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updated: 2/27/2012 1:12 PM

Sellers show how to mix old furnishings with modern decor

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  • Jim and Maureen Little of Kingston have filled their home with antiques collected near and far. Maureen says she likes the worn/functional look of the pieces in her home because they aren't just nice to look at. They get used as well.

       Jim and Maureen Little of Kingston have filled their home with antiques collected near and far. Maureen says she likes the worn/functional look of the pieces in her home because they aren't just nice to look at. They get used as well.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • This cabinet came from New York state, and still bears the writing Town Records on the outside. It was used to store, you guessed it, records for the town of Highland Falls. The shelves inside still bear partial names of the residents whose documents once filled the cabinet.

       This cabinet came from New York state, and still bears the writing Town Records on the outside. It was used to store, you guessed it, records for the town of Highland Falls. The shelves inside still bear partial names of the residents whose documents once filled the cabinet.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • Maureen Little displays a lamb's hook with a handmade metal hook on the end.

       Maureen Little displays a lamb's hook with a handmade metal hook on the end.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • Jim and Maureen Little of Kingston collect antiques large and small. This is an old chewing tobacco container.

       Jim and Maureen Little of Kingston collect antiques large and small. This is an old chewing tobacco container.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • A collection of tiny handmade figures at the Little home in Kingston.

       A collection of tiny handmade figures at the Little home in Kingston.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • Much of the wooden furniture in the Little home bears signs of wear from the years of use, but that's just the way they like it.

       Much of the wooden furniture in the Little home bears signs of wear from the years of use, but that's just the way they like it.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • Jim and Maureen Little don't have too many modern items in their home, but the home office is an exception. Even still, signs of their hobby are everywhere.

       Jim and Maureen Little don't have too many modern items in their home, but the home office is an exception. Even still, signs of their hobby are everywhere.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • Jim and Maureen Little of Kingston and their home filled with antiques.

       Jim and Maureen Little of Kingston and their home filled with antiques.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

 
 

Pumpkin, mustard, red subdued with brown and fabulous blue with green undertones. Do these colors make you think of home decor that is contemporary and today?

Antiques with original paint in these shades would fit well with the clean looks that many people like today, say Maureen and Jim Little.

The couple, who sell antiques at their farmstead south of the DeKalb County town of Kingston, found some of their favorite pieces at Fox Valley Antiques Shows. The next show from the Chicago Suburban Antiques Dealers Association will be March 10 and 11.

The Littles agree if you say Victorian pieces with elaborate carving and carpenter's lace make you want to skip mixing antiques with your current decor.

"That's the type my great grandmother and grandmother sold -- high Victorian with marble," Maureen said. "Not for me."

The Littles' pieces, which date mostly from the 1830s to 1890s, are much simpler. They are often pine, occasionally cherry. Many originated in New England and New York, often in farmhouses and occasionally in log cabins.

The sort of decoration that gets the Littles' attention is a bit of stenciling like the dogs on the drawers of a cupboard used by a veterinarian who traveled Michigan in the 1880s. The two-piece cabinet is in the Littles' shop for $1,950.

And if you showed interest in a $595 green, footed blanket chest made in northern Wisconsin in the 1860s, they would make sure you noticed the huge dovetails on the front.

The striking blue shows on the 1860s corner cupboard in the Littles' living room because the dealer they bought it from hand scraped all the sacrilegious white paint off. Now a visitor can see traces of the even earlier green, too.

We promised pumpkin, and that shade is the paint on the wood floor that the Littles and anyone they could corner removed from an 1850s Amish house in Anna, Ind.

"We took two stories out. We were black from head to toe. Some of it came from the attic, where they had apple dryers. We had to work on Saturdays because they (Amish farmers) don't work on Sundays," said Jim.

"That's the kind of stuff we enjoy doing," added Maureen. "We don't do it the easy way."

The original part of the Littles' house, which included a separate summer kitchen that now is an attached room, was built about 1890, and they decided the pumpkin flooring would be appropriate and surely more attractive than the layers of linoleum they found when they bought the house.

"We always wanted a farmette. We bought this nine years ago for the barn. The house needed lots and lots of work," Maureen said.

They filled the barn with large old signs, another specialty of these dealers.

"They are our artwork," she said.

One treasure Maureen found at the Fox Valley show is a sign painted on glass that she bought as a birthday present for Jim. "J.D. Webb Canned Goods" in a great almost-oval frame was probably a window in the food market and now it is in the Littles' family room.

Over the fireplace hangs a wooden sign as wide as the room that says "Deaconess Hospital," purchased at the Kane County Flea Market.

The fireplace mantel is a stunning federal design. Very simple and classic, it includes one horizontal board on the front that is at least 18 inches wide and held up with two small pedestals on the sides of the firebox.

While it looks early American, it was probably built in the 1860s or 1870s, Maureen said. Jim bought it in Elkhart, Ind., for resale, but changed his mind when he saw how perfectly it fit.

And is that really a drop-leaf side table sitting between two (not antique) wingback chairs? No, it is an English child's table.

The farmette has other charms, too. Jim plants a large vegetable garden, and the couple loves to fill their land with flower beds. Of course, it all comes with work -- they put a new tin roof on the barn, and next summer it's the shop's turn.

The Littles have been selling antiques for 17 years. In the early days of their business they had to travel to Maine and Vermont every other month or so to keep up their stock, and found antiques in shops, shows and flea markets that they could resell in Illinois.

"We flew into Boston on vacation in about 2000 and went to one of the shops in Massachusetts and saw a perfect set of six chairs. UPS was on strike. Then we started finding stuff. We thought, 'Well, we could rent a box truck and cash in our airplane tickets, but to make it worthwhile we would have to fill the truck. We filled it."

Being in business so long means the Littles know a lot of dealers who call them to buy choice pieces when they need the money or are going out of business.

Today they sell by appointment from the small grain building on the farm, where previous owners sold bags of grain or feed.

And now, with the economy tighter, "quality" pieces are what sell.

In the Littles' business that means early furniture with original paint in those colors we mentioned at the start of this story. Watch for the mustard and reds. But if it's white, some dealer probably slapped a coat of paint on it. And even though you might describe these pieces as "primitive," avoid ones that are rough or beat up.

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