New York - For Amy Hacker, starting her own antiques and vintage business prior to the great pandemic, seemed like a no-brainer, at least that's how Hacker describes her decision to leap first, and think later. Hacker, who grew up on Long Island in an artsy family - with a dad who played in an orchestra, and a mother who worked at the Met - had always been surrounded by people who appreciated things that were old, rare, and intrinsically beautiful. "My mother would come home with tales from the museum, and on the weekend, we'd try to recreate the experience with trips to antique stores and estate sales," she says. Hacker believes that by the time she was in her early twenties the dye had already been cast and starting her new decorative arts business became a matter of when, not if. "I think I simply lucked out," she says matter-of-factly. "I opened during the pandemic and my sales literally took off on day one." Hacker said she fully expected things to calm down once people returned to work and Covid hit the rearview mirror, but they didn't. "As soon as the first supply-chain issues started cropping up, I began to notice an almost immediate bump in furniture sales," says Hacker, "and since then, it's just been a steady stream of inventory flying out the door - I simply can't keep up."
Hacker isn't alone in her dilemma. Antique store owners, thrifters, and vintage dealers are all reporting incredibly strong sales, especially in items related to furniture. But it's not just the smaller players who are seeing the love from consumers, but the bigger venues as well. Vintage and secondhand furniture retailer Chairish has seen a 70 percent increase in sales recently, while everyone's favorite high-end collectible site 1stDibs, whose biggest online category segment is furniture, popped with a 25 percent increase in numbers related to case goods and chairs. Over at Kaiyo, another relatively new-to-the-scene used furniture and vintage startup, the numbers were even more impressive, with representatives claiming blistering triple-digit growth month-over-month.
Tom Claremore, who's been selling moderately priced furniture on 1stDibs for years, says that he's never experienced anything like it. "My stock is literally down to what I can find on weekends - getting it uploaded by Monday night - and it's gone by Friday." Claremore says he can draw a direct correlation to the news about furniture imports just sitting on docks or ships out in the ocean, and the spike in his business. "It's certainly not rocket science," says Claremore, who admits that seeing chain-furniture shops with vacant display windows was about the same time he began to notice a substantial uptick in sales. "Once I saw those empty stores, and pictures of piled-high containers with nowhere to go, I started putting the pieces together," he says. Claremore, doesn't believe the current situation will last forever, but is fairly confident that as long as supply chain hold-ups remain, in concert with inflationary pricing, he thinks the value in antique and vintage furniture is going to be an attractive option to a lot of consumers for quite some time.
Aside from anecdotal evidence from those in the trade, recent articles in the New York Times and Washington Post are also backing up these claims, reporting similar stories, with supply chain issues being just one of a number of important factors that many in the decorative arts world are describing as the perfect storm of events leading to the resurgence of the antiques industry. Tracy Holland, a late twenty-something from New Jersey, who's hoping to get into the antiques and appraising business after she completes her college degree, says that her interest in buying used items springs from her generation's belief in upcycling and repurposing things to make them sustainably viable. "I used to see some of my friends walk out of Ikea with a complete living-room ensemble, only to landfill it, once they'd moved into new digs," she says, "but today, it's almost unheard of." Holland recognizes that price-points and the lack of availability due to supply constraints may have something to do with the shifting buying patterns of her generation, but believes it goes much deeper than that. "I think people are just far more conscious about the environment now, and if that happens to coincide with great prices on lasting furniture and antiques from the past, so much the better."
Dayna Johnson, a trend expert from Etsy, takes it a step further and believes it's literally a win-win situation for everyone. “As people increasingly shop with their values, buying vintage furniture enables sustainability-minded shoppers to reduce their carbon footprint, all while supporting small, independent businesses,” she says.
For others, it doesn't even necessarily have to translate into an interest in antique or vintage items at all. With so much money being spent on remodeling during the pandemic, there's a massive amount of pent-up frustration on the part of consumers who have been waiting months on end to finally furnish some of these empty spaces. With no end in sight to the supply chain shortages, many of these crestfallen consumers have turned to the antique and vintage industry as a means to fill the gap. Nathaniel Dixon who's been operating a number of high-end antique and vintage booths along the east coast for the past twenty years, says that it's an entirely different breed of customers frequenting the shows now. "In the past, we used to have clients who really knew what they were buying, but today, most of what I see is just folks looking to fill the spaces in between," he says. "I'm not complaining, but it's just interesting to see pieces being scooped up without an eye to style, fitment or even cost." Dixon believes that one positive takeaway however, is the fact that he's getting good quality furniture out in front of consumers who might not have otherwise ever considered antiques as an option. "I think when they see the difference, there's a good chance we'll have some converts," he says, "even after the supply chain issues are resolved."
How long this will last is of course anybody's guess, but almost all those working within the industry agree that the current antiques and vintage markets are as strong as any they've seen in recent memory. Will the end of supply chain issues negatively impact this rising decorative arts tide, or have interest levels already risen to such a high degree that a quick retreat is unlikely? For most experts, the answer may lie in the numbers prior to the pandemic, when decorative arts sales were already surging well before there were any signs of a worldwide blight, or a lack of speedy ships to get goods to market. However, as with most blanket predictions... only time will tell.
- A.I.A. Staff Writers
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