Pretty Primitives: Embracing Imperfections

What Are Primitives?

Simply put, primitives are antiques that boast a time-worn appearance but are still intact as a whole. Peeling or chipped paint, rust, faded coloring and dings in woodwork are all desirable qualities for those who love primitives. Primitive collectibles might look their age but they don’t act it. While a piece might appear worn out and abused, these items are still going strong and have a lot of usable life left. A nod to how well made furniture and other items were in the past, primitive pieces have a story to tell. Mostly focused on the everyday life of our predecessors, primitive antiques are about function rather than form. Utilitarian items including simple furniture, linens, kitchenware, rugs and even toys and games are among the primitives sought after by collectors and decorators alike.
Most pieces considered primitive date as far back as colonial times and end around the era of the Great Depression. They can be spotted not only for the obvious patina of age but also the simple lines and often appear to be handmade, without the help of machinery to produce a perfect product. Primitives are sturdy, useful and full of character.

Enjoy With Caution

Many painted pieces from days gone by are often chipped, cracked or peeling which obviously won’t affect function, but you need to be cautious when bringing these home. Painted pieces from the early 20th century can shed lead-based paint, which can be harmful to children and pets. Pieces from before this period don’t carry the same risk, as lead-based paint was not used then. The harm comes in accidental ingestion, so be mindful of crawling babies and children that are still exploring the world through their mouth. Regular wiping with a damp cloth can keep the floor beneath your piece clean and clear. Some people choose to varnish over peeling paint, keeping the overall look intact but halting any further aging. Just being aware of the possibility of lead-based paint is often enough to keep those in your house safe from its potential risk.

Primitive or artificially aged?

As primitive decorating has become popular so has the label. As you’re looking for pieces to add to your home, be careful of sellers who try to pass off items in poor condition as simply “primitive.” There are dealers who take items in the worst possible condition, without any foreseeable life span, and stick a hefty price tag on them. Primitive collectibles should still be useful. Tables should not be overly wobbly and dressers should have drawers that are intact and open and shut smoothly. There should be no pressed wood or fiber board on any piece labeled primitive. Modern furniture that has been artificially aged should be labeled “ shabby chic” or “aged.” Don’t be fooled by something that looks old but obviously isn’t.Primitive collectibles can add warmth and charm to even the most modern home. From unique accessories like old windows, rusty metal ware and crockery to focal pieces like aged desks, tables and chairs, primitives are trendy, yet timeless and a great way to bring a piece of the past with you into the future.