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Greener Than You Think

Antique collectors can stand tall in the most eco-friendly of crowds.

Whether you travel far to seek the finest Old World European treasures or simply enjoy placing family heirlooms and items with regional historic character throughout the home, your affinity for antiques expresses a desire for making the most of existing materials. Recycling is a household term when used alongside aluminum cans, plastic bottles and newspapers. But rooms decorated with items such as aged sterling, leather-bound books, vintage glassware, well-preserved textiles, antique wooden furniture and reclaimed architectural features also give a respectful nod towards conservation.

Of course, acquiring beautiful antiques is far from suffering for a cause. Aged objects offer a patina to complement any color palette; inimitable, appealing imperfections; a link to iconic designers and craftsmen; and a tangible narrative of the past. 

Antiques were made before assembly lines and mass-production arrived, during a time when appreciation for quality overruled the demand for quantity. Fast-forward to the present, when woods used to create furniture, flooring and other household features may be of the same species as their ancestral trees, but not necessarily the same quality. For example, most pine grown today is produced quickly. In turn, the younger crop does not develop the hardy old-growth wood that craftsmen had access to years ago. 

Antique textiles could be the inspiration for the color palette of an entire room. This is certainly true when a hand-dyed antique Persian rug enters the home. Its rich varying tones were painstakingly created by the individual who made it, so each rug is a unique work of art. Hand-woven quilts, whose patterns, variations and pictorial images may literally tell a story, summon images of the sociable environment in which they were made. The adventurous tale of porcelain and earthenware takes us back to the earliest dynasties of China and continues on a visually exciting journey through history. Our own Dixon Gallery & Gardens is a leading center for the study of European ceramics with their vast display of 18th-century German porcelain and English and Continental Ceramics. While the most valuable porcelain objects may don the shelves of museums and high-end, discerning collectors, less-expensive pieces are a simple solution for adding interest to both formal and casual rooms. Consider the many uses for a small antique porcelain serving piece—a decorative accessory for any occasional table or simply a clever soap dish for the powder room.

Iron and stone present unlimited options to the savvy homeowner. With a mixed-media artist’s eye, stroll through a well-stocked antique market and consider the many ways to assemble portions of that aged iron gate and cut stone or glass to create a coffee table or demi-lune piece. Large discarded portions of old buildings such as carved mantelpieces, doors, window frames and columns are surprisingly modern when used creatively in a new setting. Smaller architectural fragments sculpted by time that were once used as balustrades, decorative brackets or modillions can be re-used in countless places inside and outdoors to add instant charm and character.

These examples are meant to demonstrate that antiquarians and enthusiastic collectors are inherently eco-friendly. If we have already cut down one tree, why not use it again as often and in as many ways as possible. Conservation and recycling are truly second nature to those who recognize the versatility of antique objects and their timeless appeal to our sensibilities.

If we have already cut down one tree, why not use it again as often and in as many ways as possible.