Picture this: After thoughtfully acquiring pieces of beautiful antique furniture, potentially over a lifetime, the time comes to move or downsize, and you don’t have the space to bring it with you.
Another scenario: you’ve recently lost a loved one and are left to clean out their estate. You may have memories tied up in their antiques, and some may be family heirlooms going back generations, but they’re not to your taste, or you just can’t take it all.
In this post, we plan to understand the always changing demand for antique furniture, what factors might affect your furniture for resale, gauge its value and options to resell it. We’ll also discuss how enlisting the help of NEATSPACES’ professional organizers or estate cleanout services can make some of these processes much more manageable.
Assessing the demand for antique furniture is a complicated topic to address. Overall, large pieces of brown furniture that parents and grandparents purchased from antique dealers no longer sell anywhere near the prices they once did, according to this New York Times article, although the article goes on to say that the market seems to have bottomed out.
And despite the changing trends and fluctuations within the furniture market, some experts like those at A.H. Wilkens Auctions & Appraisals believe that quality pieces will always hold their value and that key areas of interest are for fine Georgian, French and Northern European works.
In general, smaller, more versatile items like side tables, demi lunes, small scale desks or chairs, especially pairs, are easier to sell. Bigger items like antique armoires, dining tables and china cabinets have a higher supply than demand, which decreases their value. The truth is these large items have a very limited market at the moment and must be in pristine condition to even be considered for resale. Armoires, for example, must be original and not retrofitted as media cabinets.
Sometimes, it’s the things you don’t think have any value that are the most sought after. In the world of antique objects, trends can sometimes catch you off guard. As another New York Times article states, there’s a growing demand for antique and 20th-century vintage furnishings that started two years ago and has been further fuelled by the pandemic. Imagine the late 20th century as vintage!
One popular trend is for design from the 1980s, particularly those that remind people in their 20s and 30s of their parents’ furniture. Teak is a hot wood and is sought after by consignment stores. Art Deco is popular as it tends to look more modern. There is also a growing interior design trend of mixing old and new — layering a few quality antique pieces mixed with more contemporary furnishings is a great way to achieve a look that will stand the test of time.
As dealers and auction houses have gone online due to the pandemic, clients are getting younger and bring with them a love for all things vintage and a desire for environmentally-friendly, second-hand furnishings.
When it comes to specific types of antique furniture, many variables determine demand. Here are a few examples of furniture types:
Due to their size and the increased supply on the market, these tables are more difficult to sell. This is also due to families not using dining room tables as much and eating habits becoming less and less formal over time.
Antique trunks can be in high demand, but the value and demand decrease if anything has been painted on the trunk. Many people also don’t have space for larger trunks, so those less than 30 inches tend to sell easier, as do trunks that have tags or labels due to the proof of manufacturer.
The demand for china cabinets is highly dependent on the style of the piece. Mid-century china cabinets are higher in demand because they fit better with the rising trend of minimalism. Teak is a good example of a display cabinet that is sought after. In contrast, the more traditional hutches with upper glass display cabinets have less demand because of their size and association with clutter.
Unless it’s an incredibly rare antique set, demand is low for entire bedroom suites, so these are often best sold as separate pieces. The demand for antique beds is very low as they’re not built for bigger, modern mattresses and concern over cleanliness and health issues prevail.
These items speak to a style that is still relevant in the eye of many decorators who look toward classic influences. However, it’s important to remember that if the piece is unique, rare or made by a notable designer or craftsman, reupholstering can result in a decreased value and demand. On the other hand, if the piece isn’t a high-value work of art or craftsmanship to begin with, reupholstering might serve to increase its value depending on the type and quality of the materials used. Look for marks or labels indicating the piece’s origin or have it appraised by a professional before making changes.
These tables are often used as accent or statement pieces in interior design, and because of their smaller size, they are in higher demand and therefore have a higher value. A maker’s stamp on the base of the table will increase its value.
As we mentioned, often, the items you think are worth more actually aren’t, and the things you don’t think have any value are highly desired — which is why we always suggest getting items appraised professionally. There are some design attributes you can look for to determine what makes your pieces more or less valuable:
Real antique furniture is rarely made with the same type of wood throughout because it didn’t make sense to use valuable wood in places where no one would see it. Look at the bottoms of chairs and drawers to look for different wood types. There’s a good chance it’s a reproduction if it’s the same kind of wood as the rest of the piece.
A sign of quality craftsmanship in woodworking, dovetailing has been used for centuries to hold together different parts of the same piece of furniture. Evidence of dovetailing can be found in the sides of drawers, cabinets, and other pieces. Joints that are irregularly shaped reveal work done by hand, whereas if the lines and edges are perfectly straight, it might indicate that the piece is a reproduction.
Similar to how perfect dovetail joints are a sign of reproduction, perfect symmetry in furniture is a sign that it’s machine-made. On the other hand, handmade furniture doesn’t have uniform construction — minimal differences in size and shape will give this away.
A lot can happen to a piece of furniture in the span of its lifetime, and the condition of an antique is a significant factor in its value. Mint condition describes antiques in perfect condition, implying no repairs or missing pieces and an original finish. From there, types of flaws that can affect a piece’s value include scratches, breaks and tears, dings and gouges, chips, cracks, signs of repair, missing parts and discoloration.
Furniture companies and makers often listed their names, locations, and year of production. Look for labels, stamps, or manufacturing tags that tell you when and where a piece was made. Find this information on the inside of drawers, the backs of bureaus, and on the lower edges of pieces.
There are several options for dispersal of furniture from homes that are being downsized, estates or when a change in decor means the traditional pieces no longer fit in with the aesthetic. Options range from traditional auction houses, local auctioneers, online auctions, consignment, antique dealers, donation for a tax receipt and straight donation. NEATSPACES has developed a good eye with almost 20 years of experience in the industry. Additionally, NEATSPACES has established relationships with auctioneers, consignment stores and donation depots, so the dispersal is seamless – the first priority is to monetize what we can for our clients.
You might be tempted to restore your antique furniture before having it appraised, but it’s better to wait. Restorations aren’t always the best way to increase the value of a piece. A competent appraiser or antique dealer will be able to tell you whether or not repairs and restorations would increase the overall cost of a piece.
If you’re preparing to downsize, going through and getting rid of your valuable belongings and antiques can be emotional. Our home downsizing services offer professional and sensitive assistance as you go through this process.
You might be wondering what to do with the possessions you or a loved one has accumulated over a lifetime. It’s always a good idea to make a plan for personal belongings. Decide what you want to part with, and find out which items relatives would like. If the process is overwhelming, it can be worthwhile to bring in organizing services like those offered by NEATSPACES to help manage things.
If you don’t know anyone interested in your antiques and are thinking about selling them, getting a professional antique furniture appraisal will usually get you the best price. Many experts offer free online verbal appraisals using your notes and images, including Sotheby’s, A.H. Wilkins Auctions & Appraisals, John Young Galleries, local antique shops and auction houses. Some places even offer appraisal services specifically for downsizing and estate planning, and administration purposes.