Creating a beautiful environment - in which to live and entertain - should not be limited to inside your home. When inspiration blossoms beyond the four walls, expand your design aesthetic to the outdoors and give your guests (and yourself) an unexpected dose of warmth and sophistication with the addition of art and antiques to your landscape design.
The most common material found in outdoor antiques is undoubtedly iron. In the 16th and 17th centuries, blacksmiths worked iron by hand and anvil to create fencing, gates, doors and window coverings that were as secure as they were aesthetically beautiful. When sealed to hedge against rust, iron was a great choice for architectural elements which were long-lasting - with many items from that period surviving today. During the industrial revolution, new technologies led to casting iron into molds - making cast iron ornamentation a more affordable alternative to wrought iron. As a result, the Victorian era saw great demand for decorative elements such as lawn furniture, flower urns and figural objects. Unlike most antiques, the re-painted surface of an outdoor iron object does not usually detract from the value; in fact, oil-based paints provide important protection against rust and the resulting deterioration it can cause. Often painted white, iron furniture and accessories creates a stunning and elegant contrast among a backdrop of green.
Cast iron benches, chairs and tables are readily available at auction and estate sales in the low hundreds of dollars for common varieties, and into the thousands for more special or ornate objects. Large, early urns with impressive handles, bases and ornamentation command the highest price in this category; although very small and special examples can also be rare. Restoration of iron is best left to professionals as proper removal of any traces of rust can go a long way toward extending the life of a piece.
Beyond iron, outdoor antiques and vintage objects may be found in an assortment of materials. Bronze, zinc and copper architectural elements and statuary tend to develop a wonderfully warm and natural patina over time. Of course, collectors will pay the most for bronze items - and, generally, the quality of casting and design will be superior to less expensive materials. Copper is soft and prone to damage; so look for smaller objects - or items with a forgiving hand-hammered finish. Zinc is an interesting, dull grey surface that takes a casting remarkably well and suggests a bit more of an industrial style.
For those who prefer a more whimsical design, porcelain objects can bring a colorful juxtaposition to an otherwise organic setting. Asian garden seats, in the form of a barrel, are often elaborately decorated with exotic patterns. Flower pots, figural objects and vases may also find their way outside - particularly if nicked or chipped, as the perfect spot in the garden may hide a few flaws. When using porcelain or glass objects, be certain they are drilled for drainage or kept out of direct rainfall.
Do you prefer your garden accoutrements blend a bit more organically into the plan? Stone or concrete statuary and birdbaths can provide just a touch of classical architecture. Hand-chiseled examples will naturally be pricier, but mid-Century cement castings are remarkably detailed and provide just the look at a reasonable price point.
If warm spring days beckon your inner gardener, get a head start on summer blooms by brightening up the garden with an array of interesting and beautiful outdoor antique objects.
Article orginally appeared in March/April issue of Sophisticated Living Columbus