Ah, the furnishings! When your house restoration is nearly complete, it’s time for finishing touches, the icing on the cake. This part should be fun, but many people find buying furniture daunting. Some basic advice: Take cues from the age and style of the house. Embrace what you love and can live with long-term. Buy good furniture, even if it means living with folding chairs and patio wicker while you save to buy one high-quality piece a year. (Then you can move the wicker to the solarium or porch!)
As you start furnishing a room, consider buying a thematic piece first. This may be something unique, or a piece you simply must have. A period classic—a Morris chair, a spindle daybed—can anchor a room. The thematic piece of furniture is often an antique, because it should be one of a kind and carry its own history. Do mix in antiques to avoid the boring, matched-set look of some contemporary interiors. Reproductions are great for hardworking rooms and when you need a full set, as with dining chairs. Seek out specialty suppliers and artisans who do reproduction or adapted styles.
The good news for Arts & Crafts-period homes is that they are very forgiving of eclectic furniture. From the beginning, the house probably mixed Craftsman and Colonial Revival motifs in woodwork, certainly in the furniture. Sturdy colonial-era classics (like benches and Windsor chairs), rustic furnishings, wicker, iron, and more typical Arts & Crafts styles work together. Rectilinear Stickley-type furniture also marries well with modern furniture.
The revival that got its start ca. 1972 shows no sign of abating. Each year new makers appear, working in furniture and all the decorative arts. Their offerings range from documentary reproductions to interpretive new work, which may allude to the vocabularies of the Prairie School, British design, Greene & Greene, Gustav Stickley, or the Roycrofters.
The Cost of Quality
After spending thousands on roofing, kitchens, and even rugs, homeowners are nevertheless shocked by furniture prices. Why is furniture so expensive? Materials, skill, and time! To get an integrated, usable room at reasonable cost, many people mix good-enough pieces with reissues of classic designs, future heirlooms, and antiques.
Antiques add history and personality to a room, but many times they are not practical—as with chairs that are used every day, for example. “The majority of collectors we know are happy buying new objects to put alongside their antiques,” says Aminy Audi, president and owner of Stickley. She points to new furniture as an alternative to antiques that would be devalued by active use. “Some new furniture commands prices higher than their antique counterparts,” she explains. “Higher prices [for new pieces] often point to best quality.”