When it comes to antiques, I’m not one for a lot of clutter. Personally, I think there are some things that just shouldn’t have been made in the first place. So my trip to the Stratford Antique Warehouse wasn’t completely successful. I think this mall-like store is of more interest to people who like to collect smaller things. However, it’s a lot of fun to wander around there; there’s a ton of fun things to look at, the prices didn’t seem too bad, the people are friendly, and from an environmental perspective, it’s keeping stuff out of the dump and preventing the manufacture of new things. I think this could be called an environmentally friendly business.
But today I was really out looking at more practical objects, so I decided to continue on to Shakespeare, where there’s a whole community of antique stores. I started off at Glen Manor Galleries, which has a number of breathtaking pieces. I asked Brian Campbell, the owner, if he thought his business is environmentally friendly.
Brian does not suffer fools gladly. It is obvious to him that fine furniture is much more ethical than Ikea particle board, and he told me as much. I then asked him if there were any problems with chemicals used in refinishing furniture, as when lead paint must be stripped off. His eyes bulged slightly. “Paint? On my furniture? I would never stock such a thing.”
Brian has pretty well convinced me that for the high end of the antiques market, there are few environmental concerns, and he’s also made me reflect on how we relate to the things in our lives. Many of the pieces in Brian’s store were made before he was born, and Brian is not a young man. The things in our life sometimes have more permanence than we do, and the careful selection of a fine piece of furniture that may outlast you could well be an act of anti-consumerism.
Helpful as Brian was, I still had unanswered questions, so I crossed the road to Flip! Vintage Antiques. It seemed to be a little more my style. The first thing that caught my eye was the wonderful barn boards, at five bucks a linear foot. The owner, Wayne Ross, also showed me a huge slab of walnut, about three inches thick. I was in heaven.
I was surprised to learn from Wayne that the great majority of his customers are local. I would have thought they’d be tourists, and this really changed the way I’ve been thinking about Stratford antiques businesses. They aren’t just bringing money into our community, they are providing a service for it.
Wayne also runs Land & Ross Antiques & Designs, across the road from Flip! He refinishes a lot of the items he sells, so he could help me with my environmental questions. He said he uses mostly Varsol and TSP, which he believes to be relatively harmless to the environment. He also reminded me that there are organic paint strippers. I’ve used these, and they do work, but I know they’re a lot more expensive than Varsol.
When lead paint must be stripped, Wayne keeps the waste in a barrel and disposes of it through a waste removal company. It is apparently burned, with a heavy use of scrubbers to clean the air. This news didn’t thrill me, but after researching this a bit, I don’t see how Wayne could deal with this waste in any other way. On the other hand, there is room for change, but I’ll talk about that in another post.
Wayne also had his own reflections on how we deal with the things in our lives. Sometimes a piece will stay with a family for years, always with the idea that it could be sold through a dealer. In a way, the relationship with the furniture is just temporary, and somehow gives the piece an independence, a life of its own.
I finished my visit to Shakespeare at the Uptown Gallery. This store has a lot of midcentury modern items, and also one or two really cool old pieces, like this (coat rack?) made from barn utensils. I know mid-century modern is more appealing to the under-40 set, so I asked the owner if he thought younger people were as interested in antiques as the older generations.
He shook his head sadly. “The younger generation is a throw-away generation,” he said, “but that’s really a story for another article.”
So that was my antiques trip, a visit with the three wise men of Shakespeare. All in all, it was a positive one. After doing my research, I’ve still got a lot of reservations regarding refinished furniture. I think I’d have to insist on pieces that were stripped with organics (I am happy to pay extra), but I think I can continue to go antiquing with a clear conscience. It is the ultimate reuse and recycle experience.