Florida - It's often been said that "Success is the ability to adapt to change," and while this statement is probably as ancient as the wind itself, it's likely to resonate more strongly today for those in the decorative arts business than it ever has before. As antique dealers and vintage store owners combine and begin morphing into one, it's become not only an age-old mantra with currency for the modern world, but a necessary mindset for those hoping to succeed in this rapidly evolving industry.
Less than twenty-five years ago, the role of the traditional antiques dealer appeared to be set in stone. Antiques were antiques, and everything else was simply collectibles, memorabilia, or used furniture. Then, in what seemed like an overnight glacial-shift of decorative arts interests, traditional antiques fell out of favor, and everything else suddenly became vintage, retro, and popular.
Since that time, there has been a softening and blurring of the lines, as some antiques have bounced back, and some vintage items have been upcycled and recreated to more closely emulate their older cousins. The Steampunk and Industrial look came about as a neo-Victorian revival against much of the mid-century-modern motifs from the first part of the century. However, it's only recently that the phenomena of a full-scale reactionary change to the overall modernist look has begun to take place within the decorative arts community as a whole.
For many in the industry, it was simply a creeper effect more than anything else, says Carey Doleman, an interior designer and vintage store owner from Miami's South Beach area. "We've always been big on vibrant colors here, but a lot of clients have been coming in recently looking for more earthy and woodsy tones in their furniture." Doleman says that prior to this people wanted chalk paints and vintage furniture completely upcycled into dramatic color schemes that removed any traces of the wood. Today however, she's finding that many are now leaving the tops of tables in their original state, and only painting the legs. "There's no question," says Doleman, "we've changed some of our inventory back to reflect more naturally exposed wood, because that's what customers are requesting."
For Kimberly Nash, an antiques and vintage lighting specialist from Rhode Island, the move away from the modernist themes of the century's early years were more pronounced. "For the longest time any mid-century or stainless themed object we had would sell almost instantly, but recently we've seen some of that inventory backing up." Nash says that her partner, while out on a buying trip last summer, snagged some older industrial copper lighting from the early 1980's, and literally had it sold before it hit the showroom floor. "I was astonished," said Nash, "So we started looking for more, and since then, have unloaded every piece to either interior decorators, or upscale home-design centers in the city."
Artisan markets, a new type of upscale venue that often showcases combined antique and vintage resellers as a single entity, are also apparently seeing a shift back towards more traditional decorative arts styles. Henry Carlson, an antiques dealer from the west coast, often frequents Treasure Fest, an artisan market in the San Francisco Bay Area, and says that he's noticed a lot of the hip and up-and-coming dealers who show at the market are definitely incorporating a lot more natural wood and patina than ever before. "I come here often just to see what the youngsters are showing, because inevitably in the next few years, I'll probably be trying some of it on for size as well," he commented. While Carlson admits that not everything at the show will likely move to the mainstream, he notes that their recent track-record for the most part has been pretty good at predicting major changes in tastes and styles related to the decorative arts. "As a dealer you can't follow every single trend, but getting some guidance on where the bigger movements might be heading sure can be of help."
On the flip side of the coin, some of these same fresh-faced vintage dealers who haunt artisan markets like Treasure Fest, are experiencing trend changes for the first time in their professional lives. Colin Hackett, who's been renting booths at vintage shows and fairs for over ten years, admits it's going to be a tough slog if he has to start learning about traditional antiques. "When I came on board everything was vintage and retro, and you just kind of learnt as you went along, but antiques have a history and culture around them, so it's going to take time and study if I want to successfully incorporate them into my inventory."
For a number of the younger dealers, the idea that trends can change is something entirely new. While for veterans of the trade, it can often seem like an imperceptible shift where one's timing has to be just right. Wait too long and the party's almost over. Jump in too early and you may end up with inventory that's not quite ready for primetime yet. Or, as South Beach dealer Carey Dolman described to her vintage colleagues over brunch one Sunday morning, "It's kind of like picking fruit from the buffet table... getting the ripe pieces can take some practice."
- A.I.A. Staff Writer's
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