The lawyer’s guide to antiquing

How to use your legal skills to broker a fair price on an antique
How to use your legal skills to broker a fair price on an antique

There’s one surefire way to inject some personality into the interior design of your home: acquire an antique. Take a trip to the local antique and vintage shop or, if you’re feeling intrepid, visit an out-of-town country market or estate sale. Then look for a unique piece — such as a timeless brass bar cart or a one-of-a-kind light fixture — that’s brimming with character. But antique shopping is cruel to the amateur.

If you lack the confidence to haggle with the dealer, or a keen eye for value, it’s easy to overpay for a clunker. Here’s my advice: treat the negotiation process like a mediation. To illustrate my point, let’s walk through the three stages of a typical mediation and break down how you can use your legal skills to secure a fair price.

The opening. At the start of a mediation, both parties make a statement that outlines their core priorities. It’s important to be honest without revealing the vulnerabilities of your case.

If you find an item that you like in the chaos of an antique shop, you can approach the owner and declare your interest. But play it cool. You don’t want to come across as desperate.

The rounds. In the second stage of a mediation, the parties hammer out the thorniest points of contention. You have to know the facts of the dispute and, of course, the relevant case law.

Knowledge is just as essential to an antique negotiation. If you can’t appraise an item’s basic value, there’s no hope. To learn the basics, I spoke to Christine Ducharme, the owner of À La Ritz, which sells antique furniture over Instagram. Here are three core concepts that she thinks every consumer should master.

ANTIQUE. Most dealers will only consider an item to be a genuine antique if it’s at least 100 years old. But old doesn’t necessarily mean expensive: rarity, condition and demand are often better indicators of value.


CRYSTAL. To make sure a piece (such as a lamp or a decorative vase) is genuine crystal, hold it up to sunlight. If a rainbow-prism effect occurs, you probably have crystal. Otherwise, it’s plain old glass.


GOLD LEAF. Furniture with gold leafing is both beautiful and valuable. But beware: some pieces are decorated in cheap, gold-coloured spray paint. To tell if the gold is real, inspect parts of the item that are worn away. If a red colour has started to come through, this is the paint-clay mixture used in genuine gold leafing. Buy with confidence.

The final offer. As a wise lawyer once told me, never use the word “final” unless you mean it. If you can’t reach a fair settlement at a mediation, you’re on your way to trial. Likewise, if an antique dealer won’t accept your final offer, walk away. This will save your credibility and your bank account. There’s nothing worse than getting caught up in the exhilaration of the haggle only to regret your decision once you get home.

Emma GreggEmma Gregg is an in-house counsel at Travelers Canada. She writes about interior design and culture for Precedent. Follow her on Instagram at @emmaintoronto.




Illustration by Sara Wong

This story is from our Winter 2019 Issue.