From Germany to Belgium to the picturesque college town of Cambridge, Massachusetts, one thing has remained a constant for the globetrotting Silke Berlinghof: a love of history-rich European furniture that was fostered in her in childhood by her own antiquarian father. Here, the fourth-generation dealer and The Highboy storefront owner shares her family history, her favorite finds, and what collectors are looking for all over world.
When did your fascination with antiques begin?
It started when I was born! My grandmother had a shop in Heidelberg, Germany, which she had taken over from her father, and my own father and uncle had gotten involved from a young age, too. Some of the first things I remember drawing when I was a kid were wonderful Baroque case pieces. I was always looking at the form and decoration of furniture and doing my best to translate them in my drawings.
What, in particular, draws you to the European antiques you specialize in?
I grew up with the furniture, of course, but it’s more than that. I love their rich woods and woodwork—the marquetry and the ornate detailing. I have a master in art history from the University of Heidelberg, and I also spent one year in Italy studying art history, and getting close to those fabulous Renaissance paintings at the museums and universities made me a lifelong advocate.
How does your art history background help you in the day-to-day of your business?
It gives me a different way to process information about pieces. I sometimes compare it to the way a physician diagnoses a medical condition: He or she has learned to read the signs that the layman cannot easily detect. It is very much like detective work: finding meaning in the smallest details, pieces of evidence that otherwise would fall through the cracks. In my case, I learned to think like an art historian, and this different way of looking at things and describing them are vital to the success of my business.
Your own collection includes…
A lot of fine furniture and art, particularly Biedermeier case goods and chairs from the 19th century as well as some Baroque furniture pieces. I love pairing them with more contemporary designs. It gives my interiors a very classic, individual touch and brings a lot of warmth to the spaces these things inhabit.
Is there an incredible piece in your collection that you will never part with?
Absolutely! When we were living in Brussels, my husband and I bought this portrait of a girl from a contemporary Flemish artist named Marike De Ridder. My daughter was born not long after that, so I’ve always associated that painting with her. It’s both beautiful and has sentimental value for me. I would never sell it.
And what about your favorite piece in your inventory right now?
I have a very nice Biedermeier secretary that I like very much and a set of Russian armchairs from the 19th century that will be just incredible in the right home. I also have an amazing portrait that I’ve been working to identify with museum curators and art historians over the past few months. I love that kind of Sherlock Holmes aspect of being a dealer, so that’s probably my favorite at the moment.
What do you find to be the biggest difference between European and U.S. collectors?
Speaking of antique furniture, Europeans are generally much more into the historical side of the antiques they are buying; they want to have an original piece with all of its original parts intact. American collectors, for the most part, pay more attention to the design of the piece, how it will fit into their interior, and how it will work into their daily lives.
Photography via Bob O’Connor.
Shop Berlinghof’s fabulous European finds now on The HighBoy:
1. English Folk Art Oil on Canvas | 2. Continental Cut Glass Five Light Candelabrum
3. Pair of Louis-Philippe Style Armchairs
4. 19th Century German Biedermeier Period Walnut Armoire
5. Swedish Antique Classicist Giltwood Hall Mirror | 6. French Restoration Period Mahogany Armchair