LEE STANTON’S EXPERT GUIDE TO ANTIQUES

May 5, 2019

In antique dealer Lee Stanton’s L.A. home you’ll find the most unusual of pairings. An industrial factory desk with a Neoclassical marble plinth lamp, for instance. Or a Brutalist chandelier, reminiscent of Paul Evan’s Cityscape series, paired with a classical cane chair. In theory, the sync-ups shouldn’t work, but in Stanton’s hands the items feel like perfect, puzzle-piece-style fits. Stanton credits his family tree, rife with collectors and antique dealers, for his scrupulous eye. “I grew up with antiques,” he says. “My mother and father collected them. My grandfather restored them. My sister was a designer and sold them. I guess you can say antiques are a part of my DNA!”

The design world has taken note of Stanton’s talents. His Laguna Beach home has been featured in Architectural Digest, and his L.A. home in Elle Décor. At his La Cienega Design Quarter shop, Stanton welcomes designers from all over the world, most of whom are just as eager to dig into his inventory as they are to see how he styles it. Given that Stanton’s expertise, we partnered with him to create DECASO’s ultimate guide to antiques. From matters of authentication to restoration, Stanton reveals nine of his top tips for antiquing like a pro, along with three tricks on how to style your new take-homes.

Photo by Björn Wallander

1. Throw Out the Logic that Antiques Have to Be Old

When most of us think of antiques (by which we mean a piece worth shelling out a small investment for), we think of a piece nearing artifact status. Stanton, however, dispels any such notion, saying “Traditionally things were considered antiques if they were at least 100 years old. This rule is no longer applicable. I think that the rarity or unique nature of a piece can place an item that is not 100 years old into the antique category. When I think of vintage, I think of items that have some age, but you are likely to find in multiples.” With that in mind, don’t let the age of a piece (or lack thereof) detour you from investing. Rarity, rather than age, is by far a better assessment of value.

Photo by Björn Wallander

2. Use Construction to Confirm Authenticity

Few things make an antique novice as weak in the knees as the question of authenticity. To reduce the panic, Stanton offers simple, yet sobering advice: “Look at the construction. Look for natural patina.” Dovetailed joints, for instance, are often a sign of superior construction and authenticity. If all else fails, “Buy from someone that is knowledgeable and whom you trust,” he advises.

3. Don’t Count Out Pieces in Need of Repair

“I think the degree of acceptable repairs depends on the nature of the piece,” says Stanton, who has been known to assume damaged pieces if their overall integrity hasn’t been affected. That said, “Fine pieces with provenance should have minimal or no repairs,” he says. “Country or rustic pieces that are utilitarian in nature are more forgiving when it comes to repairs versus the original condition.” Affected areas that Stanton is less prone to ignore include “replaced knobs or replaced hardware, modified legs, drawers and backs.”

4. Be Aware of Modifications

Even more than damage, Stanton recommends keeping an eye out for modifications when sourcing antiques. Whereas damages can occasionally lend a piece character, modifications virtually always knock value off a piece. “Make sure the piece has integrity and beware of items that are modified to the point that they have become cliché or kitsch,” says Stanton, citing the biggest pitfalls modifications can cause.

Photo by Björn Wallander

5. Look for Hardwoods

Wrought iron and marble aside, the majority of antiques you encounter will feature some kind of wood construction. While you should take stock of an antique’s wood, Stanton doesn’t believe it’s necessary to have a doctorate in the subject. To put it simply: “Hardwoods are better,” he says. “Mahogany, walnut, oak, etc. I tend to look for natural woods that have some depth and character.” If there’s one thing to be conscious of when it comes to wood, it’s veneers, says Stanton.

6. Don’t Fear Antique Art

It’s not unusual for antique dealers to carry a very limited art inventory, or forgo it altogether, but that doesn’t mean buyers should take a similarly reserved approach. To bolster your confidence, Stanton recommends taking inventory of a few things: “Look at the back for repairs. Is it signed? Consider the frame,” but is adamant about going with your gut above all else. No matter the price, or even the condition, a piece of art should move you first and foremost, Stanton says.

7. Assess Worth by Function & Desirability

Being that one of Stanton’s specialties is industrial antiques, he’s well versed in one-of-a-kind antiques that have no comparables. Rather than steer clear of such ambiguous items, Stanton reminds buyers that “the value of all antiques and architectural objects is based upon not only the age, but the desirability and functionality of the item.” Functionality, he reminds us, doesn’t need to be the item’s original function per say, but the “purpose you’re intending it for.” Buyers should use both this and their overall desire for an item to ultimately assess its worth.

Photo by Björn Wallander

8. Don’t Be Afraid to Buy Without Purpose (Within Reason)

While Stanton does believe that “people should take a curated approach to buying,” he’s not adverse to buying an item you love, even when you might not know its final resting spot yet. “If it has good form and you love it, you will probably always have a place for it,” he says. “I love most of the items in my collection more today than the day I purchased them. If I don’t, I keep them until I find something I like better. Remember, some of the finest collections in history from the Frick to the Getty collections evolved and were constantly improved over time.” Ultimately, Stanton resolves, editing what you keep may be more important than editing what you buy, especially if you’re one of those who has trouble turning down a deal.

9. Look For Dealers Who Collect Themselves

If there’s one takeaway Stanton could impart on every buyer, it would be the importance of buying from a vetted dealer. “Look for longevity and reputation in the business you frequent, as well as a sense of style and a passion for what they are selling,” he says. “I am always suspicious of dealers that do not collect themselves, or are selling antiques as though they are a commodity without an understanding or appreciation for what they are, where they came from, or a concern for the integrity of the item.”

Photo by Björn Wallander

3 Rules for Displaying Antiques

Stanton’s expertise doesn’t just end with selling antiques. As evidenced by his lime-lighted homes, Stanton us just as apt at styling antiques. Here are his best tips for striking the perfect arrangement.

1. Rethink Objects

As a purveyor of industrial antiques, Stanton has developed a knack for repurposing objects that may otherwise have outlived their initial use. “I feel that if you can find a way to use or enjoy a piece in your current lifestyle that may be different from how it was used originally, it can be very interesting,” says Stanton. “For instance,” he says, “textile rollers are unique objects with incredible hand-carved designs. They can function as that, of course, but they also make interesting lamps. Likewise, industrial molds and forms and often make interesting sculptural objects.”

2. Mix Different Periods

When it comes to antiques, homogeneity often results in interiors that feel like time capsules. To ward off any such stodginess, Stanton recommends adopting a liberal approach to mixing and matching antiques from different eras. “By mixing items from different periods and places, things can stand out and be appreciated for what they are,” he says. If you’re still hesitant to take the plunge, try adopting some of Stanton’s most tried and true pairings. Neoclassical with Gothic, for instance. Or traditional European antiques with industrial artifacts.

3. Consider Scale & Shape

Part of what makes Stanton’s interiors so riveting is the way in which he plays with scale. Among the untraditional moves you’ll find Stanton using on the regular? Topping a standard-sized dresser with oversized boxes and architectural garden objects, or using oversized lamps on more petite side tables and desks. To make sure everything works in time, Stanton advises “Keeping the lines simple.” For instance, you’ll often find Stanton gravitating towards Neoclassical pieces over ornate Baroque or Rococo style pieces. For those looking for a combination of simplicity of ornateness, Stanton has a secret weapon: tramp art. While their base structures are geometric and simple, their surfaces are supremely intricate.

Lead photo and all photos of Lee’s L.A. home by Björn Wallander.