I read an article in the New York Times a while back about the market for antiques, and how low prices for showpiece furniture pieces are falling. One of the theories about why this is happening is that antique furniture, at least the way most people imagine it, seems so uncomfortable, so uninviting, so stand-offish.
When I think back on how my parents lived, with both a “formal” living room and “formal” dining room, I can understand what might be scaring younger generations away from antiques. Antiques — “the good furniture”— lived in these crypt-like rooms that were only to be used on special occasions. Those brown pieces of furniture aren’t something they are welcoming into their lives; they’re too formal, too stiff, and god help you if you get a ring on the tabletop from a can of La Croix. People today want furniture that feels relaxed and inviting, where you can throw your feet up and put your drink down, without worrying about finding a linen cocktail napkin first.
The sad part is, that often leads to people buying furniture they don’t care about. Stuff that’s poorly made, that they plan to replace every few years. They don’t want to waste money on expensive furniture, so instead they waste smaller amounts of money over and over again, while wasting the materials that go into disposable home furnishings. It’s a shame, because there’s a better solution.
Antique furniture is well made. It is also — assuming you can get over the memory of your grandmother yelling at you to stay off her divan — surprisingly comfortable. The rich people who had this stuff made did quite a bit of loafing around, after all. Furniture — even the big, old, beautiful brown stuff — is meant to be lived in. It’s built to be used for a long time, then refinished or recovered, and then used some more.
When I look at a piece of furniture, I want to see quality. I want to see some age, some imperfections, some history. Without that, your interiors start looking like a page in a catalogue (and while that seems to be a goal of some decorators, I’ll remind you that EVERYBODY gets those catalogs, and copying them is no way to make a statement).
If antiques are at an all-time low, why not buy them and make them comfortable? Use them the way you want to. Buy a quality antique chest and paint it if you want to. Buy that inexpensive antique pedestal dining room table, and put some cool modern chairs around it, and dress it with modern placemats and white china. Or do the opposite and put that set of inexpensive traditional dining chairs around a cool contemporary table. The opportunities are endless on how to use these pieces, and right now the prices are too low to pass up.
If you’ve got pieces you don’t think you want any more, it may be that you just aren’t looking at them right. I’m going to convince you to look at those great old pieces and instead of thinking “formal,” start thinking “fun.”
What interesting ways are you using your antique furniture?