We at Anyon have been particularly focused on the subject of collecting—both vintage and antique.
Our summer started with an event on this topic in June that I was so thrilled to host. Michael Diaz-Griffith, designer, historian, and Executive Director of the Design Leadership Network engaged in discussion with me about his book, The New Antiquarians, portraying young collectors at home—honest and un-styled. The book celebrates a renewed focus on collecting that is diverse, eclectic, and rooted in the history of the objects. It showcases the love of the object’s forms rather than what is in vogue. Michael spoke of the great focus on antiques amongst a larger demographic, particularly starting in the 1970s. At that time, my mother opened her first antique shop in San Francisco. Michael shared that his own grandmother’s home was filled with antiques influencing his love for such objects. As contrasting interests and styles is typical amongst generations, his mother rejected this design influence in her adulthood. My talk with Michael inspired me to sit down with my own mother, Mary and continue the dialogue.
Join me below to read our conversation.
There’s a movement happening right now that celebrates objects from our past. Antique collectors have been around for a long time, but a new generation of young people are embracing vintage and historical objects in their contemporary lives. Mom, you've been collecting and selling vintage [furniture] and antiques for decades. What drew you to open a shop way back when? What was the popularity of such items for the home at the time?
I had grown an affinity for antiques and enjoyed the process of discovery, although it was not easy to find them in California. In that time , I was recently married and looking to leave my position in Finance and do something different. I started hearing about containers of European furniture actually being delivered en masse to the San Francisco design district. Everyone would come out to see. It was a container party. I would pick a few things here and there, and slowly established a small inventory over time.
As a child, I remember being surrounded by beauty and finding curiosity in various objects in your shop. I embrace your design influence in my formative years. It still informs my design choices in the Atelier curation and my design projects. We are both drawn to the elements of simplicity and integrity of form and material. When you were curating your shop, how did you choose which vintage and antique objects to carry? How did the California location impact your curation?
The shop primarily sold European antiques. I think [it was] because of my family’s English roots [that] I was particularly drawn to English furniture. Over time, we began concentrating on English pine. I liked the simplicity of the pine furniture and still do. Straight lines, heavy, good wood. Good lines and good, simple design.
A younger generation of us in California could not afford pieces from the 1930s. Other eras such as Victorian were just way too heavy. The clean lines, large scale and slightly rustic nature of the English pine fit the California look at the time. [The look] was going in the direction of legends such as Michael Taylor. White, neutrals, light rooms.
How have you seen the vintage and antique market evolve?
It ebbs and flows. What is popular becomes unpopular and vice versa but good pieces always look great, don’t they? I have an increased appreciation of a well-made piece that is as sturdy now as [it was] three-hundred years ago.
There is a timelessness to well-made furniture and clean design. It is classic.
Trends shift. The most influential tastemakers often ignore or run in the opposite direction of trends. I love the idea of longevity of pieces in our home and try to reject the notion of trends. We are able to tweak our homes in ways that bring new life without necessarily shedding our old beloved collections.
What would you recommend to someone who wants to own a piece of vintage [history] but has little knowledge in the space?
Go to shops, shows, flea markets! They are so important. Antique dealers are an absolute treasure chest of knowledge.
Yes, I agree! Beyond my childhood influences, my experience at the Winter Show in New York, gave me a new breadth of knowledge. This direct exposure is so valuable for learning.
In light of the new collector’s movement and respect for our environment, it seems that people are noticing the negative impact of mass-produced furniture. Do you believe awareness of the ‘fast furniture’ industry has created renewed interest in vintage and antiques?
I’ve always had this mindset. So much waste! Some pieces are more precious but others you can reinvent to fit your space and taste. Strip them down, paint them! I love to paint furniture. Check that it is sturdy enough to support itself, that it is well constructed. Go to flea markets, find out what you love.