What about Antique Furniture?

The question I hear the most is “What about Antique Furniture? Will it ever be valuable again?”

Here is the thing, the Baby Boomers are downsizing and the biggest potential buyers of their stuff, Gen Xers, are not buying everything that the Boomers have to sell. A lot of it has to do with taste (more on that in a minute) but most of it has to do with the way we live. Probably 95% of newly constructed houses do not have a functional living room or dining room. They are probably there, but the activities that would have traditionally taken place in those rooms have been moved to the Great Room...a multipurpose room that combines kitchen, daily dining and entertaining. The focus of these rooms are electronics, not breakfronts or buffet tables. The way we convey status to visitors has moved from furniture and fine art to electronics.

On taste, it hasn’t gone away, but it has moved. The growth of the “vintage look” or the “neutered Swedish Style” is probably attributable to Restoration Hardware, Houzz and other retailers that offer cheap and replaceable looks that fit in well with the electronics. The owner’s emphasis is not on building a collection of pieces, but rather acquiring tolerable and comfortable pieces that can be changed every so often to create a new look. There may be accent pieces that are antique, but as a rule, one hardly finds whole collections of George III furniture being put together by younger people. The necessity of technology and its prominent insertion into our homes makes it very difficult to work around. Try figuring a way to put a secretary bookcase, camelback sofa, and pier table into a room designed for lounging and watching TV. Taste has just evolved in relation to innovation around us. This is not new, the 18th century in England saw four distinct furniture styles we today consider “fine” (Queen Anne (Mannerist), Early Georgian (Baroque), Mid Georgian (Rococo) and Late Georgian (Neoclassical)), each the outcome of intellectual forces and influences of the time. Tastes invariably change, what people find frustrating is that the tastes are changing away from what people who love antiques consider their comfort zone.

As a result, the middle and lower end of the antique market has taken a huge hit. Prices are driven low by a glut of pieces on the market. All of the “OK” Georgian furniture that was imported in the 1980s and ’90s is slowly finding its way back on the market. In addition, Mid-Century Modern designs, purchased by another portion of the Boomers, are making their way to the market at the same time. Mid-Century Modern sometimes looks better with technology...that's a valid opinion. Blue chip pieces have taken a hit, but since the emphasis is now on accent pieces, they are losing less value than run of the mill antiques. I am not sure if antiques will ever “come back”, but there are still a lot of buyers and they can afford to be choosy.

The short answer is that if you like antiques, it's a buyers market. If you need to sell, do it now!

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