Do antiques have a place in modern interiors? Or are they merely emblems of the past, out of place in contemporary design?
Gathering next week at the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show will be dealers, designers and world-class collectors. One of the event's goals is to show how the past can inform and enrich our present spaces.
Deemed one of the world's premiere antique shows, the San Francisco event runs Thursday through Oct. 27 in the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason Center. Sixty vetted dealers from nine countries will offer furniture, fine art, textiles, rugs, rare books and decorative-arts pieces from around the world. And this year marks the first in the show's 31-year history in which guided tours, (sponsored by the online marketplace http://1stdibs.com) will help attendees find their way through the treasures.
The theme for 2013 is "Jazz Moderne: Art Deco & The Avant Garde." Ariane Trimuschat, the event's director, says Art Deco was chosen for two reasons -- breadth of influence and booze. "The Art Deco movement impacted so much -- art, furniture, jewelry, fashion, advertising," says Trimuschat. "Plus we thought it would be a fun way to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition."
A special exhibit on Art Deco furniture and artifacts borrowed from Bay Area collectors and museums will be on display, and James Zemaitis, former director of Sotheby's 20th-century design department, will discuss the influence of French Art Deco on American designs of the '20s and '30s.
"Since the 1970s, the biggest, most robust, blue-chip area of collectible antiques has been Art Deco," he says. "Also, the Bay Area had a fair number of wealthy families buying and commissioning pieces during the Art Deco period, so it's a good fit."
Zemaitis notes that the popularity of cocktails in the '20s -- spurred by the enforcement of Prohibition -- produced iconic objects such as cocktail tables and cocktail shakers. He also says that, in the 1990s, cocktails saw a resurgence in popularity directly attributable to an exhibit of cocktail shakers on display then at the San Francisco airport.
"Bay Area bartenders took an interest in revisiting cocktails after seeing the exhibit, and a new cocktail culture spread to the rest of the country," says Zemaitis.
San Francisco interior designer Suzanne Tucker will speak on another type of mixology -- how to blend old and new furnishings and decorative objects. She will also introduce her latest book, "Suzanne Tucker Interiors: The Romance of Design" (The Monacelli Press).
"Some people think that antiques are old-fashioned, too fuddy-duddy," says Tucker, "but timeless pieces look beautiful in contemporary designs. Antiques lend soul to a room."
She speaks from first-hand experience. Tucker grew up amid antiques in her family's Montecito home, and she isn't intimidated about using them in contemporary design.
"I know that people can be scared about buying antiques," she says. "Don't be. With some education and exposure, you'll start to recognize quality and accurate pricing. Look online at sites like 1stdibs to comparison-shop and then talk to dealers in your area. Antique dealers don't mind questions. They're your best resource, because they're passionate about what they sell." Tucker adds that buying antiques can be a sound investment because they usually hold their value.
Los Angeles designer Timothy Corrigan, who also will speak at the show, agrees on that point. "Antiques are a reliable investment, because they've already had their markdown," he says. "You know that the day after you've bought them, they'll be worth what you paid for them."
Corrigan will be talking about his new book, "An Invitation to Chateau du Grand-Luce: Decorating a Great French Country House" (Rizzoli), in which he shares behind-the-scenes looks at the chateau he bought from the French government and then spent 10 years renovating and decorating -- with a mix of antique and modern items.
"Using furnishings that are all from the same period doesn't feel fresh," he says. "It looks like you've created a museum. Also, when you mix periods, styles and textures, you appreciate each piece more because of the contrasts."
Legendary decorator Mario Buatta, known for his English country-house style and his moniker "The Prince of Chintz," spoke at the first of these shows in 1982. He returns this year to share the new "Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration" (Rizzoli), his first book. In a phone interview from his home in Manhattan, he says it's best when a home looks as if it is furnished with things collected over generations.
"I love a room that's filled with different collections and historical references," he says. "But when you're putting it together, make sure you choose things that resonate with you -- it should feel personal."
Given the high profiles of the presenters and dealers known for the quality of their pieces ("second only to the Winter Antiques Show in New York," says Zemaitis), people new to antique-buying might feel intimidated at the event.
However, Trimushchat says the programs and tours are tailored to help give newcomers the grounding they need. "We want to share as much information as possible," she says. "This is an incredible opportunity to see some of the finest antiques in the world, and learn from prominent experts."
Tucker recommends asking dealers at the show (and elsewhere) about the history of a piece, and also whether it has been repaired or modified. That information is essential to an understanding of how the value might have been affected by changes. She suggests bringing a shopping list and room dimensions with you, for reference. And she says that starting with a small decorative item, like a beautiful piece of silver, is a good way to get your feet wet. Or, if you're willing and able to invest in something more substantial, consider a dining room table.
"Don't start with antique dining room chairs; they're expensive and often uncomfortable," Tucker says. "Buy a nice table, and then pair it with comfortable reproduction or modern chairs."
Buatta says the biggest mistake inexperienced buyers make is getting the proportion wrong. "They buy something, and when they bring it home they find out that it's too big or too small," he says. "It's best to take the advice of a decorator, but if you do buy something on your own, work with a reputable dealer, and make sure it's returnable."
As to what's currently popular, Corrigan sees an increased interest in Russian and Chinese antiques, reflecting where some of the wealthiest global buyers right now are located. But he predicts that Gustavian furniture (Swedish pieces from the early 1900s), which has been "slumbering," will see a resurgence.
Tucker says she's seeing a lot of interest in midcentury modern and French Charles X (who reigned 1824-30) pieces. "English brown wood furniture is out now, but that means it's also a good time to buy it, because eventually it will be back in," she adds, "though I'm not so sure about Victorian furniture, which has never really come back in fashion."
No matter what the era from which the antique dates, says Corrigan, "it's more about the mix than the match."
San Francisco Fall Antiques Show
With 60 international specialists in high-end antiques and art, collectibles for sale, daily lectures and guided tours
When: Oct. 24-27
Where: Festival Pavilion, Fort
Tickets: $15 in advance, $20 at the door (benefits the nonprofit Enterprise for High School Students); 415-989-9019, www.sffas.org