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Ask the Expert: What’s Trending Right Now in Antiques?

November 27th, 2016 · Leave a Comment

Thanks for your question! I get this one a lot. In fact, this is probably my second most frequently asked question next to last month’s, “How old is an antique?” I have to kind of chuckle because the short answer is that what’s “trending” right now in antiques is to not buy antiques….. and that’s why it’s actually such a great time to buy them!

I realize my answer may shock you a bit, so let me elaborate. Don’t get me wrong, there will always be the discerning collectors and tastemakers who are above current trends and design fads, such as the ones who frequent The Women’s Board’s Art & Antiques Show, but as a whole right now, our culture and country (particularly Millenials)  are not “over-the-moon” with antiques and older decorative arts as previous generations were.  I can give you a textbook answer of what dealers and auction houses have reported as being “hot” – Modernist and Post War works of art, Buddhist objects, American studio furniture, jewelry, and vintage clothing and accessories by Chanel, Hermes, and various French and Italian designers have all done well this year. And, of course, who can forget the painted and distressed furniture fad that has been the rage of magazines and DIY bloggers for several years? People tend to want either sleek and sparse or rustic and informal or a combo of the two. Unique Continental and Scandinavian painted pieces are particularly popular and have been for a while. By and large, however, the beautiful stately elegance of the layered, collected home is not “trendy” right now. People are tending to use an antique case piece with a mid-century lamp and a piece of modern art, rather than have a stacked vignette of all antique pieces. My advice to you is to buy what you like and not worry about what is “trending” right now. As a very well-known mid-century designer told me recently, “Let’s face it, mid-century modern went out once….and rather quickly…it’s going to go out again. It’s just a matter of when.”

Of course, the very best of the best in  furniture, art, rugs and silver continues to bring big money, but with Baby Boomers downsizing and the majority of Millennials preferring a minimalist look, the desire for my favorite thing – traditional antique furniture – has waned in recent years, making it one of the best times in history to assemble a collection of fine antique furniture and decorative arts.

In this blog post, I will point out some things in the antiques world that seem to be trending, but more importantly I’d like to point out what’s not and should be. The beauty of our beloved Women’s Board’s Art & Antiques Show is that our prestigious and reputable dealers come together to showcase a collection that is both timeless and “trendy” and represents all periods and styles. While some of us younger and newer collectors may be intimidated or shocked by some of the price tags, I can assure you as an appraiser and a restorer, prices for antiques are at an all time low and this is an excellent time to buy, especially from dealers like these. Compared to when our parents were furnishing and collecting in the ’80s and ’90s, we Millenials have the opportunity to collect at much more affordable prices.

1. Mid-Century Modern

Yes, it’s hot right now. Some people love it. Some people hate it. But it’s here and it’s expensive. I won’t elaborate too much on it as we’ll be covering it in our lecture on December 2nd, but there’s no way around it…it’s trending. My advice: If you love it…great! Buy it and enjoy it. You’ll pay a bit more for it right now because it’s very desirable and finding good, mid-century modern pieces that are signed is rare. If you hate it….that’s great too! Don’t worry about it. It’s a trend that will go away and you can furnish your home much more affordably with 18th and 19th century furniture right now.

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2. French Country

Back in the 1990s, French Country  furniture was all the rage. Rustic farm tables with rush-seat chairs and big buffets and armoires were king. Everybody had a large TV that they needed to hide, and rustic French country furniture was old and elegant and well-made without seeming stuffy and overly formal.

For years, it felt like all we did was outfit old French armoires and buffets for entertainment centers. Well, man, did that go out the window. Part of it is the onset of the flat screens. But 18th and 19th century French furniture from the rural areas is still a great thing to collect and provides excellent storage. For those of us in small and/or old houses where closet space is limited, armoires and buffets are a much more economical solution to built-ins. The beautiful patinas on the old, solid pine and walnut pieces are the epitome of understated elegance.

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3. English Furniture

While “brown furniture”…..i.e good, well-made classic antique case pieces…..has seen a general decline in the last several years, there appears to be a bit of an up-tick in British furniture.

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Maybe it is a resurgence of national pride with Brexit and the popularity of Prince William, Kate, and little George and Charlotte, or maybe it’s the lingering Downton Effect.

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At any rate, the timeless classics of the British Isles are making their way back, and smart people will gobble them up.

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With the BBC’s Poldark shocking the world with its 8 million viewers and taking the coveted Downton Abbey slot of PBS Masterpiece Theatre, there may yet be  more hope for English furniture and decorative arts. Rustic Welsh dressers and pub tables like those of 18th century Cornwall are making a comeback. Maybe Aidan Turner’s “Poldark Effect” will also make English antiques sexy again.

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4. Bone China, Pottery, and Porcelain

Fewer Millenials seem to be fighting over their grandmother’s china these days, but discerning collectors still know that nothing warms a room or a table like antique or vintage china. Porcelain and pottery take on a gentle patina of their own after many years and are a statement on your wall or table.

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You should be on the lookout for dealers who are offering sets of antique china and serving pieces. You can put some of it on your walls and some of it on your table. And if you need some ideas….nobody does china like my buddy, James Farmer.

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5. Unsigned, 19th century Oil Paintings

Good art is hard to find and hard to afford. It’s also hard to fake. A wall full of digitally mastered giclees in new gold frames looks like a wall of digitally mastered giclees in new gold frames. One affordable way to collect quality art and make a splash on your wall is to look for old, unsigned oil paintings, particularly those lovely English landscapes with sheep or Continental scenes of fields and tile-roofed villages.

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Unless you are buying for an investment or you are a fine art connoisseur, a nice 19th century landscape in an old frame by an unlisted artist can transform a room  for a small sum and might hang on your wall longer than one of those mass-produced modern abstracts you find at the back of HomeGoods.

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Hope this helps!


Antique expert William Nash will be a featured speaker at the 2016 Art & Antiques Show.

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