Florida - For sometime now it's been suggested by many in the antiques trade that the business is simply not like it was in years past, when there was a strong interest by the public in almost all things antique. Or, as David Rasuchkolb, an old-school dealer in upstate New York recently put it, "There was once a time when the younger generation led the way in the purchase and sales of antiques, and the rest of us followed - unfortunately that period ended during the early nineteen-nineties."
For many in the industry, the next twenty years seemed to be a case of endlessly wandering the desert in search of the perfect fit for dealer and customer. It was also during this time that the stainless-steel revolution entered the market, and things seemed to fall even further down the rabbit hole, as the public shifted away from anything old, choosing instead to migrate to the land of Ikea and everything that was shiny, new and disposable.
Fast-forward a decade or two, and suddenly you have the stirrings of a mass resurgence in interest related to not only antiques but to almost anything old (or used). Enter the millennial, the most unlikely demographic source for the potential resurrection of the traditional antiques market as one could imagine.
While this somewhat odd pairing may have seemed unlikely at first to many in the industry, to Tina Wayne, an online retailer with a vintage shop on Etsy and eBay, the connection couldn't have been more obvious. "Millennials want to be cool and standout," she said, "but it's hard to do so when buying the same catalog furniture as everyone else, or being priced out of the mid-century market, so you end up turning to whatever's leftover to make a statement about your individuality."
While Wayne's assessment may be somewhat far-reaching in scope, her instincts seem to indicate that she may be onto something, as numerous online shops, as well as bricks & mortar dealers are reporting strong upticks in the sales of items that for some, have been languishing in their back-rooms for years. Timothy Pike, a pop-up dealer who tours the circuit of Southern antique shows and fairs, says he's now carrying all things Victorian again because they're cheap to buy, and cheap to sell. "I've noticed that it's the millennials who are basically trying to design-on-a-dime that are snapping these pieces up," he said. "For them, there's so much variety to Victorian pieces, and none of it really looks exactly the same - unlike their iPhones!"
Being original is certainly an impetus for millennials as they age, as it's a generation that was often knocked with the moniker of sameness and herd-mentality when it came to expressing their interests in anything - including the decorative arts. However, today that notion seems to be changing rather quickly, as Susan Hoftner, a millennial herself, noted when over on a buying trip to London's Olympia Fair in England recently, "There were just so many people my age scouting about, looking for a deal on home furnishings." she said. "It's truly amazing, because five years ago these would have been the very same people I would have seen at Ikea or some other big-box store." Hoftner believes it's a combination of factors driving millennials sudden interest in older styles of furniture and decoration, "I think at some point in time you start wanting a little uniqueness in your life that isn't going to cost an arm-and-a-leg... especially when you're working within a budget."
In the end it may just come down to price. You buy what you can afford, and right now old Victorian furniture is very affordable. For Timothy Pike, it doesn't really matter what the reason is, so long as it sparks a renewed interest in some of the classics from the past. "If it takes millennials to reignite the flame, so be it," says Pike, "I'm just happy to see a younger generation showing some interest in their own history - and then buying it!"
J. Hobson (AIA), is a former honors graduate of the Asheford Institute and a freelance writer who specializes in business trends in today's antique and vintage marketplaces. She comes by her experience honestly, having operated one of the southeasts largest antique malls for over ten years before moving onto her own business in San Antonio's upscale La Cantera district.
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