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Thursday, October 6, 2011

On Antiques and Vintage Furnishings and Accessories

Most people I have met love to collect, or at the very least, appreciate fine old furnishings and accessories. What we often refer to as antiques has been evolving in the past twenty years.  In the past, if some item was designated as an antique, it meant that it was over 100 years old.  In the furnishings and accessories market, the word antique is often applied to items that were made prior to World War II.  Items made after World War II through the 1980s are referred to as Vintage. 
In our 21st century world, it is interesting to note how our antique and vintage market place has changed. Whereas in past decades, 18th century and early 19th century furniture was the mainstay of the American Antique furniture market, in recent years there has been a growing demand for furniture manufactured since the 1920s. Factory-made furniture from the 1920s and 1930s, often featuring Colonial Revival style, has seen a growing appreciation among collectors. It is considered to be well-made (by today’s manufacturing standards) and features solid wood and fine veneers rather than the cheap compressed wood materials (MDF) often used since the l960s and into today (MDF has a longevity rating of around 50 years - guess it won't make it to be an "antique").  When was the last time you heard of somebody buying something from IKEA and have it last 20 years?  We are seeing a phenomenal increase in demand these recent years for furniture in the Modernistic and Mid-century styles, ranging from 1920’s Art Deco through quality designer (and some knock-offs) from the Mid-Century 1950s and 60s through the retro-look of the l970s and 80s.
These latest trends have offered even those on a limited budget the opportunity to purchase fine furniture at most reasonable prices. Buying antique and collectible furniture is no longer the domain of the rich and museums.  Today, more and more furniture is showing up on Internet sites and sometimes good buys can be made. However, it is important to deal with honest, well-informed sellers who have a good knowledge of what you want to purchase. Personally, I still prefer to purchase furniture at antiques shows, shops and auctions where I have the opportunity to carefully examine the piece in person to make sure it is “as represented,” with no hidden surprises such as major repairs or replacements.
A persistent recommendation amongst those who know about the value and construction methods , it makes the most sense to purchase the best pieces you can find, whatever the style or era of production. Condition is still very important if you want your piece to continue to appreciate in value in the coming years. For 18th century and early 19th century pieces the original finish and hardware are especially important as it is with good furniture of the early 20th century Arts & Crafts and Deco eras. These features are not quite as important for most manufactured furniture of the Victorian era and furniture from the 1920s and later. However, it is good to be aware that a good finish and original hardware will mean a stronger market when pieces are resold.  Whatever period of furniture your purchase from, you are better off with examples that have not had major repair or replacements. On really early furniture, repairs and replacements will definitely have an impact on the sale value, but they will also be a factor on newer designs from the 20th century.
As with all types of antiques and collectibles, there is often a regional preference for certain furniture types. Although the American market is much more homogenous than it was in past decades, there still tends to be a preference for 18th century and early 19th century furniture along the Eastern Seaboard, whereas Victorian designs tend to have a larger market in the Midwest and South. In the West, country furniture and Western-styled designs definitely have the edge except in major cities along the West Coast. Even more localized markets can be found. For example, around Palm Springs, CA, Mid-century Modern furniture and accessories are in greatest demand while less than 100 miles away in the Los Angeles-San Diego corridor, a wider range of furniture is marketable and desirable.  Whatever your favorite style furniture, there are still fine examples to be found. Just study the history of your favorites and the important points of their construction before you invest heavily. A wise shopper will be a happy shopper and have a collection certain to continue to appreciate as time marches along into our 21st century.


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