One of our Superb Large Antique Partners Desks

Friday, 3 February 2017

Antique Furniture - what sells?

The cynical view of many antique dealers might be that not much is "hot" in the world of antique furniture at the moment.

Things have been quiet for a number of years and don't seem, at face value, to be getting much better for many dealers in antique ("brown") furniture.

The rows and rows of antique Victorian and Edwardian mahogany and walnut furniture in many provincial auction rooms in the UK tells its own story for many in the "trade"

However, a closer inspection of the market tells a slightly different story - not always one that the "trade" may want to acknowledge but nonetheless there is a story to tell and it is not all bad news.  It just requires an adjustment of perspective, a recognition of what (younger) buyers want and a reassessment of values. 

Putting aside the top end of the antique market frequented by Oligarchs, collectors with deep pockets and museums, all of whom seek out exceptional pieces by famous craftsmen (Chippendale et al) or pieces with exceptional provenance and celebrity owners, what we are really talking about is what is selling in the mid to lower reaches of the antique furniture trade.

So what is selling.  Here are three examples

Large Oak and Pine Farmhouse Tables.  The larger the better.  The trend toward large open plan "kitchen diners" directs the need for a large table to fit the space.  A small table just doesn't work.  Tables must be absolutely sound but have lots of character and patina and ready for hard use.  And don't forget the chairs - sets or 4, 6 or 8 are nice - but "odd" chairs also work well - especially if they have a bit of character.  There are some good UK Victorian tables around but rural France can also yield some gems.


Practical Furniture that can be Painted.  I can hear the shouts of dismay from traditionalists.  But the reality is that nobody wants "average" dark brown Victorian and Edwardian mahogany and walnut furniture - at any price.  The trick here is to buy items that have a real use in todays world.  Chests of drawers, dressing tables, sideboards, bookcases.  The key point is that they must be of a size that suits modern homes (no 3m high bookcases please) and they must be structurally sound.  Not a difficult point since much of this furniture was incredibly well made by modern standards

There are many sources that tell your how to paint such furniture (we'll cover it ourselves in a later blog) but it is the sort of project that you can certainly tackled without specialist knowledge or equipment.  One of the fashionable trends at the moment is to leave certain elements of the furniture unpainted - handles, legs or tops to give a good contrast of the "old" and "new" and to also leave some appreciation of the fantastic timbers used to make this furniture.

Note: We draw the line at painting "Regency" and "Georgian" furniture.  This is starting to get scarce and values are starting to rise.   Just like all the ordinary family cars from the 1950's and 1960's that were scrapped in the 1970's and 1980's have now become rare classics, and very valuable, so we guess will certain types of furniture - eventually.

Antique and Vintage Desks and Office Furniture.  Following on from the remarks above about "practical" furniture more and more people are working from home and want to have a nice working environment.  Antique office furniture from the Victorian or Edwardian periods is robust, stylish and comes in a range of sizes suitable for the small home office as well as the large corporate work space.  Leather tops add a touch of class but a polished wood work surface also works well for many people.   More recently Vintage or mid 20thC century desks and work tables have become extremely sought after - especially if they can be attributed to one of the more well know Continental designers.

Desk Chairs - there are plenty of Edwardian and Victorian desk chairs around - some are plain wood others are upholstered in leather or fabric.  They look great - see below - but for us, at least, they all have one thing in common - they are pretty uncomfortable!  So - if you are looking to do some serious work at your antique desk we would advise investing in the best modern adjustable desk chair that you can afford.

It is clear that the old rules regarding buying and selling antique furniture no longer apply i.e. anything old must be sought after and valuable.  Modern furniture is cheaper than ever and designed to fit modern homes and uses.  When looking at antique furniture it is therefore important to recognise this and work out what will work in the modern world and why. 
There is also no escaping the fact that much antique furniture is cheap, even ridiculously cheap, at the current time. 
There are two sides to this.  As a buyer there is much to chose from and some incredible bargains to be had.  From a sellers perspective the three examples above all have potential for good margins. 
As always we would recommend buying and selling based on condition (since restoration is expensive) and practicality - in this way you really can't go too far wrong.

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