Four months after moving into our apartment, a 3 level loft in a converted brewery in Berlin, it’s beginning to feel like home. We moved into the space owning virtually nothing having lost everything in a fire. Rather than recreating the traditional décor we had before , we decided to shake things up with a decisively modern edge.
I fell in love with a white leather sectional from Armani Casa but at nearly 6,000 Euro ($7,800) it would eat too big a chunk of my living room budget. When possible I prefer to invest my big ticket items in period antiques that will increase in value instead of depreciate as soon as I stretch out for my first nap. As much as I wanted that Armani, I knew another sensational sofa could catch my fancy as I’m fickle that way. So I went on a quest to find a more budget friendly version of my dream divan, saving my buying power for putting into the antiques that would decorate the rest of the room.
After scouring Stilwerk, a 18,000 sq feet design concept store in Berlin with 536 brands spread over 5 floors and 52 stores, I still hadn’t found a couch I liked half as much as that darn Armani. Just as I was about to waive the white leather flag I wandered into Rahaus Möbel , a home furnishing chain, and found the sectional I’d been searching for. At 2,000 Euro ($2,600) it was more the price point I had in mind. Only catch, they’d just that month discontinued the white caviar leather upholstery I wanted. A few phone calls later and the retailer was able to special order it from the factory, as fortunately, they still had enough in stock.
Caviar leather comes from the dried skin of the stingray. It is full grain leather embossed with a circular imprint and burnished to bring out the depth of color. Its beautiful texture and subtle sheen gives it a luxurious finish that is more durable than lambskin, making it the leather of choice for Chanel handbags. All you had to do was coo double C’s and my heart was set on caviar. If it’s good enough for Coco it’s good enough for me.
With the couch ordered there would be a two month wait before delivery so I began focusing on the rest of the room. The coffee table was an easy purchase. I bought 4 varying height transparent crystal Kartel T-tables designed by Patricia Urquiola for 179E each (approx. $250). My decorating concept was to take the double-height room (already painted a soft matt white at move in) and insert a sleek sectional with modern coffee tables and contrast them with to die for antiques. I’d always been a maximalist, but this new home cried out for minimalism. Lucky for me, post-fire that’s a look I was perfectly equipped to embrace.
As a firm believer that opposites attract I wanted to marry the modern sofa with 18th C period furniture from Sweden scraped to their original finish, juxtaposing textures and creating a fairy tale in my living room. Elegant arm chairs with a rustic, raw side meets modern divan straight from the city and falls head over heels in love and lives happily ever after.
Speaking of opposites attracting, my husband is the yin to my yang. For our 17th year wedding anniversary I took a break from leading antique buying tours, and my husband and I booked a few days with Daniel who leads my Scandinavian antiques buying tours, I had every intention of buying a pair of Gustavian chairs, but Daniel quickly noticed that my husband leaned more towards the curvy lines of the Rococo period (1750 – 1775) which pre-dates Gustavian (1775 – 1810). This shouldn’t surprise me. My husband has always been a sucker for curves.
While the later Gustavian pieces have straight lines and neo classical design influenced by the most important discovery of the time – the ruins of Pompeii – earlier Gustavian pieces were inspired by the curved lines and cabriole legs of the French Rococo, leaning more towards Louis XV instead of Louis XVI. It’s no surprise these pieces strongly resemble the French pieces of the time. In the 1760’s the future King Gustav III of Sweden went to the French court and was utterly inspired by French architecture and decorative arts and promptly returned home dead-set on creating his own “Paris of the North”. During his reign (1772-1792), Sweden experienced an artistic flowering as the king transformed this once removed European country into a cultural fore-runner setting a standard of style that continues today as one of the most sought after designs of all time.
As with all things desirable – and of extremely limited quantity – Scandinavian pieces come with heavy price points. Though if you’re like me and happen to know the best wholesale sources in Europe you can save a pretty penny sourcing trade prices that would make First Dibs dealers blanch if I share too many details here.
For my search I had 3 criteria.
- Firstly, I wanted a period piece. I wanted my chairs to be as old as America (or darn close). I could find a 1920’s reproduction for less expense, but it would not be the same quality as a period piece.
- Secondly, I wanted a pair of chairs with at least traces of original paint and that impacts the price. Most of these pieces were repainted in the 19th and 20th centuries, often having multiple layers of paint throughout the last few centuries. To find the original paint, artisans dry scrape with a razor by hand to reveal the older original layers of paint below. This is an arduous process that can take over 100 man hours and it’s the time invested in uncovering the original paint that dictates the relatively higher prices on the pieces.
- Thirdly, in an ideal world, I’d be able to score a chair made in Stockholm. The chairs made in the city tend to be the most refined and most elegant, the best examples of the period.
While on tour two dealer’s inventory in particular spoke to me. Joakim Hanssons of 1700 Antiques sells 16th, 17th and 18th C antiques from his home, a 19th century estate in the countryside adjacent to the small Swedish village of Hofterup. Using only traditional handicraft, he restores furniture in as genteel a way as possible with the right methods and tools from the same period of time that the furniture was made.
I was also head over heels with Divo Guide Daniel Larsson’s own shop in Helsingborg featuring high quality Rococo & Gustavian painted furniture, Swedish country & decorative items. Daniel is passionate about his country`s antiques and how they fit into the modern lifestyle, understanding trends in both his home country and abroad. With his help I was able to translate my dream décor into buying a perfect pair of antique armchairs for my new home. Before my tour, Daniel had told me to expect to spend between 25,000 Swedish Krona upwards to 55,000 Krona wholesale for a pair of period chairs, depending upon a variety of factors. I scored the much desired pair of Stockholm chairs with secondary paint (and traces of original) for 46,000 Krona (approx. $6,500). Before sticker shock sinks in, you need to realize if one of my clients were to retail these same chairs stateside or in the UK they would go for anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 for the pair. Shopping wholesale in Sweden can save a significant amount off retail costs if you know where to go and have the expert advice on what to buy.
But That’s Not All
Having dished on so many details on what I’ve bought thus far for my living room, I fear I’ve run out of time to tell you about my vintage acrylic desk circa 1980 bought for a bargain in Berlin or the 1930’s Italian chair picked up for a song in Tuscany, not to mention the Swedish Rococo secretaire tucked into the corner of the room or my new collection of period tiara’s I’m starting. Alas, I will have to save those purchases and price points for another day when I will also tell you about the various decorative accessories I am using to style my living room (hint: my antique Delft Ginger Jar collection survived our fire).
Stay tuned for another Lessons in Real Life Decorating in Europe, Antiques Diva style, coming next month!