Treasure Hunting: Tips for Interior Designers to Source and Curate Antique Pieces

“According to the official definition, any item that surpasses the century mark is classified as an antique.  Therefore, any item is more than 40 years old and less than 100 years old is considered vintage.”

 – Toma Clark Haines, The Antiques Diva


Whether you’re a seasoned collector or a curious enthusiast, the enchanting realm of antiques is fascinating and complex, and takes much time and careful research to master. At the forefront of my own interior design projects are these exquisite pieces of furniture, where stories of bygone eras are woven into every curve and color. With endless hours dedicated to this craft, I am sharing a few of my best tips to discovering these timeless treasures! Read on before you begin your quest for artful artifacts…

Real versus Fake

  1. Furniture that is not antique is described as an “antique reproduction” or “inspired”, as in “a Jean-Michel Frank Inspired sculpture.”
  2. Real antiques are always accompanied by an age, as in “circa 1800” or “early 19th century.”

First, find out from your client their level of expectation for antiques. Are they seeking museum quality, or will they stand for some patina or a new part, such as hardware or a mirror plate?


How to find a reputable dealer

To become a member of trade associations, dealers must fulfill specific requirements. Being a part of these associations offers enhanced protection for both customers and dealers. In the event of any issues arising from your purchase, and if you are unable to reach a resolution directly with the dealer, you can seek assistance from these organizations for guidance and mediation. Notable associations include the Antiquities Dealers Association (ADA), LAPADA, International Association of Dealers of Ancient Art (IADAA) and Confédération Internationale des Négociants en Oeuvres d’Art (CINOA). By visiting the websites of these organizations, you can access lists of reputable dealers.

interior design by circagenevieve id

Due diligence required

This is a series of thorough examinations to ensure that the items sold are not counterfeit, illegally obtained, or stolen. In addition to relying on their own expertise, this process may involve seeking advice from other specialists and restorers. For higher-value items, it is crucial to cross-reference the object with online databases of stolen items, such as the Art Loss Register or Art Recovery, to ensure its legitimacy.

Pro tip? Keep and preserve any receipts or certificates that are given to you when making a purchase. These documents become an integral part of the object’s provenance, which holds significant importance. Notably, as the value and significance of an item increase, more comprehensive details regarding its origin and history are required.


Guarantee of authenticity

Every trustworthy dealer will furnish a certificate of authenticity for the item, which should encompass a photograph, description, and the item’s condition at the time of sale, to the best of their knowledge.

In buying from a reputable dealer, you are assisting the preservation of cultural heritage that normally would not find a place in a museum and supporting the legal trade of ancient art. The trade, museums and academia are inextricably linked in fostering research, preservation and conservation of artifacts. Nowadays, many dealers and trade associations support preservation by fundraising for museums and by contributing to research and scholarship with grants or expertise. Many private collectors choose to publish and lend their collections to museums and institutions, exchanging ideas and expertise with academics and the public alike.

Auction Houses

A practice I’ve been implementing in my career (and inspired by my great mentor, Timothy Corrigan) is sourcing from auction houses. Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams, Doyle, Bruun Rasmussen are all personal favorites and houses from which I’ve won the hammer!  I have gathered storied pieces of great provenance from Stair Galleries for my current Neo-Gothic project in Utah.

  1. Prices are often far less at auction than at an antiques dealer’s shop.
  2. If the description is vague, reach out to their support team to inquire more about the condition report or additional images.
  3. Bidding online at Live Auctioneers for many houses across the world makes the process very simple.
  4. If you aren’t able to log on during the scheduled auction, place an absentee bid for your highest price you/your client is willing to pay for the item.


Circaphiles top 5 favorite antique sources

  1. Provenance Antiques in Atlanta
  2. Marche aux Puces in Paris
  3. Decorative Collective – The UK and European version of 1stdibs.  You can communicate directly with our Sellers, no commission is charged to Sellers or Clients. The website is very transparent and encourages discussions between both parties. 
  4. Some dealers are “hunters,” for example Mitra Kilburn, the Art and Antique Hunter, who travels throughout Europe with specific wish lists from designers.
  5. Newel Antiques – always on my list when I visit New York!




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