Sunday, May 31, 2009

This photo that has nothing to do with antiques...except beauty

I realize that this is an antique blog. 

But I was planting impatiens in my backyard today (it's Sunday!) and came across this amazing photo I wanted share with you. 

Beauty is all around you. For me, I'm lucky to work somewhere that allows me to enjoy some of the most glorious antiques on earth but I'm amazed too at what you can find in your own back yard (while you're saving up for that next antique treasure).

Next post: back to antiques!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

San Francisco Decorator Showcase 2009

This year's San Francisco Decorator Showcase featured a number of antiques from C. Mariani Antiques as well as ultra-chic rooms by many of the city's top designers. 

Plus the opening party was a great opportunity to visit and catch up with some of my favorite clients. Here I am with James Hunter and Brenda Mickel of The Wiseman Group.

And below I'm gabbing with Greg Elich of Douglas Durkin Design and Greg McIntyre of Shears & Window, the showroom that exclusively represents our Collezione line of antique reproduction furniture:
There were too many beautiful rooms at Showcase to list them all here, but two of my favorites were Benjamin Dhong's "Her Study" and the "Master Suite" by Cecilie Starin Design.

Here's Cecilie's room:

And here's Cecilie herself (with one of our English Regency tea caddies and an ancient Roman bust accessorizing her commode):
Here's another shot from Cecilie's "Master Suite". Isn't her color palette amazing?

I also flipped for Benjamin Dhong's design of "Her Study". Here's Benjamin and me in front of our Louis XVI bureau plat:

And I wish I could say this amazing mirror in Benjamin's room came from us but it didn't: drat. Nonetheless, it's totally delicious:
Also, look how Benjamin did a baldacchino (pronounced "bal duh KEEN oh") over the desk. I'd never seen one used like that (baldacchinos are typically over a bed-or an altar!). Talk about thinking outside the box and hitting a home run with it. Kudo's Benjamin.

But back to socializing. Here's Jay Jeffers of Jeffers Design Group with Michael Purdy and Suzanna Allen.

And last but certainly not least, here's C. Mariani's own Marketing Director Sarah Hills with yours truly (one reason I adore Sarah is that when we were taking this picture she was practically kneeling on the ground to make me look taller-talk about job dedication!). Thanks, Sarah:

Monday, May 25, 2009


"Hey, Buzz, what exactly is a French Polish?" I'm so glad you asked because this is a multiple choice question. 

A "French Polish" is defined as:

A. A stuffed sausage, similar to a Polish kielbasa, but embraced as haute cuisine by Le Cordon Bleu by adding truffle oil to the recipe. It shouldn't be confused with the smaller and distinctly less chic "cocktail weenie". A French Polish sausage looks like this:
B. French Polish is Buzz's family ancestry with an emphasis on the Polish and replacing the French with Slavs and Russian peasants.

C. A French polish is a highly glossy and durable furniture finish invented by the English in the 18th century but perfected by the French and very widespread in the 19th century and hence the name.

Correct answer: Both B and C but the furniture finish is what's relevant to this post.

Here's a French polished 19th century Sheraton style breakfast table:
List price: $21,000 USD

Our workshop creates French polishes all the time on custom furniture and restores French polishes on antiques. So there's no mystery to it.

The first thing to know is that French polish is not a product--like French fries--it's actually a labor intensive technique of furniture finishing that produces a tough surface with a glossy and durable finish. And there are varying degrees of French polish (little known antiquarian factoid) from a light sheen to a mirror finish. So not all French polishes are created equal.

Here's a French polished Andre Arbus maple dining table from the 1920's:
What French polishing is all about is gradually filling the pores in the wood grain so that a reflective surface is created to achieve the desired level of sheen.

The process uses shellac flakes (mixed by hand), different grades of sandpaper, FFFF-grade pumice, 100% extra virgin olive oil, various grits of extremely fine wet/dry sandpaper, wool fabric and some 100% cotton fabric. 

As each coat is abraded with a finer material, it is cleaned and sealed with shellac, gradually filling the grain pores until the level of French polish desired is achieved. For a full-on French polish, there are no pores left-just a mirrored glossy surface. Then it's waxed using pure beeswax and turpentine and you're set to go. 

Below, an Italian 19th century French polished walnut and satinwood dining table:
List price: $172,000 USD

What's the olive oil for? Shellac is sticky and the oil is used to grease the pad used to apply the shellac in a uniform and consistent coat. 

In order to perfect the French polish, 25 or more passes with the abrasive material, cleaner and shellac are required. And, very importantly, it must be done in a dust free environment or you can't achieve the true mirror gloss of French polish.

Here's a French polished Maggiolini commode, 18th c. Italian:
Final comment: Why do you see so many French polished antiques in the U.S. marketplace? Well, because some were created that way and others were refinished in a French polish. From the late 19th century on, especially in America, French polishing was and is very much in vogue. 

But why? Because as every antique dealer knows, the general rule is that Americans love shiny antiques in stark contrast to the Europeans who prefer dirtier/matte antiques. So French polishes or modified (that is, not completed to the mirror finish) French polishes are commonplace, although not all of them started that way.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


DECORATI ACCESS MAGAZINE recently published my thoughts on How Antique Legs Can Help you Identify Periods & Styles. And it got a really great response. YAY.

One of the Decorati readers (thank you, Jenny S.) asked if I would post some comments on antique FEET and what they can tell you.

OK, so here goes. First, legs tell more than feet. But feet styles also have something to say as well. And when we talk antique feet we need to also talk casters, since they're often the feet in question.

So let's look at how the style of an antique foot can help you identify the period of the piece. But keep in mind that feet, as with legs, cannot definitively date the piece for you. Why? Because classic feet and casters have been reproduced since their respective introductions dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries.

Here's a turned toupie foot with a foliate detailing "in person" in our Gallery:
And here's a ball and claw foot from one of our English Georgian chairs:
Here's a spade foot and also a brass caster:

The block foot immediately says early 17th century and later. The flattened bun foot should tell you English William & Mary, early 18th century. The shaped bracket foot is Baroque and Georgian. The curve of the ogee bracket tells you we're in the rococo and so mid-18th century.

The toupie foot is a tough one since it appeared in various periods from 1800 to 1900. The "Spanish" also called Braganza foot is baroque to transitional rococo.

The pad foot screams English Queen Anne while the trifid and ball & claw both say English Georgian. 

A squared and tapered foot says Neoclassical like the feet on this late 18th c. demilune parquetry  commode:

And then we come to the casters. Note that leather casters were introduced in the Louis XV period but you see very few original leather casters surviving to this day (the leather rollers broke down relatively quickly). They were followed with the block caster with brass wheels in the late 18th century (on neoclassical legs), and the brass and porcelain casters in the mid-19th century.

I mentioned earlier that you can generally tell more about an antique by its legs than by its feet. Why's that? 

That's because the feet of an antique are always the first to "go", meaning destroyed by dry rot, moisture, general wear & tear, and various forms of torture (never drag an antique across the floor or you'll quickly learn how fast a foot can snap off or crack). Plus feet were regularly replaced to update pieces over time, even if they were still in good condition.

Nonetheless, every part of an antique has a story to tell if you take the time to closely examine it, do your homework, and just listen.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Word of the day: REPOUSSÉ

REPOUSSÉ is a decorative metal technique that you see on many antiques. In a nutshell, it's hammering metal from the reverse side to create a relief design on the outside, as seen here on the top and border of an antique Flemish mirror:
This gives a dramatic decorative effect to the mirror:

List price: $42,500 USD

It's pronounced "ruh poo SAY".

Here's another excellent example of repoussé, this time on a pair of Italian 17th century copper-clad wall sconces:
List price: $14,0000 USD

Can you see how the leaf motif directly below the drip pan (called the bobeche, and pronounced "bo BESH") has been hammered from the inside out?

Some people confuse repoussé with REPOUSSOIR (pronounced "ruh poor SWAHR") but they're very different. Repoussoir is when an object or figure in a picture is put in the front of the scene to help direct the eye into the composition.

Vermeer uses repoussoir in his 17th century masterpiece, "The Art of Painting:"
Note how he depicts the draped curtain in the foreground to draw your eye into the scene and to create the illusion of perspective-this is repoussoir.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What do the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Antique Coffee Tables all have in Common?

Antique coffee tables. I get asked for them constantly. 

But brace yourself. It's time you knew the truth. Antique coffee tables are just like the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. They don't exist. 

Ok, I'm not totally sure about the Fairy. But I'm positive there's no Easter Bunny or antique coffee tables.
So for those poor souls who've been searching for years for that perfect antique coffee table, you can call off the search.

Coffee tables, as we know them today, were invented in the 1920's and so by definition can't be antiques (which need to be at least 100 years old-I won't say "do the math" but I really want to).

The best you can hope for is a table "made up of antique elements." That's when separate parts from different antiques are cobbled together ("married") to create a single piece of furniture, in this case a coffee table.

More likely, you'll find a coffee table with an antique top and a later (meaning new or newer) base. Here's a beauty that has a 19th century scagliola slate top set into an antique-looking French walnut base that we created in our workshops:

And here's another pretty coffee table made up of a 19th century antique lacquered papier-machè (pronounced "pa pyay ma SHAY") tray on a later base:

But what if you absolutely positively MUST have an antique coffee table? Then repurpose an antique trunk, bible box, or other genuine antique. Here's an 18th century oak trunk that would work great as a coffee table.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Word of the Day: GUÉRIDON

Pronounced: “gay ree DOH(N)”; some people say “gair ruh DON”; both are correct.

An antique GUÉRIDON is a 17th-19th century small to medium round French table or stand originally created for the purpose of holding a candelabrum.

These circular tables can be supported by columns, pedestals, or sculptural figures, either human or mythological. Most of the guéridons I sell have three columns supported by a tripartite (three part) stretcher, like this one: 

Guéridons are highly versatile. Designers often flank a sofa with them or put one next to an occasional chair. But they can serve a multitude of miscellaneous purposes including acting as an accent table just about anywhere. 

Guéridons originated in France towards the middle of the 17th century. Early guéridons were often supported by an African (called a “blackamoor”) holding a tray aloft, a design device that was wildly popular in Venice. Here is an image of a blackamoor base:

They also incorporated ancient Egyptian themes (which would indicate the piece to be French Empire or later) as well as  Greek human figures (generally indicating a neoclassical or later date). Here’s an exotic 19th century French Empire guéridon with a specimen marble top and Egyptian theme:

Ranging in style from simple to highly ornate, the guéridon was originally created during the baroque period of Louis XIV. In fact, it was a popular piece of court furniture at Versailles where several hundred existed throughout the palace.

Here is a handsome 19th century pair with porphyry inset tops:

By the 18th century, guéridons had morphed into numerous forms raised on columns, tripods, etc. and often created in gilded brass or giltwood. Some had marble tops, some pietra dure (inlaid hardstones), and some wood. Here’s an example of a pietra dure guéridon top:

These days, many in the antique trade call practically any small occasional table a guéridon but I think it’s properly used only when the piece is French and round. 

When it’s not round, it can go by a variety of names: for any portable small table, you can call it a table ambulante (“TA-bluh am bue LAHNT);  for a small work table, table à ouvrage (“ah ooh VRAHZH”); for bedside tables, either table de chevet (“duh sheh VAY”) or table de lit (duh LEE), and for a simple nightstand: table de nuit (“duh NWEE”). Or save yourself the brain cells and just call any of them a side, occasional table, or bedside table. French can be so easy if you just avoid speaking it.

Ok, fine. Got it on the little French tables. But what do you call a round Italian “guéridon”-like this exotic pair?

And the same question would apply to these simple 17th and 18th c. Italian tables. What would you call them?

These tables would be properly called Italian candle stands or, if you’re tongue tied, just say small side tables.

Some old school designers might also call them cigarette tables. But they’re really not because they’re too tall. Cigarette tables would be shorter small tables and therefore distinguishable from the guéridons and candle stands.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Words of the Day: SETTEE and CANAPÉ

Two words frequently used in the antique trade are "settee" and “canapé”  and yet what exactly do they mean? 

Well, I know you're expecting me to tell you that a canapé is something you eat at a cocktail party.

And you're exactly right. I like to call canapés "finger food" because it sounds moronic and slightly creepy.  Here's how you'd use this "canapé" word in a sentence: "She could tell from Buzz's 38-inch waist that he'd eaten way too many canapés in his day."

And here are some tasty examples:
List price: $1.90 each

But don't be fooled: these are different from antique canapés. Why? Because these are new and fresh (and if not, you'll find out about 4 am). Antique canapés are over 100 years old and are not, repeat NOT, edible.

Besides, this blog isn't supposed to be about catering (at least as far as I know). Here, we're only interested in the antique canapés along with their kissing cousins, the Settees.  Hey, weren't they that Girl Group that recorded "He's a Rebel" in the 60's? I loved that song, especially the line where the one gal sings "Sure he's bad but he's not EVIL" And then the back- up singers chirp, "Tell me mo', tell me mo'...."

In any event, for some actually useful information about settees and canapés, go to my comments on Decorati's Antique Canapés and Settees.

Friday, May 1, 2009

DECORATI and "The Buzz on Antiques" talk French Provincial Farm Tables

Many thanks to Decorati Access Magazine for publishing my post on "The Little French Farm Table that Could." 

In case you missed it, here it is

But also check out  Decorati frequently since exclusive "The Buzz on Antiques" articles are regularly featured on this terrific site.