Why Antiques are the Future of Luxury Interior Decorating

How stunning antique and vintage pieces can be restored, repurposed, and revalued for the modern world

Interior designers, decorators, architects, and realtors have long been inspired by and obsessed with the old, the historical, and the artisan when it comes to creating interiors, designing buildings, finding the perfect space, and filling homes with beautiful things. However, encouraging new homebuyers and current owners to purchase antique furniture instead of brand new pieces has become challenging in recent years due to the prohibitive cost of quality furniture and the supposedly comparatively low costs associated with fast furniture.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of pieces are imported from around the world, but millions of factory-made fast furniture pieces circle the globe each year as well, with the rate ever-climbing. While antique furniture might not feel like it meshes with the minimalist, tiny house movements we see gaining momentum today, it is actually a much more sustainable choice than most contemporary manufactured furniture. Follow below to learn how designers are embracing antiques in contemporary and traditional homes today and how you can do the same.

A Growing Trend

Though many articles — like the 2018 BBC story “People no longer go into antiques shops” by Sheila Cook — might imply that the vintage and antique furniture markets are slipping and dangling precipitously on the edge of collapse, hundreds of new styles listed on Wayfair and Overstock each year are inspired by earlier styles like Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, and others. Clearly, young and older Americans alike are still as interested in the designs of yore as they are in the new and contemporary. In fact, this year House Beautiful predicted that renewed interest in antique furniture would be a hallmark trend in 2020 home decor.

Hadley Keller writes in her article “Six Furniture Trends You’re Sure to See in 2020” for House Beautiful that “designers predict reinvigorated enthusiasm for antiques, despite what you may have heard about millennials not wanting their parents’ furniture (it’s not true!).” Keller continues on to quote interior designer Jamie Drake, who frequently mixes antiques with contemporary pieces; Drake predicts “a greater return to embracing the past…[and that] the under-appreciated, and very under-valued antiques of the 18th- and 19th-century will be reevaluated.’” Both Keller and Drake expect to see “antiques mixed in with modern and contemporary pieces for truly unique and personal spaces.”

Antiques and the Environment

(Left) Arts & Crafts English Oak Antique Chair, circa 1900 Image from 1stDibs.com, and (Right) ,Antique French Card Tables Image from 1stDibs.com,

A recent article in Architectural Digest released much the same findings as did Keller’s article for House Beautiful, predicting that antique furniture, decor objects, and finishings would steal the show in 2020, but with one major difference. David Nash, writer of “Expect to See These Furniture Trends in 2020” for Architectural Digest, believes the uptick in interest in antique furniture is rooted in growing desire on the part of renters and homeowners to live their lives in a more sustainable, eco-conscious way without sacrificing style. Tamara Rosenthal, VP of Marketing for Sotheby’s Home, furthers Nash’s prediction by noting that “Sotheby’s Home has seen its vintage and antique sales increase by 35{42f1f0a70ae26ba4331ca800a2427a85f904c1fbd683b785dfe2950ec31c13bf} in the last year.” Rosenthal chocks this up to the fact that buying antiques is an easy way “to integrate sustainable products into the home” while also creating a unique space.

Rosenthal continues on, explaining that “‘people are becoming increasingly mindful of how their shopping habits and daily lives are impacting the environment…because of that they are finding ways to curb this impact and be more eco-friendly.’” Antiques offer a way to refresh a tired home without putting pressure on the environment by contributing to landfill or adding to greenhouse gases by purchasing from an irresponsible manufacturing company. Given that other vintage and antique items are coming back into style — e.g. kitschy prints, worn leather upholstery, floral wallpaper, and brass fittings — antique furniture just makes sense in today’s homes.

A Recovering Market

(Left) Victorian Walnut Table Image from 1stDibs.com and (Right) Art Deco Sofa Reupholstered in Multicolored Woven Fabric Image from 1stDibs.com

In his article “See which collectibles markets are thriving” for Antique Trader, Wayne Jordan notes that while much in-person retail shopping has ceased for the time being, consumers have not been shy about spending their discretionary income, a large amount of which has been filtered into the secondary art, collectibles, and furniture markets (antiques, vintage, etc.). Jordan quotes a study from Hobbydb.com, which estimated that “the (worldwide) annual sales of collectibles is roughly $200 billion (online and auctions) [and that] in the U.S., bricks-and-mortar antique and vintage stores rack up another $17 billion per year.” Jordan continues on to note that while some styles of antique furniture, like “traditional Georgian” have seen a decades-long decline in sales, others like “Victoriana and Art Deco” are booming, making the case for a resurgence in the market. In closing, writes Jordan, “The Antiques & Collectibles trade is thriving but changing.”

Designers Engaging with Antiques

Duncan Campbell and Charlotte Rey of Campbell-Rey

Featured in the article “Masters of the eclectic: meet the next generation of interior designers” by Sophie Hannam for Homes & Antiques, Duncan Campbell and Charlotte Rey of powerhouse design firm Campbell-Rey place antique pieces throughout each of their projects, constantly striking a balance between old, storied pieces and exciting new designs. In their interview with Hannam for her article in Homes & Antiques, Rey and Campbell go on about their joint creativity and unusual road on the way to designing interiors. Rey and Campbell actually both began their careers in fashion, working for Acne Studios, but later found their calling “‘designing objects and furniture’” as they were “‘always fascinated by materiality and the allure of the handmade.’”

Today, the pair focuses on “creating a dialogue between past and present, always placing antiques at the core of their projects,” making sure that “‘everything is inspired by something and [a historic object] adds layers of culture, time and emotion to a space.’” Rey and Cambpell spend much of their free time these days searching for antique pieces all over flea markets in London and Paris, as well as online. According to Cambpell-Rey’s “About Page,” their creative consultancy, founded in 2014, allows the two to “work fluently between residential and commercial interior design, creative direction, furniture and product design,” creating work that “is a celebration of craftsmanship and conviviality, combined with a spirit of irreverence and a love of materials.“ More about the pair can be learned through their website.

Lauren Buxbaum Gordon of Nate Berkus Associates

An episode of Modsy’s podcast “The Render,” entitled “The Render (Episode 2): Are Antiques Making a Comeback? Everything You Need to Know About Grandma’s Furniture” describes Lauren Buxbaum Gordon as “one of several interior designers today who is using antiques in their designs,” with Gordon special for her “amazingly effortless way of using antiques in a manner that makes them feel incredibly fresh and modern.” Gordon’s Instagram feed is littered with stunning photos of interiors compilations featuring juxtapositions between the new and trending and the antique and timeless.

The 2019 article “Meet the Woman Behind the Scenes at Nate Berkus’s Design Firm” for House Beautiful described Gordon’s beginnings as she transitioned into her position as the very first partner at Nate Berkus Asso­­­c­iates. According to the article, as the “daughter of antiques dealers, Gordon grew up browsing furniture markets, but she majored in political science before finding her way into design.” Her passion quickly turned to antiques all over again, however, as she “‘loved going on those buying trips.’” Gordon encourages aspiring antique hunters to keep it simple and not take shopping too seriously, to “‘go picking off the beaten path,’” and to “‘get creative with what you find.’” Gordon promises that if you “‘buy what you love…you’ll find a purpose for it in any space.’”

Benjamin Johnston of Benjamin Johnston Design

An interior designer working primarily out of Houston, Texas, Benjamin Johnston is described in his brief biography on Chairish as “known for creating classic, yet cool spaces that are refined reflections of his clients’ personal tastes and histories” and for “taking inspirational cues from a variety of cultures and time periods [through which he] blends new and vintage pieces to create contemporary spaces that feel curated over a lifetime.” Though Johnston engages with both contemporary and antique pieces, he is able to keep his designs simultaneously on-trend and enduring by “adhering to the classic design principles of balance and simplicity, through the use of clean lines and tailored details—timeless sensibilities he credits to his previous study and practice of architecture.”

Quoted by Brittany Cost in her article “How to Style Antique and Vintage Furnishings” for Elle Decor, Benjamin Johnston of Benjamin Johnston Design describes his favorite antique piece as an “antique Venini chandelier worth ten times more” than what he paid for it. When describing his styling process, Johnston explains that mixing contemporary with antique and vintage finds is the best way to go. Johnston notes that “a room [can] speak to today [if it] mixes both contemporary and vintage pieces…it’s exciting to give an antique new life or to present it in a new and interesting way.” Johnston encourages antique lovers not to become discouraged or intimidated when attempting to include older pieces in stark, modern spaces. Johnston promises that antique furniture pieces “work amazingly well in contemporary spaces–especially when paired with contemporary artwork.”

With the support of artful consumers, sustainability-minded buyers, and forward-thinking but past-appreciative designers, antique furniture is poised to continue its slow climb back to the top of the market.

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