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Tips for Antiquing from Interior Designer Stephen Sills

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Anna Wintour. Vera Wang. Tina Turner. The client list of interior designer Stephen Sills reads like a who’s who of the style world. Since the 1980’s, Sills—one of Elle Décor’s Top 25 Designers—has decorated everything from a penthouse on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue to a modern mountain retreat in Aspen. (Back in the day, he also worked on hotels, including London’s Connaught Hotel and the St. Regis in New York.) As for his own Bedford, New York country house? Karl Lagerfeld has called it the “chicest house in America.” His latest book, Stephen Sills: Decoration (Rizzoli), which celebrates 16 design projects, hits shelves this month. Here, Sills shares some inspiration, advice on navigating antiques markets, and more.

Q: What destination most inspires you?
A: Paris, of course. I’ve been going there for more than 30 years. I stay on the Right Bank, at the Hotel Saint Vincent. I love it because it’s old typical French, with big floorboards and high ceilings. It has great, clean modern bathrooms­—that’s the best. And I love the neighborhood because it’s where all the small-dealer antique shops are.

Q: What are your favorite antique markets in Paris?
A: Marchés Paul Bert, Serpette, and Vernaison are the three markets I target first. There’s always something new. It’s funny how fashions start in the flea markets and trickle through to the bigger dealers and out into the world. I remember they were showing 60’s Italian and French furniture 20 years ago.

Q: What about in the U.S.?
A: Texans have been buying antiques for years, and they have wonderful antiques malls in Dallas and Houston. The French-country style is popular there. Hudson, New York, and along the Dixie Highway, in West Palm Beach, are both great sources. And always keep an eye out for estate sales advertised in the local paper.

Q: Tell us about your recent trip to Zurich.
A: I love going to the Kunst Haus Wien musem; I think it’s one of the most wonderful museums in Europe. It’s got great American pop artists down to German art. I get a lot of inspiration there. And I love staying in the Dolder Grand. It’s just so beautiful. And it’s always fun spotting American celebrities—last time I saw Oprah Winfrey.

Q: Do you have any tips on navigating antiques markets?
A: First, don’t rush in and rush out. In Europe, that can be insulting. It’s important to speak to the owner, even if you’re just looking. These shopkeepers are sensitive. If you are interested in something specific and you don’t see it, it’s ok to ask them where you might find it. They all want to help each other out. And get as much information as you can from the dealer. Whether it’s 20 years old or 2 years old, they should be able to give you information. Finally, it’s not rude to negotiate—they expect it. The best thing to ask if you live out of the country is, “What’s your best export price?”

Q: What is your most memorable souvenir?
A: I have a whole houseful of antiques, but I got one of the most personal mementos in Sicily two years ago. I flew to Palermo and drove with a friend to Toarmina; the topography and land changed so drastically within five minutes—it was one of the most beautiful experiences. In Toarmina, I saw a beautiful Italian white glass-blown cup, and I wanted it to remember the moment I was there. I keep it on my bathroom sink and use it as a water glass.

Brooke Porter
Brooke Porter is an associate editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @brookeporter1.

Photo Credit: © Stephen Sills: Decoration, Rizzoli New York, 2013

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