A Life of Antique Furniture: Styylish and Silke Berlinghof

Although the Styylish catalogue features a wide variety of interior design objects, it all began with antique furniture. And there is good reason for that. Our founder Silke Berlinghof comes from a long line of antiques dealers and auctioneers in Germany. Her story is the story of Styylish.

The philosophy at the heart of Styylish, to find unique furniture and decor to incorporate into modern living spaces, is inspired by Silke’s own experiences dealing antiques in the 21st century. Her experience has brought her across borders and continents, into homes and onto television, and deep into the stories of her unique products.

A Legacy of Antiques

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Silke was born in Heidelberg, Germany, into a family of antiques dealers. Her father ran an auction house inherited from his own mother. As early as she can remember, she has been surrounded by antique furniture. “They’ve been in my life for as long as I can remember,” she says.

It was then and there that she fell in love with antiques and art. The auction house was a true family business. Her father was a self-taught antiques expert who started Silke on her path. Her mother, too, was an integral part of the company. Much of Silke’s childhood was shaped by her family’s commitment to the antiques market.

“Even now, when you visit my father’s house,” she notes, “you are surrounded by antique furniture. Every nook and cranny is filled with it. Those pieces are part of who we are. They are a part of our life.”

Berlinghof Kunstauktionshaus GmbH, her family’s company, became her own project in adulthood. For many years, before moving abroad, Silke co-owned the auction house, ran exhibitions and handled antiques transactions.

But before taking on the business, she wanted to learn more about art and antiques.

A Thirst for Knowledge

Silke completed her master’s degree in Art History, Archaeology, and Romance Languages at the University of Heidelberg, the oldest university in Germany. She spent time studying in Bologna, as well, falling in love with Italian Art and the Renaissance.

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The University of Bologna

“My heart is never far from Italy,” she notes. “I think I really fell in love with my practice while immersed in those golden cities.” She particularly loves Renaissance frescoes, architecture, and painting.

Her business interests, however, remained with antique furniture and porcelain. “Those are the kinds of products that meet you half-way,” she explains.

“They are not necessarily important enough to be in a museum – but they really could be. Private art dealing can be a beautiful thing, because it exhumes the objects and treasures that defined the popular culture of an era. Rather than forget them, we can center them in our own homes and keep them alive.”

Art Appraising – on TV

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A Promotional Cover for Echt antik!

Silke joined the cast of art appraisers of a new German TV show, similar to Antiques Roadshow, in 2007. Echt antik! (Really antique!) launched on the German public network SWR and established Silke as a recognized expert, particularly in ceramics, porcelain, and antique furniture.

“It was an utterly surreal time,” she remembers. “I had gotten this call, and suddenly, I spent my weekends traveling to different cities throughout Germany to meet people and their objects.”

She recalls her family visiting her on set for an episode taped close to home. “It was a more extreme version of my everyday: juggling the kids and work. I rarely found moments of real introspection in those days beyond telling myself ‘Wow, I’m on TV!’ It was a lot of fun.”

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Silke (center) and with one of her colleagues and a guest.

Surrounded by antique furniture both at home and on TV, she found a new appreciation for connecting people with objects. She encouraged individuals she met for Echt Antik! to breathe new life into their relationships with forgotten furnishings.

“Too often, people are sitting on treasures they think are old and outdated. I tell them, put that chair in the middle of the room! Make that table your dinner table! Let the history speak for itself. I promise it will make your space feel more alive, more refined!”

A New World

It was that mindset that inspired Silke to start her own business upon moving to the United States with her family. “I’ve always lived by my own code: antique furniture is part of how my family designs our living spaces. And I thought: what if I could expand that into an opportunity to share with people?”

The US presented Silke with a unique opportunity. “There is a huge hunger for history and authenticity, here. And we can offer people that. Real objects from the Old World, real artists from around the globe.”

Ever since expanding Styylish to incorporate contemporary artists and furniture and vintage furniture as well, Silke has found her own interior design philosophy expanding. “It’s not just about age, it’s about craftsmanship. Placing a unique, artisan object at the center of your design guarantees that your room will never feel boring. That applies to a mid century piece and a 18th century dresser.”

Antique furniture remains her passion, however. “There is just such beauty there. So much of it overlooked. I really, truly fall in love with some of the pieces I come across.”

Applying a Design Philosophy

Silke’s love for antique furniture is heightened in combination with modern living spaces. To explore the relationship between unique antiques and modern homes, Silke chose some of her favorite pieces available on Styylish. After introducing each piece, she gave suggestions for how to fit it into a home.

Painterly Wood: A Masterpiece of Cabinetmaking

“My favorite piece of antique furniture we have in the catalogue right now is the 18th century cabinet secretaire. It’s a true masterpiece. From the woodwork to the details – it would feel right at home in an exhibition of groundbreaking furniture.”

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Silke Berlinghof’s favorite – An 18th century cabinet secretaire

Of particular note to Silke is that the cabinet was created to be a unique piece. Oftentimes, cabinet makers would create a series of the same design to be distributed to consumers. Not in this case.

“It’s unique because it was made for one patron. And that’s fascinating from an art historical perspective because the images in the wood… they likely had personal significance to the patron, not just the artist.”

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Closeup on the Marquetry

She lingers particularly on the wood marquetry, the inlaid wood pictures in the veneer. “The cabinet maker painted without a paintbrush. He used the grain and coloration of different wood chips to assemble scenes and to simulate depth. It’s a mosaic. It’s a work of art.”

Thematically, the cabinet blends themes of time, religion, and nature. “It’s almost overwhelming. You could talk for hours about the significance of certain artistic decisions. It’s absolutely my favorite.”

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View of the Secretary fold marquetry

Silke suggests placing this cabinet in a location where it could be admired from all sides. “It will catch the eye from any angle – it just has that effect. I would put it in an otherwise understated room. A modern seating arrangement with straight, clear angles would be a wonderful contrast to the organic curves in the cabinet.”

Silke notes the practical purpose of the piece. “As long as you choose the right environment, the piece should be an organic part of your household, not an isolated museum object. Use it to store things, to write things. Make it feel its purpose. That’s why I do what I do.”

Read up on the Baroque Period on our blog.

From Italy, With Love – A Neoclassical Dresser

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A stunning Neoclassical dresser – available on Styylish

Once again, it is the details that draw Silke to this piece. “The musical instruments in the veneer, the playing cards – could they give us a hint about who ordered this dresser? Was he a composer? Or just someone who loved music?” She would ask you to posit your own interpretation.

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Closeup of the Musical Marquetry

It should come as no surprise that Silke loves this piece of antique furniture because of its Italian roots. As noted above, her time in Bologna had a significant impact on her aesthetic tastes and passions. “It’s influenced by Maggiolini, that much is clear.”

Giuseppe Maggiolini was the pre-eminent cabinetmaker in late 18th century Milan. He was particularly renowned for his painterly marquetry, particularly in a neoclassical context. The boxy, imposing geometry of Neoclassical furniture was a masterful canvas for his refined, almost ethereal wood paintings.

“Part of the beauty of this piece,” thinks Silke, “is that you can draw your own connection to detailed marquetry. It’s like picking a painting to hang on your wall. If it speaks to you, it belongs to you. It’s a piece of history. And unlike a painting, you can store socks in it!”

For a refresher on Neoclassical antique furniture and how it fits into our art historical context, refer back to our blog post on the history of antique desk styles. Or refresh your knowledge of wood veneer technology here.

Mirror, Mirror – A Swedish Find

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A Gustavian Giltwood Mirror – available on Styylish

“I purchased the Gustavian Giltwood Mirror in Stockholm,” recalls Silke. “I’ve always had a fascination with Swedish history, and how it connected to the rest of Europe, particularly France.”

Gustav III, who reigned in Sweden from 1771 to 1792, visited France and fell in love with Neoclassicism. This giltwood mirror embodies the stately principles of that period, just as the dresser above. “It’s a gorgeous movement. There’s so much theatricality and pride in it. It’s really beautiful.”

Silke suggests hanging this mirror in a larger entryway, or using it as a unique piece for your bedroom. “There’s something both welcoming and intimate about this piece. Don’t be intimidated by the gold. It’s a comforting shade on a mirror. It makes everything in it seem brighter.”

Biedermeier Delights

“The period of antique furniture that has had the biggest impact on my life, and my family’s business, is Biedermeier. I have a soft spot for it. It’s all over my own house.”

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Heidelberg, Silke Berlinghof’s hometown

What makes Biedermeier such a great fit for Styylish is how well it adapts to modern interiors. “It’s sleek, it has a beautiful focus on natural veneer, and, above all, it’s romantic.”

Silke grew up loving German Romanticism in all its forms. The great authors E.T.A. Hoffmann and Joseph von Eichendorff made her fall in love with the fairytale landscapes around her native Heidelberg.

“Heidelberg is the definition of a fairytale town,” says Silke. “The Old Town, the castle ruins, the cozy restaurants and historic pubs – everything feels anchored in the 18th and 19th century in a way that makes any buff of history and romance swoon.”

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A group of six stunning Biedermeier chairs from Vienna

Picking a favorite out of our romantic collection of antique furniture in the Biedermeier style is nigh on impossible for Silke. She finally settles on this set of six Biedermeier chairs. “They are so elegant and sophisticated, but not at all overblown and I think they are so wonderfully combinable with any interior.”

It’s in their romantic seatback swirls that the spirit of Heidelberg lives on. To read more about Biedermeier and Romanticism, check out this blog post from a few weeks ago.

Art Deco Magic

“Anyone who has been following Styylish for a little while knows how important Art Deco is to us. For me, it’s one of the most exciting periods in recent art history,” Silke notes. “Antique furniture does not have to be from the Age of Kings.”

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Art Deco Bar Cabinet – available on Styylish

This bar cabinet thrills with the verticality of Art Deco style, while being a completely unique piece of furniture. “I can’t take my eyes off of it. It’s such a classy, fun addition to a living or dining room. And so much more interesting than a simple bar cart!”

Silke had been in love with New York City long before moving to the US. “I visited when I was a young adult, and it was a dream come true. The skyscrapers, the aesthetic of it – that’s what Art Deco is about for me. Urban Dreams, Modernism. It’s such a beautiful period of change.”

For more on Art Deco History, Style, and Artists, read up on some of our blogs from earlier this year.

Putting it Together

Silke hopes that by walking you through some of her favorite pieces of antique furniture, you will be inspired to follow your own taste and imagination. “It’s such an exciting prospect. Looking for treasures that can surprise your guests and revitalize your home.”

Above all, it has always been about story for the owner of Styylish. “I want people to develop relationships to art, not just from a distance, but up close and personally. It has been the joy of my life, and my family’s mission for generations.”

There’s a twinkle in her eye as she adds: “Do yourself a favor and jump on these pieces while you can. Because I know once they’ve found new homes, they’ll become family heirlooms. Once you’ve gone the way of antique furniture, you will never look back.”

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