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Antiques, family heirlooms lend vintage charm to dining rooms

Interior decorating and fashion go hand in hand. So it is scarcely surprising that elegant fashions of today - jewelry of extravagant design, beaded gowns, sequined pumps - have accompanied the current trend toward interiors rich with porcelain, bronze sculptures, lavishly patterned wallpapers, and other artistic reflections of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Top-echelon designers, decorators, and collectors are leading the way. They can be observed these days in national home decoration magazines surrounded by their collections of vintage objects they have fancied and accumulated through the years. Their paintings of English dogs, prints of ships, groupings of Staffordshire, and clusters of inkwells are, at times, set against a background of flamboyant full-blown rose-decorated wallpaper.

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If you collect antiques or possess family heirlooms, you can similarly put them to intriguing and gracious use in your home.

Fireside Staffordshire dogs, astral lamps, sparklingly prismed girandoles for a mantel, groups of silver-framed photos, and old leather-bound books do much to evoke the image of an English townhouse.

On the other hand, judiciously used Grecian-styled mirrors or vases, bronze columnar candlesticks, gilded mantel clocks, or bronze statuettes can achieve the elan of classical restraint in a room.

But perhaps no room in a home allows greater expression of gracious living than the dining room. Here you have the opportunity to recall the Victorian era by using various silver pieces long ago popular, such as ornate Victorian footed cake baskets.

These baskets were made in quantity in America during the last half of the 19 th century - many are silverplated - and have languished for years in cupboards and attics. They have been slow-sellers in recent years at antique shows. Now, however, they are being given a closer look in the antiques world. Decorative, often elaborately designed, and frequently equipped with swing handles for easy passing, they are still available at antiques shows at moderate prices (sometimes selling for as little as $35).

These footed cake baskets charmingly present small cakes at dessert-time. They may also be used to serve fruit or to offer small sandwiches or other finger food at the tea table.

Table linens with lace or embroidery have also become highly desirable items. Linens popular during the 1920s and 1930s are even being sold at Christie's East in New York City.

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Prices of linens available at antiques shows and shops have escalated as the demand increases and the supply diminishes. But good bargains are still obtainable at estate sales for the astute buyer.

If you are fortunate enough to have had an ancestor who long ago embroidered, hemstitched, or skillfully embellished linen tablecloths with lace, Italian cutwork, or finely crocheted inserts, you can once again put them to pretty usage.

A dinner table with an embroidered linen tablecloth can be charmingly enhanced with a turn-of-the-century cut-glass bowl filled with fruit or flowers and flanked with crystal candlesticks.

Frequently, needlewomen of years past also made matching napkins for tablecloths. Today these napkins impart special elegance to a dinner table, either folded or placed in antique silver napkin rings.

If you do not own an heirloom tablecloth but do have embroidered or lace-trimmed napkins, you will find they add charm when used with a plain linen tablecloth of soft coloring or with delicately toned place mats.

The center of a table may also be highlighted with a porcelain figurine placed next to a grouping of three or four porcelain, silver, glass, or brass candlesticks. But perhaps no centerpiece has more splendor than a silver-mounted mirror plateau supporting a pressed or cut-glass compote with flowers. A plateau may also be used for a tier of footed cake plates - a larger one upholding a smaller one. Fill the small one with fruit and encircle its base with greenery placed on the larger plate.

Richly embellished Victorian silver service pieces, which have been hidden away for years, once again look opulently right when gracing a table with choice old linens. Butter picks become conversation pieces, and reticulated berry or long-handled olive spoons provide an extra touch at a table.

Masterpiece Theatre's English presentations did much to revive interest in the styles of the past that contribute to a more gracious mode of living. It's a source of satisfaction to create your own aura of elegance at home with antiques you have collected and family treasures too long left unused.

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