Retro Chic Never Looked so Comforting

From the Standard

It’s a brave writer who makes optimistic predictions in this miserable climate, but there is a hint that unlike the stock and housing markets, the antiques market may not be collapsing.

In recessions, the old no longer seems boring but tried and tested. Antiques look reassuringly solid, and as far away as you can get from the new-fangled financial instruments which brought ruin to the world economy.

When the City was roaring ahead, they fell out of fashion. I live near Camden Passage, and in the boom years worried dealers complained that the visitors who once thronged Islington’s antique quarter had gone astray. Restaurant and bar chains bought out their shops, as the young decided they wanted IKEA furniture, and older and wealthier customers headed to the upmarket modern stores.

The apartments the Candy Brothers designed for the global elite encapsulated fashionable taste. They were filled with metal and glass. A Georgian dresser would have been as out of place as a pensioner at a rave.

For all the green politics of the time, few consumers were interested in reducing their carbon footprint by recycling old furniture.

Now when I go to the Criterion auctioneers on the Essex Road, I have to push past potential buyers inspecting the lots. This is a place for the London middle class. A fair-sized Victorian mirror normally fetches £500. Victorian breakfast tables in good condition go for about £400. Dinner services, chest-of-drawers, old prints and original pictures are much cheaper For reasons which are not hard to guess there are plenty of sellers putting their heirlooms under the hammer, but equally there are more than enough bidders willing to buy.

Martin Miller, the founder of Millers’ Antiques Guide, told me he was seeing the same phenomenon at the up-market auctioneers in the centre of town not least because antiques were still good value.

If the trend holds, it would show that this recession is producing the same changes in taste as its predecessors. In hard times, people want the comfort of the familiar, and antiques are the nursery food of interior design. Even those with money like to tone down the conspicuous consumption, and an antique looks less flashy and more in tune with the austere mood of the day.

Miller, however, provided a more hard-headed reason for the old returning to popularity. An expensive piece of modern furniture is like an expensive car – its value plummets as soon as it leaves the saleroom. With an antique, however, you can always hope to get your money back if your world caves in and you have to auction your possessions.

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5 thoughts on “Retro Chic Never Looked so Comforting

  1. The prediction seems okay. There has been a change since your Austerity and Greenery piece from last year. I wonder if we’ll see a quickly put together range, having the look of time about it, in some furniture store catalogues soon?

  2. thing is there’s plenty of ‘ranges’ of this stuff around at the moment – the current middle class design trend (which started long before the crash) is for ‘shabby chic’ (kath kidston etc) – minimally decorated rooms containing a mixture of modern pieces (got to have an Eames!) and a few artfully distressed pieces of antique stuff (normally a rococco mirror, painted white and a nice, dented travel chest – “it matches the farrow & ball duck egg blue so wonderfully don’t you think?”)

    Not sure how much of this phenomena is ‘ credit crunch’ related, I just think the two cyclical events have happened to coincide

  3. Doesn’t the decision of ‘the young’ to buy from Ikea have something to do with the price of Ikea furniture, as opposed to its being primarily an aesthetic choice as you suggest in your third paragraph?

    Whether you like its dominant styles or not, the rise of Ikea has led to young homeowners (and renters) being able to comprehensively furnish their dwellings according to their taste. I don’t think that’s a bad thing and I doubt most people who have furnished their house with Ikea goods care too much about carbon footprints either – the green lobby and people who buy predominantly from Ikea aren’t really the same demographics.

    I mean a Victorian mirror for £500 is all well and good, and I’d probably buy one if I could, but I got a very big, brand new mirror for £35 down the road the other week. It might not last quite as long but a mirror is better than no mirror.

  4. IKEA is semi-disposable crap and if I ever have to look at another one of those bloody little key things I’ll scream!

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