Florida - We've all heard the call to arms before, "Brown furniture is back!" Or, "Wood makes its return!" But the truth of the matter is that Mid-Century, and the overall modernist theme, is still very much in charge of today's decorative arts marketplace. Vintage is of course riding shotgun to this trend, while offering a wider scope of interest than simply adhering to the sensibilities of the modernist motif. And yet, as we've been reporting over the past twenty-four months, even with the market's Mid-Century dominance of the last few years, there are now fledgling signs that cracks may be beginning to form within this mantle.
In April of last year, writer's at the Institute broke a story about how a substantial number of younger dealers were noticing a trend-shift towards modified brown furniture that had been absent up until this time. Many of these dealers commented on the fact that the trend seemed to focus on an adaption of old styles blended with new - a Duncan Phyfe style sofa for example - reupholstered in a modern theme. Or, the use of industrial pipes and fittings in the construction of old-wood style harvest tables.
Recently, many of these same dealers (in a follow-up questionnaire sent out by the Institute), went a step further in their assessment of today's changing market tastes; commenting that since last year there had been an even greater move by customers towards buying heavily modified pieces, in what many dealers were simply calling the "Steampunk" effect. As Allen Johnson, a dealer from Maine, who also crafts his own creations noted, "It was simply crazy; any Victorian furniture that I could add some industrial effects onto sold almost immediately."
Steampunk, which has often been described as a type of industrial design and fashion, combining Victorian elements and sensibilities, with a Jules Verne style steam-driven utopia, appears to have transitioned from merely being a decorative arts niche, into something far more mainstream. In what many perceive as a societal rebuff and revolt against the modernist themes currently associated with the Mid-Century ideal, Steampunk is a growing movement that seems to somehow capture both the old and the new into one fantastical genre.
Denise Orland, a dealer from the south side of Baltimore, echoed this sentiment in her comments when she noted that her husband had gone from refinishing to recreating pieces. "Our business model has literally swung 180 degrees in the last year," said Orland, "We're not only building Steampunk bespoke pieces for clients, but we're attending Steampunk festivals all around the world that combine everything from fashion to furniture to handmade decorative items - often sourced from old Victorian pieces - it's a wonderful mish-mash of ideas and design."
Another Canadian dealer, who curates a shop on Etsy, took her love for all things Victorian to the next level by literally enveloping her lifestyle within the Steampunk motif. As a lifelong collector, Debby Purdy says she originally went from antique show to antique show looking for strange and unusual Victorian era items which were no longer in demand, but could be upcycled into something new. When she realized she wasn't alone in her endeavor, the bells started going off. "Suddenly lots of strangely dressed people started showing up looking to buy the same items I was searching for... I didn't realize it at the time, but these were the early Steampunkers." Today, Purdy says she's fully embraced the genre, right down to her wardrobe choices. "I guess you could say I live the Neo-Victorian or Steampunk lifestyle, although I'm not sure how affordable it's going to be in the future, as prices for some of the cooler items are definitely beginning to rise."
Whether Ms. Purdy is a precursor of things to come or what's already been, can be difficult to say, as changing tastes within the decorative arts community are usually influenced by similar changes within society first. These are then transferred down the cultural-highway, and, if all the stars are aligned just right, you'll often end up with the creation of a unique style or motif that manages to cross all societal boundaries, while simultaneously imbuing itself within the contemporary fashion, art, and furnishings of the day. The question as to whether or not Steampunk can truly make the leap into mainstream culture remains to be seen, but if the response to our recent questionnaire on the subject is any indication, then we'd say it's likely a good bet that top-hats and petticoats might well be making a return...
- A.I.A. Staff Writers
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