London West, UK - The ever-dwindling number of antique furniture stores in London is well documented, and the trend stretches far beyond Britain. From New York City to Paris, familiar brick & mortar dealers have been closing their doors one by one while auctions have shifted to more lucrative items like jewelry and art. Many store closures are likely due to the ever increasing property market. But demand for antique furniture has also fallen across the last decade leading some industry veterans to doubt the chance of a recovery.
But weak demand is often a reflection of fickle fashion trends. Antiques are known to come in and out of style much like music. A prominent example is the effect the show Mad Men had on interest in mid-century furnishings. When it comes to antique furniture, the wind indeed appears to be changing.
Recent studies suggest that interest in antique furniture among young Britons in particular is on the upswing. Young buyers report greater interest and higher attendance at antiques auctions and fairs compared with older generations. Dissatisfaction with mass produced, disposable furniture appears widespread. Many prefer decorating their homes with unique items they see as having more character.
But style is not the only explanation for growing interest. More are realizing the initial lower cost of mass produced new furniture is illusory. In the long run, a higher priced, higher quality item can ultimately save you money. Poorly constructed items made with low quality materials deteriorate faster, are more likely to break, and are generally harder to repair compared to durable solid wood antiques that can be refinished time and again or even resold at an good price.
Aside from savings gained over time, antiques prices have fallen in recent years often matching modern furniture. This neutralizes one of the biggest incentives shoppers have to go to places like Ikea: savings. Affordability also sets the stage for sustained popularity.
Another growing but non-traditional reason young people go antique is concern for the environment. Government studies report an appalling ten million items of furniture are thrown away every year in the UK alone. Eco-conscious millenials see antiques as a sustainable alternative.
The traditional behavior of the industry may, like its products, become a thing of the past. But that does not spell its demise. A stubbornly high property market will probably keep stores from regaining their former numbers, but new outlets have expanded dramatically. Online marketplaces and countryside antiques fairs are alive and well. The gentrification that continues to price nightclubs out of London while simultaneously expanding outdoor festival attendance has set a similar dynamic in motion within the antiques furniture industry.
So even if shops continue to close, the industry is poised for a revival. As dealers respond to a new generation of buyers with a unique 21st century worldview, antique furniture is appreciated in a whole new way.
Image from Doe & Hope who do much of their business online, but viewings of pieces that require a closer look can be arranged by appointment. Other images from SALVO Fair a venue that attracts young and old antique buyers alike.
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Story Type: Opinion