Antique brown furniture is back!

Read this extract on the return of antique brown furniture from this month’s issue of Antique Collecting magazine by Ivan Macquisten – get the full article by subscribing to Antique Collecting.

Any Colour as Long as it’s Brown

You might dislike the name, but there is no doubt that ‘brown furniture’ is on its way back, writes Ivan Macquisten

It’s been at least 20 years since we started ringing the death knell for ‘brown furniture’. As dining rooms fell out of fashion and homes de-cluttered, the contemporary minimalist look turned towards lighter woods and simpler lines, eschewing decoration, mahogany, Victorian and Georgian. Small desks with sloping tops, like the davenport, lost their purpose in the age of the

William and Mary furniture
This glorious piece of William and Mary furniture was understandably irresistible to bidders at Criterion in London on April 17. It left a guide of £800-£1,200 behind to sell at £5,700

desktop computer and laptop; cramped rooms in smaller new-built houses meant a drop-off in demand for bureau bookcases and magnificent sideboards.

Some even claimed that the new century brought with it a fresh generation of taste, with eyes turning towards pre- and post-war design. Meanwhile, the Antique Collectors’ Club’s Annual Furniture Index described downward prices arcing so much that, at times, they looked like a death spiral.

Whatever the truth, we have certainly spent a long time talking this stuff down, and the effects have been evident in the loss of regional general and furniture auctions, the decline of traditional furniture dealerships and diminishing space devoted to this area of collecting at fairs.

And yet…

Rather like those early pioneering scientists peering through their microscopes at a seemingly lifeless drop of water, a closer look at the antique furniture market shows that in parts it is teeming with life. This is not a recovery; it’s an acknowledgement of what has always been the case: while the ordinary and unexceptional will continue to scrape along the bottom, quality consignments will reap their just rewards. You just need to know what to look for.

A survey of UK regional auctions in the first half of 2017 shows what I mean. In this month’s Antique Collecting we look at 20 pieces, ranging from the 17th to the 20th centuries, from the simplest to the most elaborate of designs, from the tiny to the titanic and from plain oak to a mix of exotic woods from the east. The one thing that unites them is quality: inspirational designs by master craftsmen, perfect proportions, sympathetic decoration and a pleasing overall look to them.

What all these demonstrate is that reviving interest in antique furniture is not about bringing back the brown – hardly an inspiring message – but celebrating the never fading #WonderOfWood in all its guises. That’s the hashtag to use if you really want to regenerate interest in this unfairly neglected area of the market.


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