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Buying & selling

An Antique Expert’s Love for Vintage Furniture

It is a fault of mine, though not my worst, to prattle on to friends and acquaintances about the joys of antique furniture. The advice is generally unsolicited, at times unwelcome and in these unenlightened days, mostly ignored! The main thrust is to encourage prospective buyers toconsider the property they intend to furnish, when contemplating a furniture purchase. Many people still live in older houses/flats, which they like, but they are disconnected with what the original occupants sat on, ate from and stored their belongings in. The word ‘antique’ is partly to blame, with its associations either to things that are now irrelevant, too expensive or impractical. My friends generally nod absentmindedly, gazing ahead, before returning to the generic bliss of the past couple of decades – flat-packing the contents of ones entire room into the back of their estate car!

victorian bookcase

As a personal example, I live in a Victorian flat and recently bought an unremarkable Victorian mahogany bookcase, (one of the few purchases made, white goods aside, with no consideration as to where it would go – but I am a professional antiques person and I’m entitled to do this) – it cost less than £500 and looks much like the one pictured here. It’s not a beautiful thing, but nor does it have lots of surplus decoration. Yet it stands in a niche, snugly at the sides and filling much of the 3 meters or so space from floor to ceiling – it is probably, visually and practically, the most successful arrangement in our home, but out of context would look nothing special.

Buying items that are in the same era as the building in which you’re going to keep them is not a bad start. Depending on the property, it is likely that the scale is going to fit, and with care, many of the decorative details will sit together harmoniously. The amount of furniture can be scaled up or down as required, from fully entrenching oneself in the cosiness of mid-Victorian comfort, to taking elements, a chest say, a wardrobe or a bookcase (!). In doing this you establish the ‘bones’ of the interior and can work up or down from there.

antique furniture in a older buildng

In a modern home, considerations of harmony are also crucial. In this case size might be an important factor. A few years ago we bought a new TV. Having wandered around a couple of stores, sincerely impressed by the advancements in technology, (our last TV had been a companion in my student days), we settled for a rake-ish, mid-sized example. Fortunately we took the precaution of returning home before confirming our order. What looked mid-sized in the shop took up the lion’s share of the available space in our sitting room. The same will be true in a shop or auction environment where large room sizes can (unintentionally) distort scale. It’s also a good idea to give an item of furniture a bit of space so that you can properly see it, so remember to take room dimensions with you.

However the most important bit of advice I would offer is to buy what you like, and what you feel comfortable with. Enjoy the process of raking around shops, salerooms and trawling the internet. There is a myriad of furniture out there and much has never been as accessible as it is today. However, be sure not to get carried away – even I have to admit my own purchases are object driven, and apart from the success with the bookcase, our house is crammed with kit that would look a lot better if there was a good deal less of it!

Most of all, have fun. Don’t settle for flat pack – antique furniture will have a past, a history (it may even be interesting!) so enjoy taking it into the future with you by giving it a place in your home.

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Bruce Addison

Bruce Addison

Community User

Bruce is the Head of Furniture at Bonhams in Edinburgh. Bruce has been working for Bonhams for 16 years as a furniture specialist and has a huge passion for modern design. A interesting fact about Bruce, he was featured in an award winning film called The Angels' Share and played an auctioneer.