Why antiques are a good choice!
WHY ARE ANTIQUE & VINTAGE PIECES A BETTER CHOICE THAN MODERN FACTORY-MADE FURNITURE?
Furniture. In all its shapes and sizes, colours, different functionalities and designs.
It’s one of the first things mankind started to make when we had learned how to fashion objects with stone tools.
Furniture to sleep in, to sit in, to eat at, to work at, to store our things in.
We’ve been making all sorts of furniture for a very long time indeed. And there are many people who believe that when it comes to furniture - along with buildings - “they don’t make ‘em like they used to.”
Was antique and vintage furniture made to a higher standard of quality than modern factory-made furniture? The simple answer is yes.
Why else would we decide to choose antique and vintage pieces over new, mass-produced furniture?
There are several reasons. We’re going to check them out, but before we do, just a quick reminder with regard to these expressions:
Generally, ‘Vintage’ is used to apply to furniture or decorative arts from the 1920’s through to the 1970’s. You can probably describe 1980’s items as vintage now, although you are more likely refer to that as RETRO. You might talk about stuff from the 1960’s thru to the 1990’s as being ‘retro’ too, so the terms can cross over. Vintage furniture may have been made here in Australia, or in Europe or America or even in more exotic locations.
Strictly the adjective or category ‘antique’ is supposed only to apply to pieces which are over 100 years old. But often you might see a piece from the 1930’s called antique. Antiques are very often described within the context of the historical era in which they were made.
In Australia, a large proportion of antiques are either English or made here, and we refer to these pieces by the names of the Kings or Queens of Great Britain who were on the throne at the time when the items were crafted. Furniture and decorative arts from the various eras have different styles and functions, and you can see how the designs evolve from one epoch to the next.
So Edwardian is early 1900’s (also known as ‘Federation’ in Australia). From 1837 to 1901 we had the Victorian era. Just prior to that was a short era known as ‘William IV’ and before that, stretching all the way back to the early 1700’s, there is ‘Georgian’ the era, which is divided into a number of sub categories.
Before that, there are earlier periods of art, furniture and decorative arts going back into the 1600’s and even 1500’s, but these are very rare in Australia.
Antiques from other countries are referred to usually by the names of rulers of those places at the time the pieces were created. The second most common variety of antiques we find in Australia are originally from France. There are some pieces around which date back to Louis XV and XVI, but these are quite rare and very expensive. Later antique French furniture, art and decorative arts - from the 1800’s and early 1900’s however - is quite prevalent in Australia. These periods are known as: ‘Directoire’ (1789-1804), ‘Empire’ (1804-1815), ‘Louis Philippe’ (1830-1848), ‘Second Empire’ (1848-1870) and ‘Style Modernes’ (1889-1925). This last period overlaps the ‘Art Nouveau’ epoch which evolves into the ‘Art Deco’ period of 1925-1935.
Of course, there are antiques from other European countries such as Italy, Germany, Spain and Russia too, and they have different names for their periods again. There’s also antiques from the Americas and Asia.
At Hare and Thistle, we have a special place in our heart for French antiques, but we also have lovely examples of English and Australian made pieces. We sometimes list vintage pieces for sale as well.
So, vintage and especially antique items have age; they’re old.
Is it true that ‘they don’t make like they used to?’ Yes it is.
For the most part, things made in those times were constructed more carefully and often more cleverly than average factory-made furniture today. Back then, things were ‘built to last.’ In general, the quality was far higher than the typical item coming off a conveyor belt today. The materials used were often of a much finer grade, in a form much closer to their actual nature (for instance timber). These materials were shaped and joined by artisans who specialised in using them to craft particular pieces – they really were master craftsmen – more like having an artist create your table rather than an assembly line. And the difference is huge. Timber which has been hand-cut, hand forged metal pieces and nails, hand-woven textiles have a bespoke nature and individual life of their own – and when combined to form a chair or table or case furniture – the result is a one-off piece of outstanding quality and singular verve. Time was taken - there was nothing rushed - to ensure every detail was finished to perfection. Corners were not cut, each piece was produced with immense pride and purpose.
Compare that to flat pack furniture today. The cheapest materials are used. Some are even toxic during production stages. No craftspeople have a hand in it; pieces are whacked together by automation, robots and machines at speed, many mistakes are made and finishes are often poor. Such items are definitely not built to last, but to satisfy a certain market for cheap, disposable goods.
PERSONALITY, NARRATIVE, EXPRESSION
Antique furniture has amazing stories. Stories about where it came from, who made it and how, where it’s been, who’s previously owned it. If it came down to you through your family then that’s a beautiful, touching story to tell and a wonderful connection with your ancestors. Antiques can be a story about you, too. They tell a tale about your integrity, your style, your sense of yearning to be surrounded by unique, quality, gorgeous pieces of furniture and decorative arts. They are a great talking point too – excellent for relating stories and instigating fascinating conversations with visitors. Perhaps you will want to talk to your children about your antique pieces, to explain the importance of custodianship and preservation. You may wish to discuss aiming for quality over expediency in life, and tell your children that you are looking after these pieces which will one day be theirs to cherish. Antiques pieces have their own personalities – they are often like extended family members living in the house with you! They have character; they express a lot about their owners’ good taste, ideals and classy approach to life!
Obviously, this word is being used a lot - more and more these days - and the concept is being considered by many, many more people in different ways and settings. Antique furniture is actually way more sustainable than flat pack furniture and the like. For a start, antiques were by and large constructed from what we consider to be sustainable materials, as opposed to the plastics and compounds used in modern cheap furniture, which is made from chemicals and basically designed to be expendable – to be used, not likely to last terribly long, then be disposed of in land fill. Yuk! Antiques are inter-generational; they are not destined for 3 years’ use - then the tip. Even if things do go wrong with antique items, they were generally built in such a way that a decent restorer can fix them, give them a bit of a wax and polish and get them back to looking as good as ever. What we call patina on antique furniture is an accumulation of all sorts of handling over the years and actually enhances their attractiveness and desirability. Laminex covered chipboard does not acquire a loving layer of patina over many years, just grime and cracks, before breaking. Once a flat-pack piece breaks, that is typically the end of the road. Off to the dump!
ANTIQUES ARE A GREAT INVESTMENT
Properly looked after, most antiques will at least hold their value – and in many cases will actually appreciate in financial worth, as does fine art and good quality decorative arts. Cheap modern furniture is almost worthless as soon as you have removed it from all that nasty plastic and polystyrene. Antique furniture from certain periods and places can dramatically increase in value. This may not always be the case; some periods do tend to come in and out of vogue a bit, and therefore prices fluctuate also. But many people have been amazed at how valuable their antiques are estimated to be, particularly the really old ones which are considered highly desirable, are rare and in good condition. But all the while your fabulous piece of antique furniture is actually becoming more valuable, you are enjoying its beauty, functionality and personality on a daily basis, that’s a win-win situation surely!
Antique furniture only gets better with age, like fine wine! It does not go out of style. Even if certain eras may be more popular in the market place some years more than others. Think of all the memories a 200 year old chair or table has. How many people have used it; the history, laughter, romance, dramas – highs and lows – those originals have witnessed. They’ve seen lots of fleeting fashions come and go, but held their dignity quietly the whole time. Their wisdom grows by the decade, their style only becomes more refined!
We are passionate about them and we love every piece of antique furniture and decorative arts we offer at Hare and Thistle. I must admit, sometimes it’s difficult to say goodbye to some. But we know our lovely customers will appreciate these terrific treasures as much as we do. We know they’re all going to good homes.