Shopping auction houses, estate sales and flea markets takes vision.
It takes knowing that the lonely, chipped wicker chair lost among brown-wood furniture might look good in a little girl’s room. Or that the musty-smelling box of quilts, topped by one covered in stains, might contain gems underneath.
But if you’ve got that vision, the truth is you can get a cool retro dining set at auction for 30 bucks. A painting for the wall? Maybe 5 bucks more.
Matthew Quinn of Quinn’s Auction Galleries in Falls Church has been preaching that gospel for years—in fact, he loves telling people that his own house is decorated by auction finds. “I bought everything in my whole house for 5 grand,” says Quinn, who’s also a regular on the PBS series Antiques Road Show. Forget Ikea when you’re furnishing your first apartment, he says, when entire china sets for 12 go for $20 at auction. “These aren’t bargain items. These are the real thing at bargain prices,” he says.
To prove his point, he asked me to shop the showroom, so to speak, over the course of several weeks. My task was to choose items from Quinn’s regular weekly sales (i.e. not the valuable things that are set aside for “catalogue auctions”) and furnish two spaces.
This week’s sale (August 23) displays my two “rooms:” A midcentury dining area and a little girl’s bedroom.
I started out having no idea how each space would take shape, but Matt showed me a bar cart he had already set aside for this sale. The entire auction is being referred to as a “curated sale” with items pulled from many different consigners that the staff thought was really cool.
Matt also had grabbed this painting:
I immediately fell in love with both the cart and the painting, so I had midcentury on the brain. I was a little worried about finding other things for this space, but Matt assured me that they would show up. And, well, they did! I snagged the aforementioned dining table and chairs in a sale two weeks ago for about $30, and when I dropped in last week, the staff showed me the rug that now defines my space. They simply needed a place to put it, but it ended up looking perfect here.
The entire staff has had their eye out for me, so one of them pointed out a box of barware:
The pictures don’t show the super-cool apron that was also in the box—it’s got cocktail recipes on it, and I have it hanging off the side of the cart.
So, while I was there today putting everything together, I randomly saw these Danish chairs, which I grabbed to flank the cart:
And then I saw this funky collection of old Kentucky Derby and Preakness glasses, which I placed on the cart’s lower shelf:
The dining table then looked kind of lonely with nothing on it, so I went back to the shelves. I found this Chinese tea set, which I placed on a tray in the center of the table. Its colors and pattern make a nice centerpiece, and it also works nicely with the rug.
Moving on to the little girl’s room, I first got inspired by an old bench I found in the auction’s warehouse. I found the green base and red vinyl top to be absolutely charming.
The red lamp bases you see in the background (which will benefit greatly with new shades) were in the conference room where Matt, his colleague Kristen Shipman and I were first discussing the project. I snagged them for my growing collection.
I knew the bench would look great at the end of the bed, and Matt told me they just happened to get in a pair of beautiful maple twin beds recently. I’m using one in the room, but the lot contains two.
Things seemed to come together very quickly after that—I found a dresser that perfectly coordinated with the bench, a box of rag dolls, which I have spread all over the space, and the aforementioned box of quilts. You can see two of them on the bed here, and I just happened to find a quilt rack to hold the others:
Buried beneath a nasty stained quilt (which I have hidden in the pillowcase) were these exquisite linens, all carefully embroidered. I so wish I had a baby again!
After I had all these items in hand, I spotted a rolled-up rug that looked like it had coordinating colors. The top was a bit musty, but the bottom defined the colors and pattern much more sharply, and looks like needlepoint. I learned this great trick of turning rugs over from Daryl Carter. Thank you, Daryl!
I’ve found over the last several weeks that there is a great serendipity about auctions—it seems that the perfect thing always seems to fall into your lap. As I was arranging my little girl’s room just today, I looked up to the mass of furniture grouped just outside the space to see two chairs with blue leather seats just sitting there. Alone, you’d never peg them for a kid’s room, but they ended up working really well here. I also spied the little table that sits between them just inside a back doorway. It wasn’t “lotted” for this week’s sale, but I asked if I could have it, and they put a lot sticker on it. Now it’s in the sale!
My final touches — also found just today, at the last minute, were the Victorian-style rocker (perfect for my rag bunnies), and the Chinese pedestal by the bed — a chic little stepping stool for my girl to get up on to her high bed.
The weekly “Treasure Sales” at Quinn’s are each Wednesday, starting at 6pm. You can pre-bid on their online catalogue until about 5:45 pm. You can also drop by to preview my spaces (and everything else up for bid — there are over 400 lots), from 10am until the auction starts at 6.
**** Note: Because we’ve been setting aside items for my rooms over several weeks, not all of them are listed on the online catalogue for Aug. 23, so you can only see them in person. The items that are listed online I’ve linked above.****
I hope you’ll drop by on Wednesday. I’ve found over the past month that once you develop the vision, auctions (and the prices you can get for most of their lots) are quite addicting—especially for those looking to decorate their homes with unique furnishings and decor that you can’t find anywhere else.
Quinn’s Auction Galleries—Falls Church
360 S. Washington Street
Falls Church, Virginia, 22046
Tel: (703) 532-5632 • Fax: (703) 552-1996