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."
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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