Florida - For some, blending may be the new curated, but for many it's likely to be just another term being thrown into the confusing mix of choices when it comes to operating an antiques and decorative arts business.
Over the past twenty years, many dealers in antiques have morphed their operations and storefronts from traditional wares and locations into online venues and mid-century themes. However, as we wrote about last month, these lines are now beginning to blur as some of the more common modernist motifs are beginning to recede in favor of a more 'antiquated' look.
In our second-part of this series, we're examining the role "vintage" items are now playing when it comes to some antique dealers stock and how it's affecting their bottom line.
From the very beginning of the slide in traditional antiques, back in the early nineteen-nineties, it was clear to many in the industry that something would eventually need to replace it. Both New York and London were at the epicenter of the shift as top dealers dropped in numbers by over 70%, according to Clinton Howell, a New York-based dealer in English furniture and the president of CINOA and the Art & Antiques Dealers League.
However, by the turn of the new millennium, younger entrants into the decorative arts market saw the interest in early modernist themes and began popping up storefronts in hip and upcoming spaces - often in underdeveloped and underappreciated urban neighborhoods. Not to be outdone, older more established antique dealers started to notice the trend, and soon began to follow the pattern by hunting for the odd and unusual top-of-the-line mid-century piece to add to their own inventory.
As the mid-century movement took off, so did sales for those who had adapted to the new trend. However, for those dealers who didn't fully embrace the modernist attitude, a new and less expensive theme began to emerge; vintage. While initially used as a catchphrase to encompass everything that wasn't antique, the term eventually began to take on a life of its own, often representing decade specific pieces that were usually emblematic of a particular time and style. Antique dealers who latched onto the burgeoning trend were often handsomely rewarded for their foresight.
Jason Avery, an antiques dealer from San Diego, is unapologetic about blending his inventories. When he started his business in the late 1990's, he was selling primarily Mission furniture, but quickly realized the trend seemed to have worn-out its welcome, and began hunting for kitschy stuff that was inexpensive, but resonated with a younger crowd. "I noticed some Arborite tables at a garage sale," said Avery. "I brought them home, thought they looked good with our darker wood pieces, and managed to sell both." Avery describes those first blended sales of vintage and antique wood pieces like a light going off. "It just worked," he said. "I've been adding vintage themed stuff to our overall inventory ever since. People really seem to like the contrast, and will often buy an antique piece as an accompaniment to their vintage purchase just because they like how they look together."
For others like Sherry and Nick Wilson who run an antique and vintage co-op in Idaho, blending was the key to their success. When they took over the old "antique mall" in Sherry's hometown, dealers were struggling with late Victorian items and country themed furniture from the nineteen-thirties. "It wasn't all bad," says Sherry, who had previously worked in a 'cool' consignment shop in Chicago, "its just that it needed some updating and rebranding." With the help of her husband, they were able to convince most of the vendors to start upcycling vintage and retro finds into their existing inventory. "We told them to use the wood pieces to showcase some of the vintage items," says Nick, "and it worked - they started selling not only the newer stuff but also some of the older inventory that had been sitting for months."
Both the Wilson's caution that this approach may not work for everyone, as Sherry points to the fact that her previous place of employment in Chicago was strictly mid-century themed, which she initially tried to bring to the co-op. "It just didn't work," said Sherry, "We tried, but folks weren't willing to pay the high prices for the latest trend, so we moved to vintage and retro and have never looked back."
For many other dealers in the market it would seem that the run to blend more vintage and retro items into one's inventory may now be the new normal, or as one sartorially inclined dealer put it, "It's now become the antique dealer's new black."
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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