Antique furniture is a valuable tool in the home decorator’s arsenal. The history that goes along with a dresser or a chair made decades ago can set the tone for an entire room. And in Costa Rica, adding history to a house doesn’t have to mean spending your inheritance, or shipping an heirloom from the Old World.
Though the antique market is small here, shoppers can find both European and native furniture that is more than 100 years old. The small size of the market can be a boon rather than a bummer, as it often means that antiques can be bought at a fraction of what they cost abroad.
Antiques traditionally have not been appreciated in Costa Rica, and there are only about five antique shops in the country, said Rudy Chávez, owner of Antigüedades Imperio (228-6664), near the McDonald’s in the western San José suburb of Escazú.
“In Costa Rica people don’t have the culture of antiques,” he said. “They see the articles as old things, but they don’t see their history.”
The blasé Costa Rican attitude about antiques makes them a better buy for discerning collectors here, Chávez said.
“The value here can be as little as one fourth of the value of a piece in the United States or Europe,” he said.
For example, Chávez is selling a mahogany and marble cabinet with glass plates in the doors, made in England near the end of the 1800s, for about $1,600.He has seen similar pieces on sale for about $5,000 in other countries, he said.
Because of the small size of the market, Chávez said he does not specialize in any particular kind of antique. Antigüedades Imperio sells everything from cabinets to jewelry. Chávez imports some furniture from Europe and the United States, but most of his wares were made between 1900 and 1950, he said.
Most of the locally available furniture is from that era because when the nation was making a lot of money from coffee exports in the late 1800s, many upper-class families sent their children to study in Europe, and those children brought back furniture, Chávez said. Some antiques also came over with people who fled to Costa Rica from Europe before World War II.
Home decorators looking for Old World objects can also find them at European Furniture(www.eficostarica.com, 588-0711) in Escazú’s Plaza Escazú San Rafael, which sells antique furniture from France and Belgium. Most of the pieces, which include chairs, tables, beds and cabinets, are mostly sculptured hardwoods of oak or walnut. Most of the furniture the store sells is about 130 years old.
The store’s owner, Belgian native Stéphane Schröder, said he can find older pieces for real aficionados, but most of his inventory tops out at 130 years old because pieces older than that can be prohibitively expensive. To keep his prices down, Schröder said he has contacts in Belgium who buy antiques direct from owners in Europe and search out the documents to obtain certificates of authenticity.
Shoppers can also find a variety of antiques at Acabados Stylos del Valle (225-8911) in the eastern suburb of Los Yoses; Antigüedad El Pilar (280-1947) in the northeastern suburb of Guadalupe; Antigüedades Chavo (258-3966), near San José’s Central Park; and Antigüedades El Museo (223-9552) in Barrio Amón, in northern San José.