Art Collector Questionnaire

Four Prolific Collectors Reveal What Everyone Gets Wrong About Buying Antiques

Portrait of Margaret Schwartz. Photography by Sophia Chambers. Image courtesy of Schwartz.

As the Winter Show opened to the public this morning for its 70th edition, visitors walking into New York's Park Avenue Armory were met with an immersive experience with over 70 international exhibitors showcasing antiques and fine art. From ancient artifacts to contemporary pieces, the show’s diverse offerings are complemented by curated presentations, panel discussions, and special exhibitions. But, one distinct highlight emerging from this year’s programming is the annual Young Collectors Night Benefit for East Side House, scheduled on Jan. 25 to usher in the next generation of art world changemakers.

Among the cohosts of the event are interior designer Allegra O. Eifler, whose collecting philosophy emphasizes the fusion of American optimism and European refinement; Anderson Somerselle, founder and CEO of textile retailer Somerselle, who brings to the mix a passion for pop culture memorabilia; journalist Camille Okhio, who draws inspiration from the 18th-century decor of her childhood home; and antiquities dealer Margaret Schwartz, inspired by her grandmother's Mid-Century Christmas ornaments. Here, the cohosts share the range of perspectives they're bringing to the evening, offering a glimpse into their personal journeys and collecting philosophies.

Portrait of Allegra O. Eifler. Photography by Annie Schlechter. Image courtesy of Eifler.

Allegra O. Eifler

Where does the story of your collection begin?

Just short of a decade [ago], before going into interior design, I worked in the Antiques & Vintage department at Ralph Lauren. I would travel the U.S. and Europe in search of antiques that were then sold in the Ralph Lauren stores. I purchased everything from antique home objects to antique jewelry to vintage textiles.

Because I was on a plane so often, I made it a habit of making sure to purchase only one small piece for myself on each trip (either antique barware or a piece of jewelry) that would fit in my suitcase! It was quite a challenge to limit myself, but it added up quickly!

What advice do you have for young collectors?

Buy what you love! Then, you can’t go wrong. Something you truly love will always have a place in your home. The real value will stay with you. And, let dealers teach you and guide you. Everything I’ve learned about antiques has been from the most incredible dealers, people who have the knowledge and passion to keep the tradition of antique collecting alive.

What’s something people get wrong about collecting non-contemporary art and antiques?

I think purchasing something for the sake of financial investment, when it comes to antiques, is a tricky business. I really believe the value of purchasing antiques should come from a passion for history and an appreciation for craftsmanship. The financial upside should be an added bonus.

What are you most excited about for this year’s iteration of the Winter Show?

The Winter Show is such an exciting event because the Armory turns into a traveling museum. The breadth of the collections cover so many categories and from such a large time-span: Art! Jewelry! Furniture! Decorative Arts! Rugs! Medieval Manuscripts! Silver!

And it’s right at your fingertips, to discover, to discuss with dealers from around the world, and to maybe bring a piece of that home with you. When so many antique shops have closed, and so much buying is done over the Internet, to be in a building with these important historic pieces is really quite remarkable. 

What’s on your 2024 wishlist?

Well, my husband and I always give each other a traditional anniversary gift, and this year will be our ninth wedding anniversary, which is “pottery.” So, I will be on the hunt for pottery at this year’s Winter Show!

Portrait of Anderson Somerselle. Image courtesy of Somerselle.

Anderson Somerselle

Where does the story of your collection begin?

Imagine holding a piece of television history in your hands. That's how my journey began when I received a stage light from the now-demolished Harpo Studio in Chicago, the heart of The Oprah Winfrey Show from the 1990s until 2011. This isn't just a light; it's a beacon of countless iconic moments broadcasted to millions.

Since then, my collection has grown to include pop culture memorabilia, from vibrant magazine covers to newspaper clippings that have frozen time. Each item is a snapshot of our cultural narrative, like the TIME magazine cover featuring the first moon landing or The New York Times front page announcing the turn of the millennium. These aren't just objects; they're fragments of our collective memory, telling a story much bigger than any single one of us. This collection is more than a hobby; it's a tribute to the moments that have shaped our history and our identities.

Where does your interest in fine or decorative art and antiques come from?

My journey into the world of fine/decorative art and antiques began a few years back, during my tenure at John Rosselli. There, I found myself immersed in an array of fabulous antiques, sparking an undeniable curiosity within me. Initially, the vastness and intricacy of this world seemed quite daunting. However, this all changed when I met Margaret Schwartz, the founder of Modern Antiquarian, and the fabulous Michael Diaz-Griffith, author of The New Antiquarians.

Their profound knowledge and passion for antiques graciously guided me through the nuances of this elegant art form. Under their tutelage, what once felt intimidating transformed into a captivating journey of discovery and admiration. Their teachings not only enriched my understanding but also instilled in me a deep appreciation for the history, craftsmanship, and timeless beauty inherent in fine art and antiques. This experience has profoundly shaped my perspective, turning what was once mere curiosity into a lasting passion.

What’s something people get wrong about collecting non-contemporary art or antiques?

Many people assume that the older an item is, the more valuable it is. However, age is just one of many factors that contribute to an item's value. Other factors include rarity, condition, provenance, artistic or historical significance, and current market trends.

What are you most excited about for this year’s iteration of the Winter Show?

I am particularly thrilled about this year's Winter Show because of its unique theme inspired by the Green Vault in Dresden. The Green Vault is renowned for its rich collection of treasures, encompassing a vast array of artistry, from baroque to classical. I am eager to see how this opulent and historical inspiration will be interpreted and incorporated into the show's exhibits. The possibility of seeing contemporary artistry juxtaposed with the classical elegance and intricate craftsmanship reminiscent of the Green Vault is particularly fascinating.

What’s on your 2024 wishlist?

For 2024, my grandest wish is for world peace—a vision where cultural appreciation and understanding, fostered through the arts, lead to harmony and cooperation. In this world, resources are devoted to constructive pursuits, enhancing global stability, prosperity, and respect for human rights. This aspiration is deeply intertwined with my passion for art and antiques, as I believe they are powerful mediums for cultural exchange and understanding, breaking down barriers and nurturing a more peaceful, interconnected world.

Portrait of Camille Okhio. Photography by Adrian Mesko. Image courtesy of Okhio.

Camille Okhio

Where does the story of your collection begin?

With the 18th century settee in the entrance of my childhood home. 

Where does your interest in fine and decorative art and antiques come from?

Within. My interests are the natural outcome of a curious mind and a need for invention/drama/escape. Every piece of literature or history I read, every Latin class, was followed by a deep dive into how these characters might have lived. One way to understand human life is to study the tools used to live it.

What advice do you have for young collectors?

Get right with yourself before you do anything else. If you buy or design from a place of confusion, angst, or envy, you will never be able to create a warm, interesting home or space. Self-knowledge begets beauty.

What’s something people get wrong about collecting non-contemporary art and antiques?

If you’re going to own something, you should know what it is. And if the person selling it can’t at least provide an educated guess, don’t buy from them.

What are you most excited about for this year’s iteration of the Winter Show?

New blood!

What’s on your 2024 wishlist?

Reparations, a month in Greece, an 18th Century Tester bed, a hooked American rug, more ancient Roman glass.

Portrait of Margaret Schwartz. Photography by Sophia Chambers. Image courtesy of Schwartz.

Margaret Schwartz

Where does the story of your collection begin?

The origin story of my collection begins with my maternal grandmother. My grandmother, Agnes, is a beautiful woman who, at 97, still dresses in heels and does her makeup every day. She and my grandfather had a stylish but comfortable home. They would go to auctions or buy pieces on their travels. Of all their finds, the collection I loved the most was their Mid-Century Christmas ornaments.

As someone who unabashedly loves shiny objects, I would look at their Christmas tree for hours as a child. I was lucky enough to be gifted her collection when she downsized. Those ornaments are more precious than gold to me and are filled with memories attached to my grandmother and mother. My mother lives by the motto, "Why do when you can overdo?"—that is how we approach all our family holidays. I use my grandmother's vintage set of Shenango china daily, but that is a story for another day.

Where does your interest in fine and decorative art and antiques come from?

It really started when I worked at Martha Stewart. We had an incredible prop house filled with gorgeous and exciting collections. The one that stood out the most to me was authentic jadeite. I don't collect jadeite, but it sparked my interest to find out what else is out there.

What don't I know about in the world of decorative antiques? What materials were used and why? The answer, it turns out, is that I'll spend my lifetime learning and still not know enough. At Martha, we even had a head of collections. He always wore a three-piece suit in mismatched tartan, and I loved it. There was a vast array of talent and opportunities to learn in Marthaland, and I tried to soak up as much as possible.

What advice do you have for young collectors?

Please do not worry about it "fitting" in with your look. Buy what you love, end of story. I have always liked when people buy something that you would never expect them to get. The juxtaposition of these out-of-place objects visually interests you and your guests alike. It brings a room to life. Your space is all the better for it.

For example, I have a piece from Angela Chrusciaki Blehm above my bed. It's part of her "Bésame" series, a lit cigarette dangling from bright red lips. When guests spot that acrylic on the wood piece, it stops them in their tracks.

What's something people get wrong about collecting non-contemporary art or antiques?

That the items are too precious to use. People are starting to come around to using their "special" objects in daily life. Use your grandmother's china. Work at that 19th-century desk. Store your clothes in the 18th-century wardrobe. These items have lasted all this time and deserve to be seen, and used, as they have been for decades and centuries. We are custodians of these objects, and our use adds to their patina, charm, and story.

What are you most excited about for this year's iteration of the Winter Show?

The Winter Show is my favorite event of the year. I look forward to many events and programs during the show, but the Young Collectors Night with the Green Vault theme should be fabulous. We have a lot of new buyers attending, and I can hardly wait to see how these buyers engage with the dealers and what they are interested in collecting. The younger generation is so confident and energetic and isn't shy about asking questions. As a vintage and antique garden dealer, I look forward to what Barbara Israel brings. Barbara always inspires with her rare and fine garden antiques.

What's on your 2024 wishlist?

I have long lusted after a print of one of Alfred Eisenstaedt's photographs of the ice skating waiters. There is something magical captured in that series. I missed my opportunity to buy one at The Winter Show a few years ago, and I have regretted it ever since.

Want to read more from collectors around the world? Read Oleg Guerrand-Hermés's six-step process for discovering new artists, David Cancel's strategy for helping Puerto Rican artists find their way into museums, or how Erin Leider-Pariser discovered collecting while working at Beth Rudin DeWoody's personal trainer.