Scott Reyburn discusses the impact of changing tastes upon the market for antique furniture where the middle and bottom end of the market has slumped severely. Meanwhile, dealers have figured out that selling exceptional works requires repositioning them for Contemporary tastes which may mean isolating that piece in a stark setting rather than presenting it in period detail.
So the question on many collectors’ minds now is just how low can the price of period English furniture go? The British-based Antique Collectors’ Club’s Annual Furniture Index (AFI), based on a mix of auction and retail prices of 1,400 typical items, fell by 6 percent to 2,238 in 2013. The index has been on a slide for more than a decade after reaching a peak of 3,575 in 2002.
“For nice furnishing things, prices are as low as I can remember,” said Paul Beedham, an early oak specialist dealer in Derbyshire. “The professional classes who used to buy just don’t have the money any more. They’re struggling to pay their mortgages and car loans.”
But while prices for middle- and lower-range antique furniture might be at an all-time nadir, exceptional collector pieces can still sell for substantial sums. Mr. Beedham sold a 16th-century turned oak armchair associated with Queen Elizabeth I’s lord chief justice, Sir John Popham, to an American collector for between £40,000 and £50,000 at the LAPADA Art & Antiques Fair in London’s Berkeley Square, which closed on Sept. 28.
The lingering question that Reyburn’s article brings up is at what moment will the low prices for good antiques attract buyers who can no longer afford Midcentury Modern furniture. The FT’s Susan Moore hints at that turn in her report on the recent Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris:
Laurent Kraemer was almost embarrassed to report that at the very highest level there had been no significant downturn in trade. What he did note was a change in clientele: younger clients, in their late thirties and forties and mostly from London or the US, who were tiring of editioned contemporary furniture and beginning to buy one or two exceptional one-off pieces. Costly they may be, but not as costly as the Anish Kapoors and Warhols that are hung above them. More revealingly, in the past year the big French interior designers had started to come back.
According to Bill Pallot of Didier Aaron & Cie: “This is an era where decorative styles are moving towards a heightened sense of freedom and a wider range of tastes and diversity. Today, the boundaries between the past and the present are blurring, and the innovation and inventive spirit of 18th- and 19th-century designers is considered to be just as spectacular as that displayed by current artists.” He regards the new galleries as “key to leading the way to a new approach to the 18th century, which is simultaneously youthful, fresh and appealing.” T
A Shift in the Antiques Market (NYTimes.com)