Florida - For many in the decorative arts community, one of the most common conundrums faced by business owners these days usually boils down to one simple concept; "What type of inventory should I be investing in so as to appeal to today's modern family?"
The contemporary family home has changed dramatically over the last thirty years, and knowing what decorative items to fit into this changing lifestyle has become a challenge for many in the antiques and vintage trade. Pieces such as bureaus, or fall-front desks, which were used for writing and storing letters, and which were once staples in many homes, have now become virtually redundant, since they are no longer practical for today's wired devices (unless of course you're willing to drill holes into the back of them - ostensibly destroying their value in the process).
In a recent study about modern families published by the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), it found that most family time was spent today around the kitchen table than in any other room, with the den being the second most used, whereas the living room and dinning room were almost non-existent when it came to usage. As a corollary to this data, many auction sites "realized prices" over the last ten years, tended to back up the university's assertion, by indicating a strong drop in price and demand for formalized dining room tables and sideboards. As one employee from an auction house in northern California noted, "We tend not to see people sitting down to traditional style meals anymore - so I guess the need for matching tables and serving stands isn't going to be there either."
However, the news isn't all glum, as a number of auction houses reported that while sales of formalized furniture for specific rooms was down, pieces that could be adapted to more modern home motifs were up, way up. Terry Smith, an auctioneer from New Hampshire, who sells primarily to customers in New York, said that rustic pieces, such as harvest tables, that could be incorporated into the new larger more modern kitchen spaces were selling well. "Old pine and early American straight-legged tables in the five to six foot range were moving fast," said Smith. "I think it's probably because their clean and simple lines work well with contemporary styles." Other items that Smith said were selling well included, blanket boxes, pine benches, and other primitive items that were practical in nature.
Of course for those in the business who are dealing in the mid-century theme, sales continue to be brisk for almost all items within the genre. Gail White, who owns a mid-century depot for kitchen wares from the 1950's, says that she sells almost exclusively to designers and decorators who are looking to compliment their clients new modern kitchens. "Five years ago, it was just the mid-century pieces, but today, I'm literally selling out of anything that has even the smallest modern vibe to it - all the way back to Art Deco."
For many, such changing tastes within the decorative arts field can often be difficult to get a handle on, since they often seem to occur as minor shifts within an existing genre, rather than an overall change in market direction and taste. Or, as one antique mall manager from Texas noted, "One day we're selling old, and the next it's modern, but old!" For the majority of dealers out there however, such news is simply part of the evolving marketplace, "I've learned to adapt," said White of her mid-century kitchen emporium. "At one point I was selling wooden rolling pins from the Victorian era, now I'm selling space-aged blenders from the fifties."
- A.I.A. Staff Writers
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