Like wine, furniture develops character with age. And American and English antiques are not only getting better, they're also becoming more affordable. Designs inspired by the two Toms (Chippendale and Sheraton) and crafted for the gentry more than 200 years ago are now available at general-public prices. "There's never been a better time to buy antiques," says Antiques Roadshow expert Leigh Keno.
When age-old mahogany sideboards, slant-front desks, and game tables hit the auction block, bidders don't lift a finger. "Flat screen TVs killed the market for armoires," notes a New York auction-house expert. "Some forms have fallen out of favor," concurs Leigh, pointing out that slant-front desks can't accommodate computers. "There's also a shift in taste," he adds. (The twin pillars of the antiques world, the brothers also collect mid-century modern furniture and limited-edition designs.)
Antiques addicts rejoice-it's a buyers market. "Buyers on a budget can afford originals," says Leslie Keno, a senior vice president at Sotheby's. Some striking recent examples follow.
By Doris Athineos
Produced by Leigh Keno and Leslie Keno
This lovely Chester County cherry candlestand with a dish top, made some 200 years ago, just went for $474 at Skinner auction house in Boston. (Leigh admired details like the little "tongue" on each knee.)
A glorious, grainy mahogany sideboard on delicate brass-cast feet, circa 1825-50, sold for $1,900 at Doyle New York last year. "The feet alone are worth a couple thousand," says Leigh.
A set of four 200-year-old-plus Chippendale cherry side chairs with wavy backs recently sold for $651 at Skinner. "They look almost modern," says Leigh. "What they need is a new upholstery job and fabric. They're perfect for around the breakfast table."
A Federal-style (late 19th century) inlaid mahogany table with a fold-over top and marquetry urn medallion sold for $350 at Sloans & Kenyon auction house in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
An assembled set of six bowback Windsors, circa 1810, went for $1,185 at Skinner auction house in Boston. The nipped-waisted center pair alone is worth $2,200, says Leigh.
A shapely Chippendale mahogany slant-front desk, which Skinner experts attribute to Bostonian John Cogswell (about 1769-1818), went for $6,517.