The eye can’t help but travel walking through the storied rooms of Robert Riesberg and Christine Hartman’s Sunfish Lake home. Furnished with museum-quality antiques, art, objects, and rugs, the Federal-style house is at once both emphatically traditional and warmly welcoming.
Riesberg, a private antiques dealer, has owned the property for decades. In what is now a commonplace arrangement for many, the house is both his residence and his workplace—a gallery for by-appointment-only clients. He’s well versed in the provenance of every item in the house but waits for cues from guests before offering details. “People gravitate to certain objects for a variety of reasons. They have an emotional response that’s exciting for them. That feeling is often how collecting begins,” he says.
That enthusiasm has served Riesberg for more than 50 years buying and selling 17th-, 18th-, and early 19th-century antiques to local and international clients. Another secret? “We only buy pieces we would like to keep ourselves,” he says with a grin.
Robert Riesberg and Christine Hartman share five tips for buying and living with antiques.
Discover Your Taste
Visit museums, antiques shops, libraries, and online sites to look, then start building a file of what you like. Dig further into areas of interest—paintings, decorative objects, furniture styles. Don’t overlook reputable dealers, most of whom are happy to share their knowledge.
For people who would like to incorporate antiques in their home but are unsure where to start, Riesberg recommends going room by room, or one room at a time, and removing “the least of the things”—furniture, art, and objects that aren’t special, functional, or otherwise right, including family pieces that aren’t your taste. Then you know where the gaps are and can look for the piece that should be there.
Broaden Your Scope
At one time, antiques aficionados held the ideal of furnishing a room entirely with a singular period—for example, a Louis XVI bedroom or Chippendale dining room. It was an easily understood formula, but that method is less common today. “If you have more contemporary furnishings and art, you might mix in a gem of an antique,” says Riesberg. “And that’s what makes a space beautiful—because it reflects your taste and personality,” adds Hartman.
Know Your Stuff
Riesberg focuses on antiques made by hand before the machine age. “I draw the line at about 1840.” He’s quick to point out that there were fine pieces made after that, but they’re generally reproductions and constructed with machine tools, which affect specific design details. He recommends taking time to understand how things were designed and made to appreciate relative values.
Take it Slow
Building a collection and creating a stylish home take time and pay off with pieces that will be appreciated for a long time. “You’re better off with one great thing of beauty,” Riesberg says, “than a sea of mediocrity. All beautiful homes are built in stages.”