It is a common misconception that antiques must necessarily cost a great deal and the idea of buying an antique piece of furniture must not enter one’s mind when decorating a house or apartment.
Last week I witnessed an incident which proved that the opposite is true- that free time for looking, reading and getting what the Italians call “occhio” can take the place of a fat bank account.
Among the green hills of mystic Umbria there are many ancient monasteries and convents, now empty for lack of monks and presently being transformed into a chic holiday home.
While showing me around her part of the renovated monastery, an acquaintance apologized for the furniture. It was that factory-produced blond Swedish type which made a pitiful contrast with the ancient cotto tile floors and thick monastic white walls.
“We did want to buy some antiques, but they are so expensive”, she said,”and then we would not even know where to begin to look for them”.
From a window we could see the workmen dumping a wheelbarrow full of rubbish onto one of those heaps which form wherever building or renovating are being done.
We were surprised to see a young couple, new owners of another part of the 13th century convent, poking through the pile of old doors, broken bed springs and other junk that the workmen had been carrying out for the past several weeks.
Surprise turned to jealousy when my acquaintance later saw the same couple busily cleaning the prize they had snatched literally from under her nose, a rustic 18th century monk’s bench.
Once a wobbly leg was repaired and the patina of age restored to the fine wood, its simple but elegant lines would fetch a good price in any country antiques shop.
Next time you are exploring small towns and back roads in Italy, keep an eye out for those cellars and attics where families store castaway furniture ( cantina, magazzino and rigattieri ) . You never know where a prize piece will be stored away, just awaiting a new owner .