Some things are best enjoyed shiny and new: electronics, cookware, lingerie. When it comes to decorative and functional objects, patina rules. Patina is the change in appearance that occurs after years, decades, centuries — even millenia — of use. It comes with delicious names: craquelure, foxing, crazing, all of which denote what is, in effect, decay and ruin of the orginal, but a ruin that shows its age. Some can be repaired or restored and some must be left alone — like the paint on good, old furniture — to retain its commercial value.
I love patina. It reminds me that whatever objects I own today once belonged to someone 60 or 160 or 300 years ago. It passed through their hands as it will pass through mine. Shiny new stuff is so deeply seductive because it’s yours alone. But only for a while. Patina is a sort of memento mori, a reminder of life’s transience and the urgency of appreciating its beauty, now, in whatever form I can discover it.
These three images are from my home. The gilt frame is probably 19th. century, 1860s to 1880s, maybe earlier. The chair, one of three I bought at a country auction in Nova Scotia, with rush seats, even earlier. The teapot, a gift from a friend who is equally enamored of fine old things, was found at a Connecticut estate sale, also 19th. century.
One of my favorite books, a real inspiration if you, too, love patina is The Well-Worn Interior, with images from Ireland, England, France — and Manhattan’s East Village, with an apartment interior of delicious decay. Drayton Hall, a house built in 1738 near Charleston, South Carolina remains one of the U.S.’s finest examples of simple, understated elegance. I still remember the sense of stillness and light inside its enormous bare rooms.
If you crave athenticity in re-creating a historic interior, here’s a helpful site.