We timed our estate sale visit to its final day, arriving in the last couple of hours when prices are more flexible. Sure enough, an estate sale rep announced that prices were 50% lower than marked.
The house reeked of cigarette smoke, so it wasn’t pleasant poking through the mostly empty rooms. I’ve read that you can remove cigarette smell from upholstered furniture by spritzing cheap vodka on the fabric.
A massive Victorian bureau met us in the dining room but even at half price, I couldn’t hope to touch it. In a far bedroom I found a gorgeous Victorian headboard, footboard and rails. Nope, nope. Too costly. I gazed at the only other items in the room.
Oh, hello, there.
Two lovely parlor chairs greeted me, but I live in Florida, a breezy, casual state. Victorian isn’t a major decorative theme. I moved here after graduate school and coming from New York, I know Victorian. My grandparents’ home brimmed with heavy, dark furniture.
Maybe the chairs stirred my childhood memories. I’ve read that one’s appreciation of furniture skips a generation. That explains why I find Victorian more compelling than the mid-modern pieces owned by my parents. I lived through the mid-modern era and don’t have much favorable to say about that furniture.
When our modern Danish furniture took over the living room of my childhood, an edict accompanied the new sofa: don’t jump on it. Whereas the heavy piece it replaced could be imagined as a comfortable ship, train or fort, this Danish piece had skinny stick legs like a newborn fawn. Let’s be honest, we broke a leg pretty early on.
Back to the Victorian chairs: they spoke to me and were listed at 50% off. I could paint them and sell them. Maybe even reupholster them, with a lot of pluck and luck. Back out in the living room, David asked if I’d seen those bedroom chairs. That was all I needed. We bought the pair. As I carried one toward the door, a woman stopped me to compliment me on my purchase. “They’re pre-Civil War, you know, the 1850s.” I didn’t know, but if she were correct . . . my happiness meter surged.
I contacted Bob, my antiques pro. The chairs are from the 1860s, just a decade later than the woman surmised. That means they were manufactured during the Civil War, a bloody conflict that pitted many brother against brother. Who sat on this original tufted velvet? I’d like to imagine Abraham Lincoln or Louisa May Alcott or Susan B. Anthony. My own relatives immigrated in the 1880s, so someone else’s family originally bought and cared for my new chairs.
Bob said they’re Victorian Renaissance Revival parlor chairs, once part of a larger set. The Renaissance Revival lasted from 1850 to 1880 and produced massive, opulent pieces with geometric forms and decorative elements. But my chairs aren’t overpowering. I like the contrast between the rounded seat and the rectangular back with the pediment perched atop. They are charming. In fact, more charming each day.
For these photos I set up the best Victorian vignette I could muster. See that Grandmother Clock? That’s our newest acquisition and I love it. It chimes and was built, according to Bob, between 1900 and 1920 in England or Germany. More about the clock in a later post.
Here’s my current conundrum: do I keep the chairs or sell them? Arguments for selling: Florida isn’t a Victorian mecca. Bob says they could sell for $550 to $650 each, as is, in an antiques store. That’s interesting, but it doesn’t force my decision. I could keep them, paint and reupholster them. But then these beauties would lose some value. Does that matter as long as I love them and enjoy them? I’ll continue to ponder this. Any suggestions?
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