Stephanie Kenyon on auctions, antiques and collectibles | Home Front

Apr 19, 2012

Stephanie Kenyon, owner and president of Sloans and Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers in Chevy Chase, joins Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza on the weekly Home Front chat. Together, they give advice about interior decorating and home improvement.

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Hi, everyone. We've got Stephanie Kenyon with us this morning, who is an expert on just about everything from antique furniture to vintage fashion to mid-century modern chairs to Coca-Cola collectibles. She owns Sloans & Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers in Chevy Chase, Md. Read my story on her today. She can answer questions about your own personal treasures or about how the auction process works. Let's get going.

We have two very old (17th century) maps, one of Virginia and the other of the mid-Atlantic region. Where can we obtain an accurate appraisal and what is the cost?

If you would like a complimentary verbal appraisal, you are welcome to bring the maps to Sloans & Kenyon to show to our map specialist. If a written appraisal is necessary, there is a charge.  Please call 301-634-2330 for an appointment for either appraisal option.

The previous owners of our house had young children and installed a sandbox in the back yard. It's a wooden frame with a cover, set in concrete. At some point we are going to redo the whole back, but right now it's a bug circus! I took out all the old sand last summer but need to know what to do with it now. I don't want it to just collect standing water -- do I fill it with mulch? Make it a planting bed? I worry since it's rather shallow and won't drain that it would kill anything planted in it. I am totally lost!

You're in luck. The Young House Love bloggers just recently tackled a similar issue and wrote about it here. Two words: pea gravel.

A co-worker and I collect the same items. She told me that she keeps her 3 favorite items and that is it. I had five and only used 3 of them. I gave away 2 and have never missed them and really appreciate what I have. If I find another one that I like better, it will move to space #3 and the previous #3 is on the donation or sell or gift list.

Love this idea! Brilliant. More people should follow your example.

You have my dream job! I have a collection of Staffordshire ABC plates. I'm not sure how to display them. I've been told that the spring-loaded plate holders are harmful to antique china. What do you suggest? Thanks.

Wooden or lucite plate stands are an option for tabletop use.  Otherwise, you can carefully wrap the metal spring-loaded holders with a cloth or vinyl tape.

Hello! I inherited an antique Persian Heriz rug I'd like appraised for insurance purposes. Your website says you offer "sale appraisals". Is that different from insurance appraisals? If your company doesn't do insurance appraisals, is there someone locally you feel comfortable in recommending? Thank you for your time!

Sloans & Kenyon provides appraisals for all types of needs - insurance, equitable division of property for families, resale, estate/tax/probate, and other requirements.  An insurance appraisal would indicate retail replacement cost, and we are happy to help you.  Please call us at 301-634-2330 to schedule an appraisal.

 

Good morning. I'm looking for simple, indoor planters for my interior windowsills. I just want long, shallow rectangles in a gray-colored material, preferably metal. Why is this so hard to find? I've tried looking online at Home Depot, Lowes, Target, etc. The only thing that comes close and is at Room & Board (for $150 apiece). Do you have any suggestions? Anywhere in DC or online would be fine. Thanks!

How about these at Pottery Barn? Terrain has some really nice options, too. Check them out here.

I have a Martin Lindsay print called "Over the Falls" and I can't find anything about its value. Can you help me?

Sloans & Kenyon would be delighted to help you; since we subscribe to numerous fine art and auction databases, it is possible we can locate past auction records for this artist.

I would like to paint my master bedroom a cool shade of gray, but don't want to go too dark. There are 4 windows in the room, so it gets a lot of light. I like Benj. Moore's Metropolitan, AF-690 and Coventry Gray, HC-169. Any thoughts or suggestions? Your chats are so informative -- look forward to them each week. Thanks!

Thanks for the kind words. First of all, if you like gray, I would head down to the DC Design House.

The house is full of all kinds of grays and you can get a Farrow & Ball paint color guide. Also, I like Bedford Gray, Chinchilla and Dolphin by Martha Stewart Paints for Home Depot. I also love Coventry Gray. It would be a nice choice.

I have a window in my guest room shower (weird, I guess, but it is on the 4th floor and no one can see in). Regardless, the window has a wooden ledge - also in the shower. The paint on the ledge is peeling because it is always getting wet - being in a shower and all. Is there a special paint I can use to protect the ledge? Other ideas?

You might try an exterior paint designed to repel moisture.  There is a  product called Dry Lock that is useful as a primer to seal wooden surfaces and concrete.  Consider an additional source of ventilation in the shower area.

I'll also forward your question to our home-improvement columnist, Jeanne Huber. She might be able to answer it in a future How To column in Local Living.

We are looking into new carpet for 2 bedrooms and a hallway. No problem to select color, but wondering what sort of pattern or nap is current. I have seen some sculpted carpets recently, like carpet from the 60s, but will that be out in a few years? Berber seems a little casual and playroom-ish.

A monochrome/tone-on-tone trellis pattern is popular right now for hallways because it opens up the space visually and  gives the illusion of widening the space.  Yes, there is a resurgence in modern design that will probably last for a decade.  Look for neutral colors and overall subtle geometric texture that will endure as a classic.

I saw a pair of lantern style pendant lights that I think would be lovely in the dining area of my eat-in kitchen, but are way too expensive ($3k ea) for my budget. I have been unsuccessful at finding a more affordable, similar design. I have considered buying an actual lantern and having it wired, but with a closed bottom, I think it wouldn't cast enough down light. Plus, I really like the square shape of my light (as opposed to tall and rectangular), the slit details at the top, and the blue color. Any advice on where to find an alternative to my dream light? Thanks!

Yes, that's a great fixture. I did a quick search and came up with this option from Circa Lighting, which has a lot of  amazing lighting options. This one from Circa is somewhat similar and less expensive, but it doesn't come in that pretty blue color. You could always have it painted, though, and it would still cost you less than $3k.

Our house is a light yellow with white trim, and the floor of our front porch is painted blue. We'd like to redo the porch floor and are thinking of something other than blue. Any ideas for what would go well with yellow? Thanks!

I would suggest gray. Something like Fortress Stone by Behr.

Let's say you inherit stuff that people tell you has value, whether furniture, silver, jewelry. What is the best way to actually sell that stuff and get the value? Auction? Ebay? Ads on Craigslist?

The ideal sale venue depends on what the object is.  Sloans & Kenyon holds complimentary appraisal days every Tuesday from 11 am - 1 pm  during which our specialists evaluate potential auction property and advise on selling strategies. Sometimes we recommend venues other than auction or consignment.  

Would it be totally bizarre if I tried to hire a designer to help me with one room in our home? We love how the rest of our house has come together, but we're seriously struggling with our great room. We can't figure out furniture, and we don't know how to get it to flow with the rest of the place. I'm worried that if I reach out to a high-end designer, they'll scoff at the project. But I'm not sure I want a lower-end designer to tackle it. Am I stuck?!

Not necessarily. Some high-end designers will only take on an entire house or multiple room project, but others are more flexible. I would just call the designers you are interested in and ask what their policy is. You never know. 

I loved the idea of giving an antique wedding spoon as a wedding gift. I, too, have struggled with whether or not to give antiques as gifts. I love antiques but am not sure I'd want to receive one as people tend to be quite picky about what they like. That being said, my current collection of antique vases began when I received one as a gift. What other kinds of antiques would you recommend make interesting presents?

I spoke with Stephanie about this during our interview. It's good to know the tastes of the bride and groom when you're selecting something antique. A silver spoon is something that everyone needs and uses at some point in their entertaining lives. An antique try, salad bowl or teapot is another idea. The important thing is to package it properly in a new box using fresh tissue. You can buy plain white gift boxes at The Container Store. Then ask the antique shop for details of the piece or look it up online. Write a description of the item in detail on a plain white card and put it in an envelope and enclose in the box. You might also put in the business card of the antique shop to show that you did purchase it through a dealer if that is the case. It's also wonderful to give an old  family piece, if the bride or groom is related to you. Write up everything you know about the history of the item and who owned it and include it with the gift. 

Glass-paned double doors separate my sunroom addition from my living room. Although I love our ebony-stained living room hardwood floors, I desperately need to replace the tired sunroom carpet. I'm concerned about durability because our sunroom is a high-traffic room that leads into our backyard, and it serves as a general hangout space for my family. For budget reasons I'm considering installing high-end, ebony-colored vinyl wood planks arranged in a herringbone pattern in the sunroom (I've installed vinyl wood planks in our basement and I love it). I'm also considering sheet Marmoleum, perhaps in a black embossed crocodile pattern. Although the flooring in the sunroom and the living room will be different, I'm hoping that choosing a dark color in the sunroom will unify the spaces. What do you think of either of these options in terms of the flooring transition between the two rooms? (Here's a link showing the existing flooring transition.)

Try an indoor/outdoor room-size area carpet in a darker color so as not to to show dirt.  If there is a concrete floor under the current carpeting, it is currently very fashionable to paint that surface. This is would be a cost-effective solution and one that could be changed easily in the future.

I just inherited a sofa that is the perfect size and style for my television room and has high-quality chenille with a gold/green/blue-green/red muted floral pattern. It's not a fabric I would have picked (though I don't dislike it)--I'd probably go with a neutral color--but the sofa and fabric are in such good shape that it seems a waste to reupholster it. I am going to repaint and recarpet the room anyway. Any thoughts on whether to redecorate around the sofa fabric and what approach to take or whether to reupholster a perfectly lovely sofa that has fabric that isn't quite my taste? Of course, the cost is a factor, but since I'm going to repaint and recarpet, I don't want to compound a possible error. I'm really on the fence about this and just need an outside perspective. Thanks.

If you are planning on redecorating the room anyway, I would factor in the cost of reupholstering the sofa into your budget and have it done.  After the room is repainted and recarpeted, you'll be glad you redid the sofa, too. Check out my recent story on reupholstering here.

Stephanie, what decorating style and what antiques do you have in your home?

Thank you for asking.  I have a mix of different periods and styles and periods.  I am very eclectic and acquire objects that speak to me visually regardless of what is in vogue at the time.  I have a fossil-topped coffee table next to  a Louis XVI style barrel-back chair.

How can we assess the value of two sets of sconces from the house that we recently purchased? We know that that the previous owner had a lot of high-end things in her home, but we don't know who to show them to or where to bring them. Any advice?

Please email Sloans & Kenyon an image of your sconces and we will identify them for you and provide a verbal estimate of  value.

Any idea how I might go about selling a sculpture of Benjamin Franklin made from a Houdon cast? Christie's verified it wasn't done by Houdon himself (determined by the way the sculpture's eyes were finished), but rather cast from one of Houdon's orginial molds and therefore still has some value. The sculpture was in our family in France. Thank you.

Please feel free to email an image to Sloans & Kenyon and we will be more than happy to suggest a value and venue options.

 

I love that Stephanie suggested giving an old spoon for a wedding present. I "poke around" and find great things, like old silver, old Limoges plates, antique textiles, etc., on my travels. I resell a lot of these things on an Etsy shop but am a little squeamish about giving them as presents. If I found them in an antiques shop and spent a lot of $$ on them, I wouldn't worry, but if I buy them in a junk shop for pennies on the dollar, will people think I am being cheap? It's a huge worry! Thanks!

How would they ever know? The important thing is to present the gift in a worthy manner. The worth of a gift is in the thought put into it, not the money spend.

I inherited my parents antique refurbished baby grand piano as a wedding gift 9 years ago. It fit great in our first two houses, but in our latest house (which we are planning on living in for at least 15-20 years) I have no place to put it. It needs about $1,000 worth of work for it to play well, and honestly I haven't played it in years. But every time I start to consider selling it, I feel very guilty and sad, and so there it sits, in an awkward place in the middle of our living room. However, there is one possible location for the piano: in the corner of our living room right next to our wood fireplace. We used the fireplace twice this past winter, but I could see us not using it if necessary. My husband thinks it wouldn't look right because the piano would block the fireplace (and it would also guarantee no winter fires). What do you think?

Please don't feel guilty or sad about letting go of your baby grand piano if you honestly can't enjoy it yourself.  Remember that an owner of an object is only a "curator" for a time and it might make you happy to pass it on to someone who would  play it with great enjoyment and keep it well-maintained.  This person could be another family member or dear friend -- or even a school or other insitution. 

The fireplace is such a focal point in a room that to block it would be unfortunate.

I inherited some Waterford crystal glasses. What are some modern ways to incorporate them into our decor? We don't give many formal dinner parties. Thank you!

This is a great question. I personally feel that fine crystal glasses should be kept carefully lined up in a kitchen cabinet or safely behind doors of a china cabinet. They are beautiful, functional items really, not really items to be used in decor. You should use them at meals often! There's no reason to save your best things to use only on holidays. Life is too short to just eat off your fine things once or twice a year. Use them every Saturday night and enjoy them.

People know I "poke around," so they'd know that their gift came from some grotty place in a bad neighborhood. But I could say I risked my life to buy their present.

Why not? The ultimate sacrifice.

I have antiques purchased in Belgium in the 1950s. I have finally realized that: it isn't my style and I don't have to keep it to honor my parents; I will never have a house where these would be used; and it is so hard to get rid of things (repairs, trucks, etc.)! Several chairs have a broken spring and need recovering. I was shocked at the prices to repair antiques and I am not sure that I would recoup the money. Don't buyers (especially if dealers) often repair, refinish, and re-cover to what they want anyway? So what do I do? What are the best and easiest ways to sell this stuff ? consignment shops versus auction houses? Any in No.Va. to cut down on transport costs? How do I know what is a reasonable price? Thanks!

If you are contemplating selling an item, it is best not to invest significant resources into its repair or refurbishment.  Yes, you will get less for an "as is" piece, but let the new buyer invest in the time, trouble and expense of revamping to his or her taste.

It is wise to obtain one or two complimentary verbal appraisals of the item's value from professional sources before proceeding to sell any item.  That will help determine the best sale venue for the piece in question. There are consignment shops and auction houses in Northern Virginia and Maryland if you want to use sources close at hand.

A family friend had a large collection of Flemish silver spoons and gave me and my husband three of them for a wedding gift (see, people do give antique silver spoons for wedding gifts!). I had them in my silver chest for years, until I finally had the bright idea to get a shadow box. I wrapped some of the fabric from my dining room chairs around a piece of foam, put it in the box, and affixed the spoons to it with tiny push pins. It's displayed in my dining room and looks lovely.

Good for you. You are enjoying them and that's what you should do with such a nice gift.

How do I find the Home & Garden articles on the Washington Post app for my iphone? I've looked under the Lifestyles section without any luck. I've searched on Jura and Terri's name but don't get anything recent. I've looked in the Photos section. Help!!

I just consulted our mobile team. Your best bet would be to visit washingtonpost.com/home  on your phone.  This is the easiest way to find our content on your phone.

One consideration about collectibles is how you display or maintain your collection, especially if one lives in an apartment that is a little short on space. For example, I collect lapel pins. For display purposes, I put a few on lanyards that are available from the Hard Rock Cafe's store and from the Disney Store. I also have pin bags for trading and keeping of the collection. Lanyards can be hung from hooks or door knobs while pin trading bags can be stored on shelves face down because they're flat.

Very creative idea. Thanks a lot. There are plenty of people living in apartments with tons of collections that they have no room to display, unless they think outside the box.

Do you know of a good online site that sells folding room dividers/screens? I'm interested in cottage-style. Thank you.

How about this one from Bellacor?

I attended a fashion auction a month ago and thought it was very interesting. It seemed like a lot of the bidders were people who run vintage and consignment boutiques -- they were bidding on the very obvious brands, like Pucci and Chanel, and buying 10-15 pieces each. Is this common?

If you are a private buyer and you outbid a dealer at auction, you are likely acquiring a piece at an excellent value. Remember, the dealers have to resell the pieces they buy at a profit. A dealer is buying inventory - a variety of sizes, styles and colors for numerous clients.

 

I was given an assortment of silver and silver-plated serving pieces and have finally conceded that some I'll never use. What are the options for selling them? Is there a "best" way? I've never sold anything of real value before, and Craigslist seems like a bad place to start. Thanks for any direction you can give me!

We are running out of time so I'll answer this as I discussed it with Stephanie. Silver-plated items are a tough sell in this market. If you have sterling pieces, they can probably be sold at a consignment store.

I've always been interested in attending auctions, but the couple that I've gone to have flown way out of my price range. Is there a way to know beforehand if I'll be reasonably willing to participate in an auction before I go? Would love to get more into this, but it can be frustrating!

An auction house typically furnishes pre-auction estimates indicating from past experience what an item is likely to sell for.  Attend the pre-auction exhibition and talk to the specialists who could give you a sense of the advance interest in a piece.  Keep attending, and sooner or later you will get a great item at the price you feel comfortable with.

This may not be the best place for such a question, but my father inherited several carved ivory tusks. One, an elephant tusk, is as wide as a mantlepiece and has an entire city carved into it in such detail you can see people through the windows of the houses, etc. How should this be cared for - it's too fragile to dust easily, the ivory is aging and pieces are starting to fall off. Also, is there a market for such things?

Ivory is organic and needs to be kept in a relatively humid environment so it will not dry out and crack.  Ivory is in demand but there are restrictions on its sale due to import/export laws.

If you have a store that you are especially fond of, they sometimes offer design services ... something to start with if you can't find the high-end designer you are looking for.

Thanks for this.

Do people ever try to bring items to Sloans and Kenyon that you don't accept? If so, what are the parameters?

Yes, due to condition and/or lack of market demand for certain types of items. However, we handle a full range of antique and other furnishings from all eras.

Dad died, left house to two daughters. Lots of antiques: piano, rolls, bedroom mahogany furniture, china, stemware, etc. Everything imaginable, tiptop condition and from two generations of the family to the late 1800s-early 1900s and back.

NO ONE would come look at the items for appraisal. It seems everyone in the DC area that did estates, appraisals, etc. was 'too busy' and we were putting them out of their way. There would be no-shows on set appointments over and over. Ridiculous! Most had snobby attitudes like they couldn't be bothered. We ended up saying the heck with it all and gave most away for next to nothing. Even cheap auctioneers said in this economy it would not fetch much.

I was dismayed but said it is best to get what we can, as neither of us live in the area nor had the room to store any of the items. A real shame.

So my advice is to plan in advance - there are lots of shady characters out there, and some in this business are just not to be counted upon to help.

I am  so sorry to hear of your unfortunate experience.  Sloans & Kenyon will always look at images and photographs of potential auction property, and I make house calls daily in the Washington Metropolitan area.

 

Over 30 years ago, I bought 2 picture frames at a yard sale for a $1 each because I thought they would look good in our first-born's nursery. Each of the frames contained an original Disney cell (documented on the backside). Are there collectors for these cells out there, or has the market for them diminished because of the economy?

If the cells are from the 1930s-1950s, yes, they are in demand.  However, the flood of contemporary has affected the overall market.  The character depicted influences the value.

 

You mentioned that Jeane Dixon's crystal ball was your "most unusual item auctioned." Do you remember what it sold for?

It sold for $11,950 in July 2009.

I noticed it's one of your favorites. My daughter wants a coral room, but I'm afraid it might be too bold. Her room is north-facing, though, so could use some warmth. But it's a pretty big size. Would Benjamin Moore's Pan for Gold be too much?

Pan for Gold is a strong color.  I would suggest painting one wall as a bright accent.  My study has a lot of white trim to balance the saturated hue.

My aunt has a beautiful light fixture in her small 1950's house and I would like to find a similar one for myself. It is like a candelabra that is a sconce on the dining room wall and has a very elaborate gold baroque look that I really love. It's metal but can't be gold. What do you call something like this and is it expensive?

A dealer specializing in antique or vintage lighting would be delighted to assist you.  There are a number in the Washington metropolitan area.

I own a much loved antique Singer sewing machine that still has some of the original needles and thread in the drawers. Unfortunately, the wood on top of the machine has been chipped and damaged. Who do you all recommend taking such an item to be repaired? The thing is heavy and the chips have been incurred by moving it from place to place so I am loath to take it to multiple places just to find out they are not reputable to do the job.

It would not be cost-effective to repair the look of the console.  You could get wood filler and wood markers in various colors of brown to touch up your Singer sewing machine.  The value is in the utility of the machine, not the support structure.

I have a collection of pink & white transferware which I no longer have room to display. Some are pristine, for ex. a complete tea set w/8 handleless cups, and some are individual pieces purchased or given to me over the years. I'm not sure how the market for transferware looks these days. Would bringing them in for an appraisal be the best option before deciding on how best to sell the pieces? Thank you!

Yes!  Always get a professional's opinion of value before selling (or parting with) any items.

 

I bought an antique chinese bowl (Longquan celadon) about 10 years ago for a few hundred dollars -- I hear that prices are going up due to a surge in Chinese collectors. Do you think it would be worth getting my bowl appraised?

The Chinese market is very strong today - prices have risen in ten years and continue to skyrocket even this year.  Please have your bowl appraised by a professional.

I found one yesterday in a thrift store that looked like an Eames chair, but I couldn't find any markings on it. How do you know when it's real?

Originally, the chairs were manufactured with labels.  It may have fallen off with time.  Please feel free to send Sloans & Kenyon an image and we will try to help you identify it.

 

Great questions for Stephanie Kenyon today. Clearly we all have a lot of stuff out there we are curious about. And many of us want to dispose of some of it, too. Thanks for being with us, Stephanie. See you next week, everyone.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archive
Terri Sapienza
Terri Sapienza is a staff writer for The Washington Post's Local Living section.
Stephanie Kenyon
Stephanie Kenyon is the owner and president of Sloans and Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers in Chevy Chase. After working for 14 years at C.G. Sloan and Co., a Washington auction house founded in 1853, Kenyon bought it with two partners in 2003. Eventually, she bought them out. Today she has 25 full-time employees and holds at least five major auctions a year. Kenyon lives in Bethesda, not far from where she grew up, with her husband Alex Beehler and two college-age daughters, Alexandra and Abigail.
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