These young dealers are shaking-up and dramatically changing the decorative arts community in new and unexpected ways
New York - For many in the business this day has always been a little bit like smoke on the water - something that often appears - but with no guarantee of arrival. However, in this particular instance there's no question that the recent prevailing winds of the decorative arts have quite literally blown in a generational change that's shaken up the antique and vintage industry's genetic make-up on a global scale.
Even as Gen-X'ers gave way to Millennial's, and then to Gen-Z, it has always been apparent that Baby-boomers were the one's wielding the lion's share of power in the decorative arts world, while simultaneously controlling the markets forward direction, at least until now. Whether due to natural attrition, a renewed interest in our shared past, or perhaps a simple break from flat-pack and Ikea inspired furniture, it now appears that the industry's latest up-and-comers have finally wrestled the antique mantle away from not only the older boomer-generation, but also from a business model rooted in another century.
With many of these new-age dealers reporting in well under the age of forty, and sporting such professional and diverse training resumes from the tech, media, restaurant and fashion fields, it's no surprise that their methods for achieving success would also be entirely different than that of their predecessors.
For Heather Vieira, the trip has always been about a connection to the past. When she was young, she would wake her father in the very early mornings to attend New Jersey flea markets to experience the sites and sounds of the carnival-like atmosphere. After managing a fast-paced restaurant for years, she finally packed it up and moved to New York where she began dealing in old picture frames, eventually setting up a full-fledged business flipping antiques to other dealers. Unlike traditional business models in this industry, Vieira changed the mark-up formula and focused solely on things that would turnover quickly; chairs, lamps, artwork and tables. "I'm only tacking on 20 or 25 percent so I can move it along and buy the next piece to sell.” Vieira says that by pricing with low mark-ups, she's been able to move her stock quickly to not only the general public, but dealers as well. Being net savvy and keeping a solid email list going out to her dealer contacts has also helped her business flourish. “Everything is relative to the thing you’re selling. I always want to give people a super good value because I want them coming back to me," says Vieira. While acknowledging that her business model is a bit unorthodox, Vieira's the first to admit that in order for this to work other people have to make money off the process as well.
On the other side of the pond, a fresh batch of diverse and under-forty dealers has also begun to take hold of the industry. However, what's remarkable about these young guns is that not only have they been able to bring along the antique traditionalists, but they've also been able to inspire a new generation of collectors and buyers to follow them through the use of detailed and age-pertinent item descriptions on social media.
For British dealer Adam Calvert Bentley, his start came as a result of a single stint at an antiques show, and a helping-hand from a friend who encouraged the launch of an Instagram account for his wares. "My first post was a photo of me setting up," said Bentley. After some initial online success, he continued to develop and work the branding of his IG presence, which eventually led him to become a full-time dealer. Today, Bentley is recognized as one of the top up-and-comers in London when it comes to items from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. His inventory is eclectic, with items ranging from Louis XVI lanterns, to Chinese export pieces, and oversized eighteenth-century armchairs.
While many of these young dealers are leading the generational charge when it comes to the antique market, there are also those cutting a successful path into the world of upscale vintage items as well. Maggie Holladay, who started out in the fashion world, but who currently sells high-end vintage pieces and contemporary art on her Claude website is another example of a young gun inspired to do business differently. Her early interest and substantial collection of apartment-cluttering onyx coasters and ashtrays (which she purchased on eBay in 2018), eventually led to the downsizing of her collection when living space became an issue. However, in the process of liquidation, she also created an online venue for selling her wares. “I started out with little marketplace finds, but then found one amazing item and made a huge profit off it,” she says. “I repeated this process of saving up to buy one really great item and reselling it.” As of 2021 her Instagram account for her vintage design shop currently boasts over 145-thousand followers - an impressive figure for anyone - especially in a span of just three short years.
Of course there are also a few young and knowledgeable upstart collectors who are in fact almost preordained to become celebrity's within the decorative arts field - especially if their name happens to be Tom Hurst - and their father (Edward), is known as one of the greatest UK antique dealers of all time. However, even with pressures such as this, it was no surprise that the young Tom would take to the family business with a certain amount of gusto, honing his passion for collecting at an early age with digs for fossils and china, then moving onto medals and militaria, before deciding on tribal art as a young teenager. Over the years Hurst built up his core knowledge through museum visits, selling some of his artifacts while at boarding school (in order to buy more), and by attending major tribal art sales at auction houses. Today, Hurst's tribal art and 'country-house' objects can be found on his website and Instagram page, which has grown to almost three-thousand followers recently. In addition to sales, the young 19 year-old has also been hired as a top-tier consultant for a number of major auction houses in the UK as a specialist in the field of tribal arts.
While much of the Next-gens use of growth tactics within the decorative arts industry may appear somewhat benign at first glance, the devil is in the details. From encouraging quick sales by reducing mark-ups to both the public and dealers alike, to focusing on limited but popular 'types' of inventory that results in high turnover ratios and a more fluid cashflow for businesses. For other young upstarts, it's been the very selective and targeted use of social media. Crafting followers from different veins of the Internet ether that aren't just click-and-forget friends, but individuals that are actively engaged in one's brand on an almost daily basis.
For those who've patiently waited for the new millennium to break out with fresh-faced collectors and buyers, it's been a generational revolution that's been a long time coming. And, while some boomers in the industry may be sad to see the days of 'cash-registers' and 'sales-tickets' depart the standard business-coil, most of today's antique dealers would likely agree that it's more than a fair trade if we can finally entice an entirely new generation of collectors and buyers into the world of the decorative arts, for the price of doing business on the "Gram."
- A.I.A. Staff Writers
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