When your home doubles as a showroom for your namesake collection, you know the pieces are as special as they come. The Niermann’s love for antiques extends from their Annapolis home down to their High Point showroom. They shared with us what makes their collectibles so distinctive.
What inspired you to start collecting antiques from Greece and Europe?
I have been a collector since I was a child, and at age 12, my first antique purchase was a Pre-Columbian jadeite carving of a man with his arm wrapped around his knees in a sitting position. I was fascinated with the culture and particularly taken with its great age. Ultimately I ended up with an extensive collection of Pre-Columbian stone and pottery figures that I sold as my taste developed and I moved on to other things.
What did you love most about your Annapolis home?
We were in the process of extensively remodeling our old home on the water which we had lived in for ten years and were looking for a house to rent while the renovations were being completed, and saw our current home listed for sale and looked at it with an idea of renting it. But when we saw the extent of the 12-acre site with old growth forest, it was love at first sight and we bought the house the next day without even looking inside the house. Of course the house was a tear down, and we had planned to move it to another part of the property and build new, but instead, we decided to make it at least livable until we could build a new house. All mechanical systems in the house were completely replaced, and we moved in four days after selling our old home; and ever since then we just modified the original 1905 farmhouse until it morphed into what it is today.
How did the pieces within the home (that you’re consigning with us) complement your home?
We had extensive collections of many different antique pieces of various styles, from Asian to European to early American, and had formed an eclectic collection that had the common denominator of all being selected with my eye and taste. We made the house as non-intrusive as possible in order for it to display all our treasures we had gathered over the past 30 years.
Looking at the Washington Spaces feature of your home, it’s striking how pieces from different eras and stylistic movements come together in a harmonious way. How did you achieve this look?
Again, the common denominator was my eye and fascination with all areas and periods, and I am essentially a collector of collections. Over the years, I had repeatedly formed various collections of things like magnifying glasses, shagreen boxes, Russian silver articulated insects and crustaceans, tartan ware, antique silver and tortoise page turners, English tole ware, Japanese ivory, and lately I have amassed a huge collection of Japanese lacquer—specifically Jubako, which are stacked boxes forming an overall design and used as picnic boxes on outings, especially during the cherry blossom season. Also almost anything Japanese, particularly from the Edo (pre-1845) period. Then there is a collection of Japanese priests’ robes and tortoise boxes. Also an extensive collection of Ancient Roman and Greek glass. Somehow it all works together against the relatively plain background of the house interiors. I collect what I love at the moment.
Does your collection of antiques concentrate on a specific era? And if so, why did you focus your collection on this era?
My collection is composed of many, many different eras and cultures, and I collect according to what my current fascination is of the moment, and somehow it all works together.
What are your favorite places to travel to and why?
Our first trip abroad back in the ’60s was Rome, as both Eleanor and I were fascinated with its “otherness” and from a childhood interest in Roman culture and Eleanor’s love of archeology. Since then, I have been back several times, and just last year rented a floor of a 16th-century Renaissance palazzo for two weeks of exploration and adventures in Italian cuisine. I also loved my trips to China, Bali, Indonesia, Russia, Latvia, Spain, Mexico, and of course always Paris. For years, we made annual pilgrimages to England for trade shows and weeks of driving through the countryside and touring the great homes
What are your favorite markets or places to find antiques?
Years ago, we would haunt the local antique shops and also shops in any city we happened to visit, and built up a collection of Japanese Imari porcelain that way. But since the dawn of the Internet, the web has become my go-to place for whatever I happen to be collecting at the moment. Also an international auction service from houses all over the world listed on a site named “Invaluable”. Lately a lot of fabulous items have come from there, and recently I was able to buy at an auction in Zurich. Currently I am bidding on other items in Australia, Latvia, the UK, and Russia, and it has become the most fabulous way of finding wonderful things for me these days. All the old antique shops seem to now be a thing of the past.
What are your favorite pieces in your consigned collection and why?
My favorite pieces are mostly Japanese—specifically Jubako. The Japanese seem to have the most wonderfully developed sense of design, and the possibilities are endless. At this point, I have too many pieces to display and so I am selling the excess pieces now in storage.
What piece from your collection has the most interesting backstory?
Each piece has its own story and background and no two are alike. Probably the most unusual is a Royal Bayreuth platter that came up at auction three times, and I was repeatedly outbid only to have it come back on the market again three years later. Once again I was outbid, but incredibly it happened a third time!! And at last the piece was mine after almost five years of searching on the Internet. Another piece was a Momoyama Japanese lacquered bowl full of seashells that I bought at an estate sale for 25 cents!
How would you describe your style in six words or less?
Basic good design and a rich patina.
What is your favorite quote or piece of advice about design or decorating?
Gather together what you love and the rest will follow.
How does your love of antiques inform the exceptional pieces produced by the Niermann Weeks Company?
From antiques, I learned the basics of good design shapes and function that have weathered the test of time. A beautiful finish is only as good as the basic shape of the piece. The rest is a micro-vision of how the color and patina were built up over the years. I find that when I come upon a fabulous finish, I imagine myself as one-millimeter-tall and standing on the surface of the object, examining the basis of the finish from the most microscopic base up through the layers to the final surface. Our painted bronze finish for example was created by closely observing the layers of what I was looking at on an ancient piece. I wrote out what I imagined would be almost a recipe for recreating the finish from the ground up, and would write out a detailed step-by-step of the process as I imagined it. Correcting the details along the way, I found that this system produced wonderful results. The seemingly simple greenish-bronze finish, for example, has 13 steps involved to create the effect of time and weather.
What advice do you have for a new generation of collectors just beginning to start investing in antiques?
If I was attracted to a particular object, I usually purchased it immediately totally on impulse. I have found buying something only because of its investment value doesn’t work for me, and I learned to only buy what I wanted to live with and let the rest follow. Of course once I purchased the item, the rest is research and study to learn as much about the object as you can. This was the basis of my collection of Japanese lacquer, and I purchased out-of-print books on the subject and any information I could find on the Internet. I find the more you know about a subject, the richer your enjoyment becomes. I have purchased things as investments, but they just don’t have the fascination and thrill of simply collecting what you love.