HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Remember that old advertising slogan, "Is it real or is it Memorex?" Cabinetmakers' expert craftsmanship had even veterans wondering whether they were looking at classics or clones at last fall's International Home Furnishings Market here.
"Reproductions or interpretations of older pieces have become so good that you can no longer tell at a glance and sometimes even at close inspection if it's a real antique or not," admitted Stacy Weiss, owner of Weisshouse in Pittsburgh and a veteran in the furniture business.
The coveted new old is all about aged, well-worn finishes that mimic high-quality antiques but at half the price. Look for the heirlooms of the future in furniture stores this spring.
During the fall market, Ralph Lauren introduced a line of antique-looking furniture made by Van Thiel & Co., known for its authentic-looking reproductions. The limited introduction of 40 pieces had experts wondering if they were looking at the originals. Named Trade Mark RHL, the collection featured a Louis XV armoire with four raised paneled walnut doors on a pine body. The rococo-inspired piece sported a genuine split in one of the doors, and the two-tone paint looked as if it had been around for a century or two. Even the construction was authentic mortise and tenon.
"This particular line is exceptionally well done," said Rudy van Thiel, Sr., whose family started in the antique business and branched out into reproductions.
"Van Thiel and Hickory Chair do a great job with their distressing techniques," said Jay Miller, owner of the Antiquarian Shop in Sewickley, Pa. He said many of his customers decorate with a mix of high-quality furniture and period antiques.
That is exactly Ralph Lauren's target audience, said Steve Earle, senior vice president for home design. "The idea is to buy one-of-a-kinds and mix and match to create a look."
Tastemaker Lauren isn't the only company becoming more authentic with every nail head. Smaller manufacturers, including Port Eliot and Bennett Galleries, have been producing exceptionally good antique reproductions and interpretations for years.
Using old European pine and a marble top with Directore hardware, Port Eliot's three-drawer chest works as well with the company's artisan mahogany-finished Biedermeier dining table or your grandfather's grandfather clock.
Bennett Galleries prides itself on flawless craftsmanship.
"Our pieces are made by hand by Italian families of cabinet makers who have passed down the age-old techniques for finishing and craftsmanship from generation to generation," said company owner Robert Shipley.
From hand-carved embellishments to hardware made exclusively for each piece and non-uniform distressing, it all adds up to heirloom-quality furniture.
"No two pieces ever turn out exactly the same, which gives them the authenticity of a genuine antique," he said.
"It is great to use lines including Bausman, Port Eliot, Bennett Galleries, and Wright Table when you are blending old and new because these companies are able to reproduce furniture to look like it was made 200 years ago," said Mr. Miller.
Another of his favorites is Woodland Furniture. "The painted finishes are incredible. They can put layers of different paints and stains to make the piece appear to have been repainted several times over its lifetime."
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Patricia Sheridan is a writer for the Post-Gazette. Contact her at: email@example.com.