Once, many years ago, I knew a restoration architect (Let’s call him “Bob”) who was also an avid collector…of nothing in particular. He lived in a sprawling Victorian mansion in New York that could barely be seen from the street through the tangle of vines and unkempt hedges.
The paint was peeling and the plaster was cracked (Truly, the cobbler’s children had no shoes, and the cobbler seemed fine with his barefoot progeny). Every room was filled with antiques and other treasures he’d collected over the years. Unframed prints and engravings filled the drawers of beautiful chests. Paintings and gilt mirrors leaned against the wall in hallways that had long since yielded the last of their wall space. Closets burst with stacks of porcelain antiques and shelves upon shelves groaned under the weight of hundreds of pieces of silver.
The former maid’s quarters, located off the lavish and likewise congested dining room, was stacked floor-to-ceiling with nothing but gondola-back empire chairs, sometimes slightly damaged or missing the seat, but all of rich mahogany – the whole room, including the tub in the tiny bathroom.
Walking through his house…or, rather, inching one’s way (sometimes sideways) through his house… was like being turned loose in the basement of the Met. Every corner offered a delightful distraction to be considered.
Once, while shimmying into a seat on a beautiful rococo sofa, I asked him sarcastically, “So, when will you know when you’re done?” Without missing a beat he replied, “When the house collapses…or I do.”
Bob’s unabashed Miss Havisham-esque living conditions helped to solidify a philosophy that I had long held only in the abstract. Things are never “just things” as long as they enrich rather than hinder your life, and only you can decide where that line is.
A person’s antiques collection is an outward manifestation of memories and milestones. Bob could tell you specifically where he bought each and every thing in his collection, and the enjoyment and love of each piece was evident. Aside from which, I have always felt – as he clearly did – that there is no better (nor more enjoyable) investment than art and antiques. WAY more fun than a savings bond! Just keep your insurance paid up.
The difference between a “hoard” and a “collection” is quality and affection. So, the answer to the question I have posed is in two parts: The first part is “yes;” the second part is “who cares?”
They say the first step is admitting you have a problem. I say the second step is deciding it’s not a problem at all.
I’m looking forward to seeing Bob at the New York Art, Antique & Jewelry Show on November 20-24. It has been too long…