Inspired by antiques: Homeric style tea service by Elkington

Editorial Staff

As an interior decorator and style blogger, I’ve been asked to write a column that takes inspiration from antiques and makes connections to current trends—as we all know, styles in furniture and the decorative arts tend to repeat themselves! Today, the elements of design found in the most exquisite antiques take form in new and often unexpected ways—from designer pieces to decorating bargains.

This week a very unusual tea service caught my eye, which will be auctioned at Christie’s New York tomorrow (May 22)—a three-piece set dating to 1866 made by the well-known English firm of Frederick Elkington in the Homeric style. Each piece (including the accompanying teaspoon and sugar tongs) is entirely decorated with Hellenic motifs, including Greek key and anthemion decoration, portrait medallions, and Greek characters.  This tea service perfectly captures the sensibility of late-19th century pastiche-marrying traditional Chinese ceramic forms with Classical motifs-and layering the decorative elements into a veritable “crazy quilt” of antiquity.  The design plays with the past rather than directly imitating it, and lately I’ve seen more than a few pieces that not only share the same design vocabulary, but also share the same sense of whimsy.  Let’s take a look:

Beeswax Amphora by Tomáš Gabzdil Libertiny  (2006), price upon request, at Moss. Crafted from beeswax and reinforced with fiberglass, this nearly 7-ft high vase elevates the humble Greek vessel into a heroic sculpture. The ancient amphora it replicates would have been used for storing honey, which has cleverly been acknowledged by the designer through his choice of materials.

Deli coffee cup, $14, at Urban Outfitters
The ubiquitous paper cup from every Greek deli in New York City made ceramic and dishwasher safe!  The lettering, Greek key, and designs of ancient vases on each side all have the same playful quality as the Elkington tea set.

“Urns” silkscreen poster from Wayne Pate, $35.  I love the way Pate has made each of the classical vase silhouettes uneven and charmingly irregular—very primitive chic!

Clarence House “Corynthian Vases” vintage chintz fabri
c, $45/yard at Design Diva Fabrics.  Glazed chintz has made a big comeback in the past year, but mostly of the floral variety, while these narrative vases are a more masculine and humorous design. As with our tea set, layering and playfulness are paramount.

Greek key round rug from Jonathan Adler, $720.
Available in a range of colors and in any size, this hand loomed wool rug combines my favorite motif with another passion, monogramming-though here the “G” most certainly stands for Greek!

Artifacts Tray by Thomas Paul, $18, at Velocity Art and Design. Menelaus and Agamemnon or Castor and Pollux?  Who cares! Here is a design that captures the ideal beauty of the Greek profile portrait. This informal tray is made of sturdy melamine-a perfect hostess gift.

Greek Key Table/Bench by Paul Marra, price upon request (stock and custom), available at
  Referencing Jean-Michel Frank, here Marra adds a bold twist with a geometric base. The subtle, cerused oak finish plays down “Hollywood Regency” connotations, and is evocative of the white marble of classical sculpture.

While Studio 65’s  “Capitello” chair—a postmodern take on the Greek column—is already in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, only time will tell which of these items will become a future collectible.  What do you predict?