Finding a place for antiques in a contemporary world
The decline in prices for large pieces of period furniture is not a recent phenomenon. It is now into, probably, its third decade, thanks to the modernisation and miniaturisation of interior living. Add to that the demise of formal at-home dining and you have vast swathes of superbly crafted, largely Victorian and Edwardian furniture looking for homes, reinvention, or love.
I still remember valuing the most extraordinary “over-carved” Victorian sideboard in Melbourne perhaps 12 years ago for $3,000 – $5,000. The owner was ready to boot me out of his home, having paid more than $20,000 for the piece in the 1980s when it would seem every large period home in Melbourne wanted the full suite of mahogany settings. That for me is the first bookend to this ongoing observation that auctioneers around the world are grappling with, trying to re-position this period and these pieces in a way that might speak to new audiences.
Sometimes, the solutions are confronting. For example, Selfridge’s London slicing up (literally) antique cupboards and mantle pieces, interspersing them with glass and mirrored sections and, I might say, creating rather striking backdrops for their displays of fashion.
This said, there are still good results to be had when it comes to special pieces of sizeable furniture, and we are beginning to see more interior designers using heavy antiques alongside contemporary pieces. Just recently, in our Collector’s Auction, a late Louis XIV walnut armoire doubled its estimate to sell for $20,000 IBP.
The increased availability and generally more affordable price tags on these impressive, well made pieces has provided an opportunity to incorporate unique, historic notes to modern interiors; you never know where the trends will go next.
Chairman / Head of Important Collections
Banner Image: A late Louis XIV walnut armoire,
last quarter 18th century
Sold for $20,000
The Collector’s Auction, February 2023