The appeal of the Swedish lines and color palette is simple, says Basil Kavalsky, co-owner with Nopporn Khaewpong of CôtéJardin. “It’s easy to live with — you don’t get tired of it.” Lisa Vella Iantosca of the Baileywyck Shoppes in Middleburg offers another observation: The pale colors of Swedish furniture “get the young crowd involved in antiques.” The fact that, historically, Gustavian is a plainer version of 18th-century French furniture — all those Louies but with less-ornate curves — increases the appeal. “It goes with everything,” Iantosca says.
Loi Thai, whose Tone on Tone made a big splash when it opened eight years ago, agrees. “These are classic pieces in a lighter finish. The ‘bones’ are there.” The beauty of the paler look, Thai adds, is that “it can be very cottagey or very sophisticated.”
Linda Conry, one of the four founders of 10-year-old Four Shabby Chicks in Leesburg, has a bottom line that speaks to the appeal of painted furniture, Swedish or not. She had a light walnut table, “a beautiful piece,” that just wouldn’t sell. “What do you do? You jack the price up, paint it and boom — sold!” Even so, the vintage furniture the Chicks find (mostly at out-of-state auctions so that she and other local dealers “are not all fighting over the same dresser”) is relatively modest in price: $150 to $1,200, the latter for a nice late-18th-century piece, she says.
Those are the kinds of scores young couples seem to be looking for as they go from shop to shop in Frederick or Leesburg or Middleburg. And while it’s often young moms who are buying, it’s also young moms who are selling. Women with young children and/or full-time jobs are filling evenings and weekends refinishing tables, chairs and chests. When it comes to selling the stuff, the women are just as clever as the shop owners, placing a few pieces at area antiques malls and retail stores.
And not all vintage retailers maintain stores. Horse barns, dairy barns, all sorts of barns, are being used for monthly or quarterly sales in the Maryland and Virginia countryside. Announcements prompt frenzied weekend forays by roving packs of home-furnishing buffs to these giant tag sales. “The women [shoppers] get together and make a party of it,” says Denise Nolan, co-owner of Repurposed & Refined, which holds a monthly sale at the company warehouse in Hagerstown, Md., and, like other refinishers, also maintains spaces in two antiques malls.
Should shoppers be inspired to do pale themselves, Nolan and Stylish Patina’s Thompson also sell the chalk paint and milk paint that give the furniture its soft glow. Baileywyck’s Iantosca is enthusiastic about a new Swedish milk paint that can also be used on walls, in “old vegetable colors.”
The paint jobs raise interesting issues, though. Real Swedish antiques and painted vintage furniture can look quite new. A Mora clock at Klaradal appears to be a reproduction, until owner Kopperman opens the case, revealing the dark innards that give away the clock’s 200 years.
“We can’t guarantee that pieces have original paint,” Côté Jardin’s Kavalsky says. “A piece may have been repainted in the 19th century. But we don’t worry about that. If it has the look, the bones, the piece works.”
Nancy McKeon is a former Post editor and frequent contributor to the Magazine. To comment on this story, send e-mail to email@example.com.