Now that the traditional antique buying season has commenced, I wandered over to 1st Dibs to see what was selling via the designer trade this season. As I had somewhat suspected, this Fall still appears to be about fun modern accessories and interesting smaller scale contemporary pieces. Side tables, lighting, interesting seating and unique decorative pieces. Decorative pieces seem to be heavily in demand as less extensive redecorating projects are the current norm. Pieces which pack a lot of presence and style for the price tag seems to be the ticket. If one reviews the September sales summary one will find a piece of brown 19th Century furniture here and there but, for the majority, the desirable form is modern, small in scale, unusual, and pricing is critical.
This inspired one of those flashback moments for me. A decade ago I worked in a gallery located in San Francisco’s antique/design district; home to over twenty solid dealers of traditional genres of antiques. Emanating from the air itself within this two block radius, one could feel the collective outburst of horror when the devil itself, Design Within Reach, moved into the neighborhood. Our interior design clients were thrilled. The antique dealers were not.
For months, dealers fumed and cast disparaging looks upon the intruder. This change was particularly upsetting to the dealers since the space had only become vacant after a long-standing dealer had been forced out due to rising rents. Adding insult to injury, the intruder proudly placed a new aqua-green Vespa in its window display upon opening. Modern design and hipness had dared to place itself squarely in the face of 18th Century French settees and English George II chests of drawers, challenging the hallowed ground of ‘things with a past’. A foreshadowing of things to come indeed! Flashing forward to today, one discovers that 1/2 of the long-standing dealers in the neighborhood have either closed, downsized, moved to a cheaper neighborhood, or gone entirely on-line to be replaced by dealers in modern furniture.
I have to admit that I secretly like many aspects of the current trend of mixing more modern, fun and unique pieces along with what we call traditional antiques. It tends to lighten the presentation a bit and is more likely to appeal to younger collectors. However, I wish that it wasn’t taking such a toll on traditional antique forms. This is particularly true since I work in the industry and have felt and witnessed the losses within the retail industry firsthand.
On the other hand, I am also aware that the retail antique trade has been slow to admit and adapt to changes in taste as well as budgets of the average collector. The mainstream pool of those who are interested in exclusively decorating their home with mid-range early to mid 19th Century antiques and accessories has decreased dramatically over the last decade and the number of collectors who can afford to do so has diminished even further. Changing times require changing approaches. Unfortunately, it will likely require re-thinking inventory, merchandising, marketing as well as pricing approaches in the retail sector.
Read more from this author at www.adiscourseontheartsandsciences.net/blog