Antique: 100 years old or more
Vintage: Less than 100 years old but more than 30, typically
Collectible: Items valued for their history, manufacturing process or for nostalgia
Antiques should no longer be relegated to grandma’s formal living room. Eclectic style — the hottest trend in decorating — mixes old and new furniture to create rooms with personality and character. If your previous impression of antiques is rickety, dusty or extremely expensive, think again. Triangle stores offer a variety of antiques and collectibles to fit a range of tastes and personalities.
The Quality Connoisseur
“Everyone who comes in says, ‘You just can’t buy it like this anymore,’” said Gill Zonruiter, owner of Streets of London Antiques in Cary. Handmade and hand carved, solid wood antiques boast a level of quality rarely found in furniture production nowadays. Big box stores use pressboard and thin veneers, often made in China. Pit that next to a solid wood table from the late 1800s and there’s no comparison.
“Most furniture was handmade back then. There was quality and craftsmanship. A passion went into making the furniture. It was a trade that went back generations. … It was in their blood, and it shows,” said Zonruiter.
Zonruiter’s store specializes in fine antique furniture, most of which is imported straight from England. “Ninety percent of my store is imported. That’s what we do, and I try to stay true to that,” she said. With pieces from the mid-1700s to the “new” antiques of the 1920s, almost all of Zonruiter’s offerings have their original finish and are in excellent condition. “Nothing needs any major restoration when I get it,” she said. “I try to make things good to go. Take them home and you don’t have to do anything.”
Zonruiter says people are looking for function, not just prettiness, in their furniture choices — something antiques provide time and time again. “I can have 10 years of just beating my table up. When the kids are all moved out, I can go get the top refinished and — boom — I’m back again. And there it is for another 20 or 30 years.”
The History Lover
With a piece of furniture at least 100 years old, it is common to find marks of wear in the finish. Maybe it’s a subtle split from expanding wood, a knot in the wood grain or a dent in the table top. Rather than looking upon these as imperfections, think of them as beauty marks, adding to the identity and charm of the piece.
“They all have a story and a history behind it,” Zonruiter said. “I wonder what made that mark on the top of that table or sideboard, or who sat at this desk?” Examining these unique marks tells part of the story that accompanies an antique: where it came from and how well loved it’s been.
“I love antiques. I love history,” said Jewell Ryals, owner of Bostic and Wilson Antiques. “In order to love antiques you have to love history.” One of the signature items in Ryals’ Fuquay-Varina store is a desk built by Thomas Day, a free black man who designed and built furniture in North Carolina in the mid-1800s.
“His furniture is so simple and so unique that you can pick it out,” she said. “That’s a piece of history. I love it sitting in here. When you see things like that you know why you’re in the business.”
Bostic and Wilson’s selection isn’t limited to rare American-made pieces. Glassware, linens, artwork and books line the narrow aisles of the shop. “Each one of them tells a little story of its own,” Ryals said.
Incorporating antiques into your own decor adds a sense of history to your home, Ryals said. “When I go in a home and there are antiques in there, it just brings it all together. It’s the quality, the style, the grace. New furniture does not provide you with the same persona that the old does.”
The cultural movement to recycle and reuse has attracted people to antique shopping, says Greg Stephenson, owner of Antiques on Salem Street in Downtown Apex. Saving a piece of old furniture or vintage china keeps it out of the landfill and cuts back on the resources needed to make new.
One of Stephenson’s recent customers, a young girl getting ready to start college, shopped Antiques on Salem Street for items for her dorm room. “She wanted to buy a four-piece place setting and vintage flatware,” Stephenson said. “She felt like she was recycling, and it was something she would keep. That’s a good memory.”
“It’s like a treasure hunt in here,” Stephenson said, describing his store. It’s packed full of collectibles, costume jewelry, china, glassware and some furniture — floor-to-ceiling hidden gems ripe for a new owner. Focusing on decorative accents fits his Downtown Apex location, which draws tourists who are visiting family and friends nearby. “When people fly in, they can always take a little collectible or a piece of glass back, whereas they can’t with the larger pieces.”
Stephenson often gets customers looking for furniture to make over, not just reusing but “upcycling” to fit their tastes. “Really high end, really fine pieces you want to leave original,” he said. “But just the run-of-the-mill type stuff that you have in your farmhouses and everyday homes of the early 1900s, it’s not going to hurt to refinish it.”
Bring One Home
Tips from our antique experts on adding antiques to your home
“Pick up anything that catches your eye and you can always incorporate it.”
“The eclectic look is in style now. In any decorator magazine, you can spot vintage pieces.”
Consider antiques as accent pieces initially. “Victorian sofas are good for the sunroom, or a corner chair as an accent piece in a bedroom.”
“Go look around and see what strikes you. It’s very important that you like it. Something will come along eventually; don’t hurry into something. “
“A lot of antiques are timeless, and they’ll just go with anything.”
“You start little, and you gradually grow with your knowledge. As you become more knowledgeable, you’ll become able to pick out better pieces.”
“You can negotiate the prices reasonably, not absurdly. I want to sell this stuff; it’s not a museum. But I like to do it reasonably and with fairness and honesty.”
The hunt for the perfect piece starts with these local shops.
Streets of London Antiques
928 W. Chatham St., Cary
Great for: fine, imported English antique furniture
115-E W. Chatham St., Cary
Great for: vintage jewelry and china
The Perfect Piece
212 E. Chatham St., Cary
Great for: gifts and accent furniture, select antiques
Ben’s Bargain Barn
101 Morrisville Carpenter Road, Morrisville
Great for: a little bit of everything: furniture, collectibles, jewelry and more
Antiques on Salem Street
114 N. Salem St., Apex
Great for: collectibles, costume jewelry and tabletop items
The Rusty Bucket
104-A North Salem St., Apex
Great for: reproduction antique furniture and country American accessories
Bostic and Wilson Antiques
105 S. Main St., Fuquay-Varina
Great for: a one-stop antique shop: fine furniture, glassware, china, linens, books, jewelry and more
K ’n B’s Market Place
120 Raleigh St., Fuquay-Varina
Great for: vintage jewelry and gifts
2060 Clark Ave., Raleigh
Great for: sterling silver, fine art and jewelry
Cheshire Cat Gallery
2050 Clark Ave., Raleigh
Great for: furniture and collectibles
AD LIB Antiques
2012 Fairview Road, Raleigh
Great for: fine American antique furniture, vintage Native American jewelry
2003 Fairview Road, Raleigh
Great for: high-end English and French antique furniture
Antiques at Five Points
2005 Fairview Road, Raleigh
Great for: chandeliers and lamps