Making your way around the antiques show circuit can be exhausting and overwhelming. Big shows in New York and London are titillating but can wear you out on day one. That’s why the Charleston Antiques Show has such allure. Held every March, just when the Holy City is showing off its best blooms, and the temperature is a warm reprieve from the chilly North, the show is reason enough to visit the charming South Carolina town. Now, more and more dealers, designers, and tastemakers are adding this show to their calendars. Hosted by the Historic Charleston Foundation, it's a small show— approximately 30 dealers—compared to the behemoths in larger cities.
This year, designer Nick Olsen (our March cover star) made his first visit to the show as part of a designer trip led by Charleston-based lighting company Urban Electric. His take on the city and event? "It did not disappoint." Olsen found a smartly edited mix of antiques, objects, and artwork (including contemporary pieces) that reflected Charleston itself: classical, bold and fun. “Sadly,” he lamented, “I won’t be fitting any 18th Century Georgian mirrors in my carry-on, but I left so inspired.”
I toured the show, held over the weekend, with Olsen as he selected some of his favorite pieces, from Majolica to grand mirrors—and imparted his hard-won wisdom about what to look for when shopping for antiques.
Ask Yourself These Questions Before Buying Anything.
"When I'm shopping at large venues—whether vetted antiques shows like this one or open-air markets like Brimfield—I'm looking for an element of the unusual," the designer explains. "What haven't I seen before?"
As someone who says he's "truly never not shopping," Olsen has a questionnaire he runs through before purchasing. He asks himself:
- Have I seen this before?
- If yes, what makes this one special?
- Do I covet it? Does it, in Marie Kondo parlance, "spark joy?"
- If I don't need it, does my client? Which one?
- How does the price compare to others? (This, Olsen notes, requires some "studying the market." He recommends exploring auction catalogs, fairs, and boutiques to familiarize yourself with patterns in the kinds of items you like)
- What is the condition? Will it need restoration? (Remember, this will factor into the price)
- How large and fragile is it—ie. how expensive will it be to ship to its final destination?
Keep an eye out for these finds in particular.
As for Olsen's personal preferences, he says, "I'm always shopping for: Regency-era chairs, tables and cabinets; Louis XV and XVI chairs and mirrors; Georgian giltwood or white painted mirrors and console tables; gutsy contemporary artwork; humorous midcentury Italian ceramics; tribal carpets in abstract designs; Chinese bronzes of animals; low tables and desks in the manner of Jean Michel Frank; anything Royere or Moreux."
That's not even an exhaustive list, but it's enough to inspire anyone to start planning their next antiques show trip. Charleston may have passed this year, but there's always March 2020.
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