We met up with Marie-Hélène van Houten from The Past Perfect Collection to talk about antique furniture, the perfect living room and IKEA.The Past Perfect Collection embraces India’s colonial past, how did your interest for antiques first come about?
During our five years in India my husband and I ‘discovered’ antique colonial furniture and started collecting it for our home in Mumbai. We loved to browse the local bazaars. What began as a hobby for us, turned into an exciting new career. We both left our jobs in India to pursue it full time, and set up a shop in Singapore eight years ago.
The Past Perfect Collection is the first business in Singapore to offer these marvels from India: period style furniture from the British, Dutch and Portuguese era crafted by Indian artisans.
How do you choose new items for your selection?
It is a combination of four parts: Quality, Condition, Rarity and Demand.
Quality is an important element in the value of an antique or collectible. A well-built cabinet, for example, will advertise its quality by its stability and function. The doors will open easily and the drawers will operate smoothly. Quality implies attention to detail and caries the maker’s pride.
Condition is not to be confused with quality, as it’s about how it has survived. A poor-quality item in perfect condition will almost never be as valuable as a high quality piece in a lesser state of affairs.
Rarity is an attribute that’s often confused with age. Early 19th century—Hitchcock chairs for example are almost 200 years old but are they rare? No, because thousands and thousands of them were made and survived.
All our antiques go through the restoration process of stripping, repairing and sanding before the highly skilled French polishing technique is applied and protected with beeswax.
When choosing antique furniture for my house, what should I look for?
Antique furniture works well with several other decorating styles. These include modern and urban styles as well as an Asian theme. In fact, classic antique pieces can work well with a modern styled room, creating depth with contrasting elements.
The key is to remember, no matter what you do, the antique piece will try to dominate the room. Instead of fighting this, you should encourage it by using very simple complimentary pieces. This will highlight the cultural significance of the piece instead of forcing it to fight for dominance.
Any tips on how to evaluate antics before buying them (for those how are unfamiliar with it)?
The proof is in the patina. The unique ‘glow’ that wood develops over the years is one of the most important elements in recognising antique furniture.
Wear and tear is a good sign. Afters centuries of standing on damp floors and being moved around, you’d expect the feet to look worn.
Look for dovetail joints and wooden dowel pins. If they are too sleek and clean or uniform, they have most likely been cut by modern tools.
Spot secondary wood. In the past less expensive wood was often used in places where it wouldn’t show – like in the interior of a cupboard. No secondary wood might be an indication of a new construction.
Examine the boards. If the piece is a true antique, it will be made from one solid plank of wood or different planks of various widths. Lumber was abundant in the old days and so large boards were commonly used.
Note the handles and nuts. Antique handles were cast by hand from a single piece of metal, usually brass. Checking the nuts that attach the handles can be another clue. Nuts made in the 19th century are irregular and circular, while newer nuts are hexagonal and machine-cut.
Check the carving. An original and complete carving adds to the price and desirability of antique furniture. If a piece has inlay work, its value will only grow as it ages.
Could give an example on how a piece of antique furniture can improve the interior design of your house?
How to select for your home. We always find it amazing to see how much character, charm and style antiques can bring to any interior. Mixing styles –the old and the new- can give an energising, fresh feeling. Just adding a piece of antique furniture, like one antique chair to a modern living room setting, can take the feeling of that room to a whole different level.
Trust your judgment. We don’t think any rules can be the recipe for matching success. Breaking free from former ‘decorating guidelines’ actually creates the most exciting, interesting and distinguishing results.
Interior design as a means to an end. It helps to think about how you will use the room and what feeling or atmosphere you want it to radiate. Pieces should be used and integrated.
Contrast and surprise. Beautiful matches between contemporary and antique can be found in the contrast between materials; like polished wood placed on a solid concrete floor. But also in colours and patterns. Be as creative as you dare.
Being a native Dutch I have a slight preference for the Dutch colonial pieces. They are recognisable by the use of two types of wood, often mahogany and ebony, providing a beautiful contrast.
3 reasons why an antique furniture is different from IKEA?
Antique furniture is generally very well made – and by hand. If it has lasted this long, it will last much longer. Even the most expensive, newly made items will still come up short in comparison to the craftsmanship and quality of materials found in antique furniture.
Antiques tell a story. Antique items teach and tell us stories that happened about the past as they are the witnesses of what has happened. They carry the weight of bygone conversations, obsolete customs and etiquette and it is genuinely fascinating how they are a reminder of the extravagances of another era.
Antiques retain or increase in value. While most luxury items drop in value, antiques don’t. Most, in fact, represent a good investment. Like any unique property – they are just not making them anymore.