Arts & Culture, Discovery

Antiquing with the Expert – Mitchell Owens

The Annual Charleston Antiques Show is famed for its showcase of fine art, delicate furniture, and elegant vintage decor all inspired by the historical heritage of Charleston and its unique Southern charm. This year, we are eager to embrace both the new and returning collectors and enthusiasts hungry for discovery.

Belmond Charleston Place is especially looking forward to welcoming aesthetic aficionado Mitchell Owens, Decorative Arts Editor for Architectural Digest. Owens will be leading a tour of the Charleston Antiques Show on March 16th. We are thrilled he agreed to let us interview him in anticipation of his visit.

You have written about generational shifts in attitudes toward antiques. As you look to the future, what trends do you expect to see in regards to baby boomers and millennials and their interest in antiques?

Truly, one hopes that ‘younger’ shoppers will be able to shake off their apparent fear of the word ‘collector’ (too serious? too granny? too pretentious?) and instead simply allow themselves to appreciate beauty in all its forms—and then buy it. To open their eyes and realize that antiques of all kinds (many of them priced shockingly modestly, given the vagaries of the market) can coexist, beautifully, happily, and distinctively, with newer furnishings and art.

Owens believes that the key to attracting younger shoppers is to reveal galvanizing examples of how living with what’s old has value to them. He commends the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, when only 30 years of age, was still “an unquestioned avatar of all things feverishly mod, set his Saarinen tulip table with château-worthy silver flatware, and antique blue-and-white porcelain plates. His dining room was bright, white, sunny, and fresh, yet its contemporary snap—its totally ‘with it’ character—gained depth and individuality through a young man’s balanced embrace of the then and the now.” Owning old things does not mean one must live in a museum. Using old things, on a daily basis, in of-the-moment surroundings, brings them back to life. Once they are alive again, they can’t be dismissed as old-fashioned, can they? Anyway, many of the very best things that we call antique actually were hip when they were brand new. Don’t forget that. I also believe that in February 2020, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art reopens its long-staid British Galleries—which are being reconceived by the electrifying AD100 Roman & Williams design firm—there will be a kick-in-the-pants reappraisal of ‘brown furniture’ et cetera for many people.

In addition to leading the Expert Tours during the Antiques Show, you are also a part of the Distinguished Speaker Series with Drayton Hall. Can you tell our readers what they can expect during your lecture, Connoisseur with a Crown: George IV—Collector, Tastemaker, Spendthrift?

I don’t want to give much away, but I will expound the English style and collections of George IV in terms of sex, scandal, ambition, pretty things, and parliamentary outrage.

How does the interest and conversation about antiques and antique shows vary in Charleston compared to other cities? What makes Charleston unique?

A premier destination for embracing “old things”  is none other than Charleston. This aspect is what makes its antique show unique. In comparison to other cities, in Charleston, style traditions still passionately fuel public and private discourse. Thus, antiques remain an integral part of the landscape. The past remains present in Charleston—and powerfully so. It’s why nearly five million people from around the world visit the city every year, to step into history. Though it could also be the pimento cheese.

How would you describe the aesthetic of Belmond Charleston Place? What details are your favorite? What about Charleston, in general?

Spanish moss, side porches, historic houses painted in marzipan colors, and stiff drinks—what’s not to like about Charleston? As for Belmond Charleston Place, there is so much to admire, but, for me, it’s all about Charleston Grill’s crabcakes. Tell Chef Michelle Weaver to stock up on the lump crabmeat!

Thank you so much to Mitchell Owens for bringing his unique perspective on antiques and collecting to Hidden Charleston. Don’t miss your chance to hear Mitchell speak in person while he’s in town, both during the Antiques Show and as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series.

For Tickets:

2019 Charleston Antiques Show:

Drayton Hall Distinguished Speaker Series: