I’ve booked my first trip to Amsterdam, so I’ve been asking around what to do there. I’ve gotten all the basic suggestions – the Anne Frank House, the Heineken Experience, the Van Gogh Museum. But I recently got an unexpected suggestion: right at dusk, just as the sun is setting and before people have closed their curtains, walk along the canal past all the fancy flats and see what you can see.
It’s one of Ivo Suchomel’s favorite things to do in Amsterdam. Not in a peeping tom sort of way, but as a glimpse into people’s stylish lives there. He says people In Amsterdam, in Paris, in Italy – they have taste. And style. And antiques. And he loves it.
He says in the last 20 years, he has re-learned to appreciate antiques.
“There was a small interruption – 50 years without taste,” he laughed. “For us in socialism, old things were rubbish.”
His wife, Ivana, chimed in.
“After World War II, my grandfather saw proletariats throwing things out the castle window in Roudnice.” The antique furniture and Renaissance paintings that belonged to the Lobkowicz family there were symbols of nobility, enemies of the working class, they explained.
The Suchomels run a language school. Their sunny Vinohrady office is full of beautiful pieces they’ve collected over the years – wooden bookshelves, brass lamps, plant stands. As proud as they are of their pieces, Ivo is just as proud at finally convincing his children to appreciate antiques. For years there was an ongoing family argument over the new, modern, mass-produced furniture his kids preferred.
“Taste, it takes time to develop. Even our kids, they liked Ikea. They hated old things,” he said. “Now because they’ve experienced Amsterdam and London, they’ve seen rich and successful people. Their flats aren’t furnished with new things, but with old.”
So last year, the Suchomels shopped for their children’s Christmas presents at the twice-annual Antique Fair, put on by the Association of Antique Dealers. The Suchomels found a green art deco vase for one child and a functionalist stainless steel ice bucket for the other, each for about 1500 CZK.
The fair is the only antique fair in the country, and has been going since 1993. Since then, word has gotten out. Organizers are expecting 8,000-10,000 people over the four days of the next fair, November 24-27.
“It’s a good tradition in the Czech Republic,” Antique Fair manager Lucie Šustková said. “Before the Revolution, there was no Antique Fair. In the beginning, it wasn’t easy. Now people are more open, and we’re finding more customers.”
Sixty exhibitors will come from all over the Czech Republic. For shoppers, it means the sellers come to you. You can find paintings, furniture, jewelry, rugs, glass, and more. Šustková says it’s a great place to shop for Christmas gifts. There are plenty of smaller treasures that go for 500 – 1000 CZK.
Exhibitor Daniela Žáková has had a booth at the fair since its first year. She specializes in art deco and art nouveau pieces, which she sells in her shop, Antik Újezd (Újezd 400/37, 118 00 Praha 1), and at the fair twice a year.
“Last fair I sold quite well,” she said. “I had a nice art deco writing desk. We sell a lot of jewelry.”
It’s not easy work, though. It’s harder and harder to find good pieces, Žáková said, and people aren’t buying. Žáková travels 5,000 kilometers a month scouring Europe for treasures.
“I like it, but it became very difficult in the last 10 years. It’s fun, but it’s tiring,” she said. It used to be that antiques “showed the interests of the people. For the upper class, people with money had collections at home – carpets, paintings, ceiling fixtures. It was like a business card.”
Today, antiques are still a matter of whether you can afford them. But they’re also a state of mind, and a decision in an investment. They accomplish both filling your home and making it comfortable, along with preserving history.
This is in comparison to the popular mass-produced furniture of today, where pieces are made for affordability, not for the generations. You’re lucky if you can move a particle board bookcase from one room to another and keep it looking new. You certainly won’t be passing it on to your grandchildren.
Žáková hopes this trend changes.
“We need a new generation, a young generation. They are interested in traveling, not art and antiques. Maybe when they’re older, they’ll have new interests,” she said.
Perhaps the message is getting out to younger shoppers. Antique Fair manager Lucie Šustková, 27, has helped with the fair for years, and now manages it.
“I’m a person who doesn’t like everything new,” Šustková said. “Stuff without history, it’s not interesting.”
Ivo Suchomel has made converts out of his children, who now appreciate antiques. And I, at 30, will definitely be treasure hunting at the fair. The small carpet I got last year for 600 CZK is still one of my favorite decorations in my flat.
Appropriately, this fair will excite the young at heart – the theme is toys. If dolls, teddy bears, trucks, and games are on your Christmas list, come ready to shop!
What: 28th Antique Fair – Autumn 2011
When: November 24-27
Where: Novoměstská radnice (Karlovo náměstí 1/23 – entrance from Vodičkova street)
Price: 90 CZK
More info: http://www.asociace.com