One of the surprise success stories of the last 12 months has been a renewed interest in antique furniture and homewares. Local antique dealers have reported record online sales to customers both in Ireland and abroad. Part of the reason for this growing interest in the high-end second hand, and antique furniture is a desire for more sustainable choices for furnishing our homes. Here are some of the reasons antiques are enjoying a revival during these unusual times and why buying antiques not only preserves the past but also protects our future.
Why they fell out of favour
There are a number of reasons people moved away from antiques. Firstly they were seen as expensive. The growth of mass produced low cost furniture meant people had access to less expensive alternatives.
People were living in smaller homes than previous generations so antique pieces didn’t always fit. People were time poor and didn’t have the time to hunt for antique furniture, so convenience trumped quality. And finally the trend for built-in wardrobes and other joinery did away with the need for free standing antique pieces.
This growth of low-cost self-assembly furniture in the last 20 years has led to a disposable attitude towards furniture. Pieces are replaced rather than looked after and passed on to future generations.
With so many people favouring cheap, replaceable homeware over heirlooms, it was beginning to look like passing on furniture items to our descendants might be a thing of the past.
The negative environmental impact of constantly replacing goods has led to a change in attitudes towards disposable possessions. People are seeking out products that will last rather than something that will end up in landfill.
Most ‘things’ are disposable now. We tend to get rid of them rather than hold on to them. In fact, we are encouraged to by the manufacturers. Nothing is made to be repaired any more. Electrical items, for example, come with warnings against opening them up. Products typically aren’t designed to be fixed. But recently, a movement is under way, pushing back against the disposable culture of everything from fashion to furniture.
There has also been a renewed interest in DIY projects over the last 12 months and the support for local craft businesses is an indication of a move away from convenience furniture. People are realising that not all antiques are expensive, in fact in many cases antiques are less expensive than contemporary furniture. You can pick up a dining table and chairs in a hard wearing material like oak for between €200-300 at an auction for example. Not only will this furniture last a lifetime and be something you can pass onto the next generation but it will also hold its value.
Preserving the past
When we buy an antique we purchase something that will last and we can pass onto future generations, but we are also purchasing a little piece of history. Each piece will have a story and these stories are often as valuable as the pieces themselves.
But by buying antiques we are also sustaining a whole host of crafts men and women. Highly skilled people who’s craft is often passed down from generation to generation, who are experienced in restoring and repairing these beautiful furniture items.
We have lost many of our great crafts people over the years as most things are no longer made here in Ireland and there was no demand for furniture repair or restoration. The renewed interest in antiques will hopefully also revitalise this dwindling industry.
Protect the future
‘The disposable furniture market is a dangerous thing if you believe we are on the wrong path environmentally,’ says antiques dealer Niall Mullen.
‘A Georgian chest of drawers has a carbon footprint 16 times lower than a contemporary chest of drawers,’ he explains. Two hundred years ago the timber for furniture would have been cut locally. Now, however, timber is shipped from all over the world. Furniture items build up so many air miles before they are even made and they often end up in landfill.
The Cocktail cabinet has become a sought after piece over the last 12 months. ‘This week alone I have had 5 enquiries,’ says Mullen.
Cocktail cabinets are very much an Art Deco iconic item. They came about as a reaction to prohibition. People wanted to have cocktail parties at home because you couldn’t drink in bars at that time. ‘Here we are 90 years later, the bars are closed, we’re all at home and the cocktail cabinets are popular again,’he laughs.
Most ArtDeco cocktail cabinets look quite discreet on the outside. This reason for this was to conceal their true purpose from any law abiding visitors. But when you opened them they were very decorative on the inside. Many of them had mirror lined interiors and most of them came with pull-out mirrored shelves, which Niall explains, was for cocaine. ‘In the 1930s you could buy cocaine in Harrods,’ he says.
It’s unreasonable to think everything you buy for your home will be pre-loved, however, it’s worth pausing from time to time to see if there are older pieces you could invest in. There’s a whole new world to explore out there filled with antique treasures.
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