Interior designers and homeowners, fed up with endless waits for new purchases, are turning to antique, vintage, and even contemporary resale furnishings for quicker delivery. A gently used sofa can be yours within days, while many furniture sites estimate a new sofa will arrive between June and July, 22. Here is a guide to getting preowned pieces promptly and why old stuff is the newest trend in interior design.
With furniture (and fabric) taking so long to arrive, and furniture retailers facing delivery delays of biblical proportions, demand is surging for vintage, antiques, and auctions like never before.
The furniture supply chain is in disarray. The reasons are more complex—and interconnected—than you might think. Unfortunately, like many other businesses, vehicle transportation companies have been suffering the effects of the Omicron virus, which is resulting in delays to new furniture arriving in showrooms.
Designers are coming up with a bold Plan B: Buy a set of exquisite, antique Louis XVI chairs from online vintage marketplace Chairish. They weren’t perfect—the chair seats needed new upholstery. But in today’s chaotic, supply-chain-challenged world, buying vintage and tweaking it is as close as we’re going to get to near-instant gratification.
“Really, what other choice is there these days?” ask many top designers, who are getting chairs bought at auction or vintage marketplaces shipped to an upholsterer, re-covered in miraculously in-stock leather for a custom look and delivered to clients in a few weeks. After a year of record-breaking, months-long waits for new furniture, homeowners and pros are turning to preowned and vintage furnishings.
In short, old stuff is the newest trend in interior design.
Even brides are getting in on the act. Many brides who are at long last ready to tie the knot, have their date, an intimate guest list and a wedding dress, are finding they have just one problem—the chairs. Apparently, decorators and party planners who have ordered custom dining chairs for wedding celebrations a year ago are finding they haven’t been delivered. The vendor said they’d be delivered in about four months, by May. Which changed to June. Then July rolled around and still no chairs. Shipping delays, logistics, Covid, Covid, blah blah, the vendor said. They are turning to reputable auction houses, and vintage marketplaces, even Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, for appealing seating options that can be quickly customised and recovered for a bespoke look. Read more, ‘The Top Interior Design Trends of 2022.’
Once an afterthought for buyers, “secondhand furniture is becoming mainstream,” said furniture-industry investment banker Timothy Stump, noting that the U.S. market for used home goods and furniture is projected to grow by 38% by 2025, from $17.05 billion last year to $23.56 billion, according to consumer-data provider Statista. “If people are told they have to wait 30 weeks for a new sofa, they search for available options.” And then there’s always your own store room or garage. Reclaimed materials can also be cheaper, but you may have to make alterations and repairs to make them fit. You can find a diamond in the rough at bargain yards and auctions that are filled with every kind of furniture and they’re a great way to add a little instant art, beauty and culture to your digs.
The stock is ever-changing with original paintwork on old pieces that are usually solid and hard-wearing, as their construction is often of a high standard. Instant heritage.
The best kept secret are auction houses where you will pick up pretty portraits, still life paintings, good porcelain, a farmhouse table, Regency sideboards, French salon chairs, or rug in all varieties with lovely aged finishes. They look as though they cost a bomb, but they usually don’t. Read more, ‘Check Your Christmas Shopping off With Lawsons Amazing Auctions.’
When you look around at various retailers for a little cabinet to go in your hallway and see the extensive shipping delays, it might be easier to search your own home for pieces. One homeowner we heard about, remembered she had an old dry sink that had been in her childhood home which she painted the exact colour she wanted. It took about four hours—and now she has this piece in her home that has a story to it.
Fuelling the popularity of preowned purchases is an awareness of how much furniture is thrown out every year—12 million tons in 2018, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. They report refinishing beat-up dining room tables in solid wood, that after being stripped down, have a beautiful grain.
People are bringing restorers things that in years past would have gone to the landfill.
The surge in secondhand chic, coinciding with the ascendancy of the so-called grandmillenial style that is fast turning “frumpy” into a synonym for “fashionable,’’ has also created a new, relaxed approach to decorating.
“It’s almost bizarre the way people are breaking all the rules we used to have, mixing antiques with modern things, putting things from the 18th century in the same room with things from 1950,” said Al Ruschmeyer, an interior designer in San Francisco. “For a friend who was an art dealer, I combined her modern art with a Victorian chair and a teddy bear.” Vintage furniture site Chairish, which posted 54% year-over-year revenue growth in 2021, has seen a surge in sales of jewel-toned Chinese Art Deco rugs, armchairs upholstered in nostalgic florals and roll-top desks. “People are interested in the warmth those pieces bring,” said co-founder Anna Brockway.
Also sought by shoppers trying to circumvent shipping delays are nearly new contemporary pieces, often still in production, found on resale sites such as AptDeco, Kaiyo and even Facebook Marketplace. For instance, Kaiyo, in New York City, promises to deliver a “gently used” RH Maxwell sofa ($2,100) in as quickly as two days to the lower Northeastern states. Expected delivery of a new version (from $3,695) is between June 23 and July 22, according to the RH site.
Although used furniture can be a quick solution—even with truck-driver shortages, most pieces can be delivered domestically in weeks—designers, upholsterers and restorers caution that it’s not always less expensive.
“It’s a piece-by-piece situation. I have one client who needs a bigger dining table and who wants to re-use ornate table legs and get a new custom table top, which will cost more than buying a new table,” said Tina Ramchandani, an interior designer in New York City. “But for a different client, we are reupholstering her headboard and side rails, and the cost turned out to be cheaper than a new bed.”
Thanks to designers and homeowners who are buying vintage sofas, armchairs and chaises, business is booming for upholsterers. “Many have a six-months waiting list,” said Rachel Fletcher of Knox Upholstery in Knoxville, Tenn., and president of the National Upholstery Association. “When Covid hit, we all thought we’d go out of business. Instead, I’m expanding out of my house into a commercial space.”
Reupholstering costs vary widely. Extras like nailheads, welting, buttons, fringe and multiple cushions add up. If you buy a vintage or antique sofa, new upholstery will probably cost half the purchase price. The rule holds true for a fully upholstered chair, like a wingback.
Don’t expect perfection when buying secondhand furniture. It’s a little riskier because it might need a screw or a sealant or even help from a handyman, but in the end you can say, ‘I’m the only one in the world who has this 1930s coffee table from France.’
Most in demand? Furnishings you can refashion for a new purpose: demilunes as desks, vanities dragooned into duty as console tables.
“These things may have lasted for a century or more already, [and are] suddenly getting another life,” said Anthony Barzilay Freund, editorial director at online antiques seller 1stDibs, where sales of dressing tables rose more than 35% last year. Pieces like this Swedish vintage dressing table, which can do duty as a desk or entry table, are prized for their flexibility.
Rebecca Gardner, the founder and creative director of Houses and Parties, an event and interiors design practice in New York City and Savannah, Georgia, says that recently her clients are gravitating toward a rich, layered aesthetic.
“The vintage on my website goes first,” she says, noting “an ongoing enthusiasm for texture, layers, and unabashed colour.”
Also enjoying a renaissance are 20th-century, solid-wood “brown furniture” brands manufactured locally and known for silhouettes in traditional styles like Regency, Georgian and early American. It makes sense. They are old pieces, with a lot of high-quality products out there, and people now are willing to mix and match anything.
Buyers are also snapping up vintage free-standing cupboards and small dressers to use in lieu of custom kitchen cabinetry they can’t get built because builders and joiners are backed up. If you have a kitchen project with a pie safe that was built by your grandfather. Your initial reaction might be: ‘It doesn’t fit with what we’re doing and I’m going to get rid of it. But after a discussion: you might decide it’s right here, right now, so what if we paint it and put new hardware on it? And now it works in the space.
The year has given many shoppers an appreciation for the human stories behind their new, old furniture.
People are finding the perfect 1980s chair on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, they want to re-cover it in a fabric they love. When you go to seal the deal, don’t be surprised to find the chair belonged to your neighbour two doors down.
You might be Sitting on Extra Cash
With the resale market hot, it’s time to sell the highboy that’s been collecting dust in your garage. If you’ve ever fantasized about selling your hand-me-down or other pre-owned furniture, now’s the time. “Demand is increasing for everything from high-end antiques to well-known new brands like Ralph Lauren,” said Alpay Koralturk, founder of secondhand furniture site Kaiyo, where last year 68% of sellers were first-timers.
Pieces in good condition from high-end brands and well-known designers such as Roche-Bobois and Ralph Lauren “in some cases even increase in value over time” – and that’s got to be a good thing.