In the commercial world of decorative and fine arts, the present economic environment has been tough on many areas of the industry, but especially hard on furniture. Is it price, design, or is it not minimalist enough? As one esteemed dealer at the Winter Antiques show lamented to me, was this “English furniture’s Waterloo”? In my mind, perhaps classic French and Italian or even Art Nouveau has seen much better days of demand and appreciation, but not as much as an iphone.
Antique furniture is the most underappreciated, least know areas of the art world. Most design schools give very short and cursory coverage of these basic function forms. The evolution of furniture design is embedded in the social and economic events of its time. But the most important aspect of good design is its ability to evolve and take different shapes and functions. When it comes to comfort the modern reclining chair has no equal in the antiques world; perhaps a Victorian upholstered Turkish chair? But that’s the point, why not a beautifully tufted upholstered Victorian Turkish chair with soft springs and deep green velvet?
Hoping against hope is a challenging position to take. Antique furniture is diverse, decorative, art, functional, and not (usually) free. I trade this commodity for a living and I am in the position of experiencing a down market. It could also be the best buying and holding opportunity. Most successful wealthy developers prefer to build and own for the long haul. Antiques dealers however, don’t have the luxury of a rent check each month to cover their investment overhead.
Ultimately, the survival of antique furniture comes down to a form that can function within an interior design scheme. That quality automatically qualifies them for use, however what makes them special is the curiosity of the buyer. That appreciation factor is quite different than buying modern reproduction furniture at a design center. It’s a shame the industry, both dealers and auctioneers can’t be united on this point. Along with the “Antiques are Green” concept, the public should be made more aware and educated as to antique furniture’s possibilities and value.
As a dyed-in-the-wool antiques aficionado, I want antique furniture to thrive and be lived with and used. It is a special experience of look, touch, and time; it’s a fun, pleasurable pursuit. Money is the means to the end, but not all the time and sometimes when you least expect it. The money issue should only be an excuse for something you can enjoy. Whether it’s a car, watch, or a home, it’s not in stock or bond certificate form. These items only pay the dividends of an emotional attachment to a certain time and place.