Collecting for apartment dwellers

Moving to smaller quarters can be a traumatic experience for collectors. Suddenly, there is no room for many of the treasures that have been accumulated over a lifetime.

A few years ago I moved from a fairly large home to a one-room log cabin. I sold a large part of my collection at auction, but I kept all my favorite pieces. I was able to retain all my favorite items because I had access to a large storage shed on my parents’ property. Several months ago, I moved again – to a one-bedroom apartment. The difference this time around is that my storage area is two hours away.

While I haven’t been forced to sell my beloved antiques, I am faced with the prospect of very little space for my collectibles. I’ve found this to be both curse and blessing.

Before my move, I carefully planned which pieces of furniture and decorative items would make the journey to my apartment in Bloomington, Ind. Once I got into my apartment, I realized I didn’t have as much space as I anticipated. I had measured in advance, but plans on paper don’t always work out so well in reality. Since there was also a very real possibility that I might remain in my apartment for only a year, I didn’t want to go to the trouble of moving heavy pieces of furniture. I quickly decided to go a bit minimalist and follow the idea that less is more.

I also quickly realized that country furniture and spinning wheels that were so at home in my log cabin wouldn’t look right in my modern apartment. There were too many built in shelves, too many modern touches for my primitives to look at home. I nixed the idea of moving my circa 1840 dresser and step-back cupboard to the apartment. As much as I disliked it, I knew my spinning wheels would be both out of place and a waste of space. They were much better left in my log cabin to be admired on weekend visits.

This brings up an important point – antiques should fit their surroundings. What looks right in a country farmhouse may not match an apartment or a more modern home. It’s really not difficult to decide what kind of antiques belong in a dwelling. In my case, I simply let my apartment tell me what it needed. When I discarded the idea of recreating the primitive look of my log cabin, I began to see what would fit in with my more modern interior. Rather than experience disappointment, I became rather excited about doing something new with my antiques.

While antiques should fit their surroundings, collectors shouldn’t hesitate to alter their surroundings to fit their collection. I love the primitive, country look. If I someday permanently move into an apartment, you can bet I’m going to work to make my country pieces work. While it’s easier to stick with antiques that fit one’s environment, just about any look can be made to work in any space. It’s just a matter of how much time and effort you’re willing to put into the project.

Since my time in my apartment might be temporary, I opted for the easy route. I selected antiques that fit my surroundings. I ended up taking only two pieces of antique furniture with me – an Egyptian Revival bed and dresser set. Although the set was made in the 1870s, it fit the style of my apartment much better than my country antiques. I also took along a reproduction wing-back chair. While not an antique (I couldn’t begin to afford an original) it looks just like its 18th century predecessors and yet looks great in my apartment.

I love stoneware, so I decided to turn the built-in bookshelves into a display space. In my log cabin, I kept an old kitchen cupboard stuffed with sponge ware and other stoneware items. That same display technique wasn’t right for my apartment, so I selected only a few favorite pieces to display. By limiting the number of pieces, more attention is brought to each separate piece. Each individual pitcher, jar, or bowl becomes a work of art.

Small spaces require efficiency, so I put into practice a scheme I used in my log cabin, using antiques in place of modern items whenever possible. My fruit bowl is a circa 1840 stoneware milk pan. My strainer is a gray graniteware example from the 1930s. A stoneware jar holds wooden spoons. A sponge ware bowl holds sweetener, while another stoneware bowl holds tea bags. Even my dishes are vintage Blue Willow. I’ve replaced every modern item I can with an antique or collectible. As a result, I have room for far more antiques that I would otherwise. There is the added advantage of making those antiques a part of my life. I experience great pleasure from actually using pieces from the distant and not so distant past.

Many of those who move into a smaller space have no storage facilities available to them. Storage space can be rented, but it’s expensive and antiques that are packed away don’t do anyone any good. My situation would be much more difficult if I was facing the prospect of keeping only those pieces that fit into my apartment, but I’ve faced tough decisions before. My advice to those facing such a situation is to keep as many of your most treasured possessions as possible. If it means having an overstuffed apartment or home for a while, so be it. When dealing with special pieces, it’s important to take it slow. Give yourself time to learn what pieces work in your smaller space and what pieces don’t. You can always sell the items that don’t fit at a later date.

Those who live in a small space and are just beginning their collection would do well to think carefully before making a purchase. There will not be room for much, so stick with special items. Lack of space is a disadvantage in many ways, but there are advantages, too. The greatest advantage is that one can concentrate one’s collecting funds on just a few choice items, which is a good idea in any case.

I’ve found that I actually enjoy living in a smaller space. I have fewer antiques than I once did, but I tend to enjoy what I have more than ever. More isn’t always better. When I had a larger collection I often couldn’t see the trees for the forest. I attempted to enjoy every piece I had to the fullest, but it was rarely possible because so many pieces vied for my attention. Now, I can truly appreciate each and every one of my treasures. If you’ll soon be moving to a smaller space don’t despair. You won’t miss the pieces you sell nearly as much as you think and you’ll enjoy what you keep more. This cloud truly has a silver lining.

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