Antiquing: An Interview with Renowned Buyer Keith Johnson
When it comes to seeking antiquing advice, there is only one person to turn to: Keith Johnson. Keith has spent the majority of his life traveling the world buying furniture and objects, both in his role as Anthropologie’s buyer-at-large and as the protagonist of Man Shops Globe, the Sundance Channel show that followed Keith on these global shopping expeditions.
Keith has an extraordinary eye, a vivid imagination and a talent for giving new life and purpose to old objects. On a recent visit to the Parma Antique Show, Kieth spotted a series of painted wood planks lined up in a booth from the corner of his eye. These planks turned out to be the recovered fresco ceiling of a 16th century church, which Keith has now repurposed as the breathtaking kitchen ceiling of his Tuscan home. We are thrilled to share with you some exclusive antiquing tips and tricks from the expert himself.
Where is your favorite place to buy antiques?
If I only had one place to shop for antiques, it would have to be the Paris Flea market at Clignancort. The depth and variety of goods are astonishing. Walking around the hundreds of stalls and seeing how extraordinary the dealers’ style and choices can be. The best dealers are inspired interior designers. And you’re in Paris so what could be so bad.
What do you most enjoy about antique shopping?
The best thing about antique shopping is that you can land in a strange city and make instant connections. People selling antiques all fall in love with their goods. If you are standing to admire something, in a moment you are in deep conversation.
What makes an antique valuable? How do you know if the price is right?
Many antiques have very established values. But many others can be tricky to value. If you’re a novice antique buyer, it pays to buy from people with solid reputations. It’s a great idea to go into the best shops that sell the things you might be looking for. Seeing the best either in a museum or shop will train your eye. If you’re at a market and don’t have the luxury of doing research, then I say buy with your heart. If you love it, you won’t regret it. I only regret things I didn’t buy. It’s often a very pressured atmosphere in a market. It is in a way a competition. The best things often disappear quickly.
There is almost always a level of hunting or digging when looking for antiques. How have learned to spot the gems?
I always walk by stalls that don’t have something obviously of interest right away. Often when someone has one good thing, they will have many more. Double down on those stalls. When you really delve into the things that you’re passionate about, it’s amazing how you will spot them in the oddest places. I definitely think there is a sixth sense that you can develop.
What is one of your favorite success stories?
I was once looking for an iconic mid-century espresso machine called the Atomic. I got dressed for an early morning market in NYC. I had a T-shirt with the outline of the machine that I just happened to put on which I hadn’t worn in years. Within minutes, I found that Atomic on a table marked “Everything $5”. Hundreds less than it’s valued. I quickly reversed my shirt and bought the machine. Antiquing is always full of surprises.