, I have created in our Paris apartment a few spaces of which I am proud. In Paris, so many of the apartments are in late 1800s Haussmanian (or very early 1900s) buildings and thus boast twelve-foot ceilings and not much overhead lighting at all. This provides the perfect excuse to introduce lamps – mood lighting – to create atmosphere. Even if we did benefit from the convenience of overhead spots in our apartment, I’d prefer to ignore their existence and enjoy the ambiance of a seemingly candle lit room.