Ask the Experts

By staff May 1, 2002

Q. I've inherited some elegant old sterling silver serving pieces. What would be a good way to display them and how about care?

A. Antiques and silver expert Bruce Crissy, owner of Crissy Galleries, answers: You want to avoid tarnish, which is caused by humidity. If you store and display your silver in a cabinet with glass doors, you will lengthen the time between polishing. For fancy silver with a lot of detail we use a polish called Neva-Dul at the gallery. Basically, it's a wad of uncombed cotton saturated with the product. You polish, let dry and buff with a soft cloth. The product leaves no residue, but the uncombed cotton can have little seeds in it, fine for getting into crevices of highly detailed designs but not right for smooth silver, which could be scratched by the seeds. For smooth sterling silver, I like Mish's polish. It was developed in a Massachusetts jewelry store about 100 years ago and contains a little jeweler's rouge. Mish's imparts a lovely luster to the silver and inhibits tarnish. You polish less often. Never use any kind of buffing wheel on your silver. It can take out the detail and weaken the metal. Polish by hand and work gently.

Using your fine silver frequently is part of the joy of owning such lovely things. But keep sulfur-as in deviled eggs-away from sterling. It will blacken it. And think about researching your silver. There are many reliable and useful books on the subject. They make fascinating reading because you learn so much world history in the process. Soon you'll be an expert on your family heirloom pieces.

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Q. Is it OK to mix Asian furniture from different countries and time periods in a room?

A. Interior designer William Tidmore of Tidmore-Henry & Associates answers: Yes, it's fine to mix Asian furniture and accessories from different Far Eastern countries and periods. In fact, you should, because it will give your room a collected look. But I wouldn't do an all-Oriental room. Mix Eastern pieces with European or American things and make sure the woods complement each other. For example, if you're using French dining room chairs and a simple Korean altar as a sideboard, make sure the woods are the same tones- it will be a unifying factor.

If you have one important complicated Chinese piece such as an imposing, highly carved coffee table in front of an English sofa, then look for more simple Oriental objects to harmonize, things with clean lines and no carving, such as a Korean apothecary chest or a framed piece of calligraphy. Definitely bring in a rug from Tibet or Nepal and consider a multi-panel screen that you can use free standing or wall hung. Sometimes, it's a good idea to separate the panels and leave a little wall space in between. This could be the answer for a difficult hallway. You can frame fragments of exquisite heirloom needlepoint in Lucite or have the scraps sewn onto silk pillows. Display a kimono or a collection of antique tabletop ivory artifacts.

A beautiful vase or a piece of wood or ceramic sculpture can be converted into a lamp. But a lamp by its nature calls attention to itself, so choose your piece of Oriental lamp art carefully. Use only the best. You know, in Colonial Williamsburg it was always said that a gracious home was never complete without something Chinese in each room. The Asian touch meant that the homeowner saw beyond his own shores and was actively interested in other cultures and other times. That's still a pretty good guideline for decorating today.

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Q. I'd like to introduce some metallic elements into my living room to update the look and give it a bit of glamour. What are some quick and easy ways to get the gleam of metals?

A. Interior designer Heidi Rawson of Sultana+Rawson Interiors answers: Metallic finishes add texture and create interest in a space. You can introduce metals in accessories (pillows, vases, picture frames, candlesticks), furniture and architectural detail. Ralph Lauren makes a silver finish paint called Ballgown that we liked so much we used it in our space at the ASID Designer's Showhouse this year. We swirled the paint instead of using long strokes to give the wall a brushed stainless steel look. Try this on a kitchen backsplash for a nice surprise. Remember that metals are available in a variety of finishes and colors-everything from embossed to etched, gold and copper to bronze and pewter. You might choose a quilted pattern or something as shiny and reflective as a mirror.

Woven mesh metallic draperies (made of either steel or aluminum) will enhance lighting effects, add drama and can be used as room dividers. Most people don't consider metallic drapes, but they are well worth investigating.

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