Furnishing and decorating your home with antiques is a labor of love. Just ask someone like Catherine Gregoire of Lewiston. Over the past 22 years, she and her husband, Richard, have fashioned a photograph-worthy home from a mix of antique furniture and personal collections of antique glass, prints, and conversation pieces.

“This is my heart,” said Catherine smiling. “We live what we have. It has taken years of searching, collecting, and layering.”

With a professional background that includes retail management, Catherine admitted she doesn’t much care for “new.” “I try to bury it,” she laughed.

Still, she can recall a time when Richard would stop at yard sales in search of treasure and she wouldn’t even get out of the car. “Then, one day we went to an auction in Gray. Everything was going for $5. Richard looked over at me and said, ‘Diversify!’”

Since then, the two have shared a pastime of attending auctions, scouring flea markets, and rummaging lawn sales in search of antique treasures for their home, camp, and Catherine’s re-sale antique booth at Lakeside Antiques in Winthrop. The bounty of their lifelong hunt is nestled throughout their 1954 “ranchelow.” An authentic steamer trunk, with original interior, serves as a coffee table. A shoe salesman’s display trunk sits in the picture window, given new life as an occasional table and conversation piece appointed with antique glass.

Their dining room table and chairs are more than 100 years old. Sharing the space is an antique glass cabinet, a gift from Catherine’s father and brought from a wealthy estate in Connecticut. Inside is her considerable collection of green Depression glass. Along another wall stands an antique oak buffet. And if there’s a drawer or some sort of receptacle, Catherine and Richard have filled it with “cool stuff.”

Despite what one may think, decorating with antiques can be very affordable. Catherine’s sun porch features a table she found in a van that she brought home and refinished. The two refurbished chairs, now coupled with the table, were found along side the road for five dollars a piece. Another roadside freebie is the baker’s display case that houses Catherine’s sea of green Jadite kitchenware and functions as extra counter space.

Dan Poulin, owner of Orphan Annie’s in Auburn, confirmed that, given the recent economic climate, antiques have grown in appeal as has interest in vintage and “shabby chic.” Prices are down and today someone can furnish a home very economically with antique furniture.

When asked how to choose antique furniture for the home, Poulin said it depends on the house and person. “When furnishing an old farmhouse, you wouldn’t bring in brand new. You want the furnishings to look like they’ve been there for 100 years. Right now people are looking for furniture with old layers of paint, the more layers showing, the better. We even get a lot of Bates College students shopping for their dormitory rooms and apartments. They prefer real wood to cheap-looking laminated furnishings and they seem to understand the resale value.”

The Gregoires and Poulin agree that when searching for antiques, whether at auction, in a shop or in someone else’s yard sale, a little education can go a long way. Understand that “antique” means 100 years or older. Using the Internet, talking with shop keepers and collecting pictures all help in determining the look and period you like which can help in familiarizing yourself with price versus value. It is also helpful to know the defining characteristics of the period of the furniture you like. For instance, Victorian period furniture grew increasingly detailed and fancy, with turned legs and intricate carvings, as the years passed.

Cathy Raynor, owner of Morin’s Fine Furniture & Refinishing in Lewiston, reminds would-be antique decorators to consider size and condition of antique furnishing as well. “Much older furniture was designed for smaller people. A man of 5’7” was considered tall back then. Someone over six feet tall today may not be comfortable sitting in a chair designed for a smaller person.”

She recalled one client who had a beautiful antique table she loved. “But she needed chairs because the ones that she had were too small for her tall son. So we found her some new chairs that were hand-planed and finished them to look like they were 100 years old. Old and new put together can be a perfect marriage. If you mix and match antiques with new pieces, you won’t be as limited as you might be if everything is antique.”

Listening with your heart, however, is probably the best tip for shopping and appointing your home with antiques. “I remember finding this lamp in Provincetown,” said Gregoire of the small, antique lamp adorning a bachelor’s chest that belonged to her mother. “I just loved it and now every time I look at it, I think of that vacation and all the things we did.”

What better way to create a home, a haven for rest and peace, than to surround yourself with things that speak to you of comfort and those you love? An antique rocker can whisper generations of lullabies; an antique table echoes with voices of families who have gathered around it. For someone learning how to begin to create a home with antiques, know that treasures can be found wherever you are. Simply look and listen. The antiques will speak to you.

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