Mastering the art of antiquing requires research, practice, and patience. But finding the perfect piece of antique furniture for your home makes the work worth it. To give you some guidance in selecting the ideal antique for your home, we turned to the experts at Lolo French Antiques et More for help.
How to Shop for Antique Furniture for Your Home
Laurent “Lolo” Gouon has nearly 30 years of experience in the antique business. A native of Brittany, France, Lolo travels to his homeland every 90 days in search of authentic antique pieces to bring back to Birmingham. He cleans and restores his finds while maintaining the integrity of each piece. “I stand behind my product,” Lolos proudly declares.
No matter the age of the piece, Lolo ensures the furniture is functional. He makes sure the doors and drawers open and close easily. And if a piece has a lock, he makes sure it works — and that it has a key, too.
While some people may think antiques are beyond their budget, Lolo explains that an antique piece may be less expensive than a new piece from a high-quality furniture maker. “And it’s part of history,” Lolo adds of an antique’s significance. Furthermore, many of the popular styles of contemporary furniture were inspired by styles that are more than 100 years old, he adds.
Mimi Montgomery, of Lolo French Antiques, says that if you invest in an authentic antique table, you can be sure it will stand the test of time. “It’s lasted 200 years already and will last another 200 years,” she says, “unlike many new tables that might not hold up during shipping!”
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Antique furniture was built to last. “It was crafted. People were not just building furniture,” Lolo says. They were making art. “People had more time to do things,” he adds.
Perhaps you’re overwhelmed by the idea of antiquing because you’re not sure how to know what’s real and what isn’t. “People sometimes are under the impression that antiques might not be quality furniture because they are looking in shops or antique malls that are selling vintage reproductions from the 50s and 60s, for instance, and calling them antique,” Lolo says.
Just because something is purchased from a used furniture store or even a vintage furniture store doesn’t mean it’s an antique. An item must be at least 100 years old to be considered a true antique. “Unfortunately, there are plenty of reproductions and brand-new items that are being sold as antiques,” Mimi adds. “The best way to make sure a piece is authentic is to purchase from someone you can trust who is reputable and has experience. Ask questions and find out all you can from them. As dealers, we try to find out as much as we can when we buy a piece in France.”
Do research on your own about the maker of the piece, too. “Check for handmade dovetail joints,” Mimi says. “They are slightly irregular because they are custom to the piece.”
And if a piece is in perfect condition, that could be a clue that it’s not actually an antique. “Imperfections are a sign that a piece is old,” Mimi explains. “The patina and cracks, dings, and marks add character to a piece and are a sign of age as well.”
What to Buy
While pieces in the Louis Philippe style of the 1800s and the Louis XV style of the early 1700s are still popular picks, Lolo says the Louis XVI style is most in-demand these days when it comes to antique French furniture. The Louis XVI Neoclassical style began in the 1750s and was first applied to furniture in the 1760s. Pieces from this era are marked by straight lines, right angles, fluted columns, and carved friezes. “It works very well with modern [pieces],” Lolo says, explaining the popularity of Louis XVI.
Mimi adds that people shouldn’t be afraid to mix things up. “Buy new upholstered pieces, but mix those with antiques that have character and age,” she says. “I always suggest, to young buyers especially, that they buy a beautiful antique table, chest, buffet, or mirror to start with. A mirror with antique mercury glass that has dark spots or wavy glass is always a good choice, as is an antique trestle table with a three-inch thick top that the whole family can gather around.”
Make Your List and Check It Twice
Lolo’s top tip for antiquing is simple: Do your research. Once you know what kind of piece you want, be sure you know what size piece you need. Measure the space where you want to put the piece, making note of the height, width, and depth of the area.
Consider the color you want, too. Do you want dark or light wood? What color would be better suited for the room you plan to place the piece in?
Research various antique dealers online to get an idea of what you can expect to spend on the pieces you want and set your shopping budget.
Once you’ve purchased a piece, make it your own. “Unless it is a museum-quality piece, make it work for your home or space,” Mimi says. “If you have to add a rod so that you can use an armoire as a closet, then add one.”
If you already have antique pieces in your home and you’re looking to add more, remember that all the pieces don’t need to look the same for your room to look great. “We always say mix it up,” Mimi continues. “There’s no need to wait to find a piece that is the same style as other pieces you may already have.”
Bottom line, Mimi says, is to make a choice that makes you happy. “If you find something and absolutely love it,” Mimi says, “then it is a good fit!”
Lolo French Antiques et More is located at 4300 1st Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35222. Hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. To learn more, call (205) 323-6033 or visit lolofrenchantiques.com.
This article is sponsored by Lolo French Antiques et More. Photography by Eric & Jamie Photography.