By Carleton Varney- Special to the Palm Beach Daily News
For the next couple of weeks, I’m in Ireland, where the summer days here have been delicious and dry. Even with the lack of rain, the fields — or at least some of them — remain green. The fields always remind me of a patchwork quilt, with hedgerows dividing the patches.
I’ve found as I tour around County Offaly and County Cavan in the lake country that antique shops have become fewer over the years. But they aren’t extinct, even if the younger crowd with cash to spend these days seems less interested in recreating the formal decor that emphasized finger bowls, silver candelabras and canopied beds.
But young professionals who grew up in formal-style homes — or who have fond memories of grandmother’s elegant style — can surprise you: They are likely to want a touch of what was then. So I advise you not to melt down your old silver candelabrum, because perhaps one day a grandson will want to place it in the middle of a country-style dinner table.
And that’s the trick, at least for me — to find a way to use these more formal items in rooms with a relaxed, easy-to-care-for look. I love to see a shimmering crystal chandelier, for instance, unexpectedly paired with a country pine dresser or a sewing table.
In the small County Cavan town of Virginia — yes, my friends, there is a Virginia in Ireland — I came across an antique shop called, believe it or not, Junk. The name made me smile, and so did shop owner Maggie Matthews, who has put her finger on that charming eclectic look of pairing country charm with formal elegance. This look, a step up from what we know in America as shabby chic, is the preferred decorating style in many of Great Britain’s great houses, which are today owned and enjoyed by the younger country set.
Indeed, on my visit to Junk, a crystal chandelier hung in the front window near an old pine chest and a pair of Victorian chairs stripped down to the natural wood and whitewashed. Their seats were covered in a terrific blue-on-blue check.
In the same way, I believe it’s perfectly fine to hang a stately Venetian mirror above a pine console. Or perhaps that mirror could find a home in a dining room furnished with an oval pine table. Maybe it was unheard of yesterday, but today, as Matthews’ antique shop attests, it is not only acceptable but striking.
I also was struck by Junk’s selection of big china serving platters. Think of those blue-and-white oval platters once used to serve a side of lamb on Sunday but without much of a practical function in these days of more casual meals at home. Such platters have been repurposed as wall decor, and they look great when lots of them are grouped together, even if they’re a tad chipped around the edges.
In entry halls in Ireland, blue-and-white pieces often look particularly handsome when hung on rich golden-mustard-colored walls. Those of you who have visited Ireland and stayed at the Dunraven Arms in the village of Adare will know exactly the color I’m thinking about.
Ireland is a lovely place to visit in September and October. Perhaps when you visit Virginia, you’ll stop at Matthews’ shop and observe how one person’s junk is, truly, another’s treasure.