Millennials have fallen in love with antiques – their scars, style and stories. As a result, they are also changing the way antiques are bought and sold …
Now more than ever perusing antiques is a virtual experience – one which appeals to the technical skillset of younger buyers. Indeed, they are also the most active online collectors of any demographic group, according to Clare McAndrew in The Market Report 2020, (an overview on the decorative arts industry, commissioned for Art Basel and UBS).
While the pandemic has provided the time for us all to indulge our interests and passions, for others it has been a catalyst to upgrade their skills. For example, established antiquarians have had to find creative ways to connect with young buyers. A priority is to have a dynamic social media presence, build a responsive website with high-quality photos and have a connected e-commerce platform. Irish dealers have risen to the challenge admirably.
“At Acquired.ie we have seen a dramatic increase in our online sales and are also offering clients virtual viewings via WhatsApp which are proving very popular,” says owner Domhnall O’Gairbhi. “During virtual viewings our clients can visualise what a piece of furniture will look like in their own home.”
Vintage jewellery expert Matthew Weldon, though initially nervous of Zoom appointments, is now a convert: “At Courtville.ie we have a high definition camera to show clients our jewellery pieces. We also host Instagram live videos which enjoy a high viewership. Recently we ran a competition called #chooseyourera on TikTok, in which the winner was able to choose a ring from their favourite era. We had almost 3,000 entries showing the interest and enthusiasm in antique jewellery amongst our younger clients.”
Instagram of course, is visually compelling. It’s now the front window of so many niche dealers, such as Chantal Fortune, of Fortunes Antiques & Interiors in Bray. “On Instagram you can really show off your authentic charm, sell the style and individuality of your antiques.” Fortune cautions buyers to read descriptions carefully and use a measuring tape before purchase as products and sizes can often be deceiving on some accounts.
Helping to drive the interest in antiques is undoubtedly the fashion set. If a dark floral is now a wardrobe staple on and off the catwalk, “vintage florals” saw a marked increase in antiques-related Instagram searches. When designer turned interiors guru Matthew Williamson launched his website in November, the vintage section performed best – half his stock was sold. Gucci’s Décor collection was photographed among animal sculptures and ornate interiors, while Faithfull the Brand used the backdrop of a brocante (on the Île de Ré) for a recent campaign, (as shown above). The hip young artist Luke Edward Hall has shared his passion for “grotto” antiques – furniture shaped liked shells and dolphins in silver or gilt – and author and style writer Pandora Sykes has often waxed lyrical about the pleasures of “the hunt”. Other inspirational accounts are the quirky and colourful @tat.london, @refoundobjects, @doeandhope and @tradchap.
Auction houses have also upped their game. Bonhams was the first auction house to livestream an auction in May 2020, and it provides the most comprehensive step-by-step instructions I’ve found for timed auctions. “Many of our clients have embraced bidding through our newly-launched Bonhams App, which makes bidding and the buying process effortless,” says Kieran O’Boyle, director and head of office, Ireland. At Adam’s, James O’Halloran, managing director, relates, “When Covid hit we ramped up our bidding platform, creating ‘AdamsLive’ which provides buyers with the opportunity to register for an account, view, bid, purchase and pay all in the one space. The other major benefit is that buyers do not have to pay an additional service charge to the online provider, as you would if you were buying via the-saleroom.com or invaluable.com where additional fees can be as much as five per cent.” O’Halloran advises potential buyers ask for a condition report and read the conditions of sale. Be aware of additional charges such as “Buyer’s Premium” and for delivery.
So what are millennials buying? Mark Flood, owner of The Store Yard, Co Laois, says: “Our younger customers seek repurposed pieces, along with natural elements such as conch shells and taxidermy. With a desire to incorporate the natural world into their homes, herbaria are also increasingly popular.” Vintage dining tables, bar carts and office furniture have also been replacing flat pack furniture for Generation Rent, says Niall Mullen of Niall Mullen Antiques, Dublin 2. He has been selling brown furniture (from Irish Georgian to mid-century rosewood and Art Deco pieces) as far afield as the US and Greece.
Undoubtedly it’s the sustainability of antiques which is so enticing for millennials, who are morally driven when shopping. In a study commissioned by the International Antiques & Collectors Fairs, the carbon footprint of a new piece of furniture is 16 times higher than its antique equivalent.
My colleague Síomha Connolly, digital editor of THE GLOSS, prefers to buy pre-loved furniture whenever possible. She recommends Facebook Marketplace, which has a dedicated antiques and collectables section. “I found a mid-century sideboard on it for €50 last year. In time I will sand and varnish this to tie in with other pieces I’ve found, including an extendable Victorian dining table belonging to a former station master.” She found this at Oxfam on Dublin’s Francis Street for €100 and particularly loves its patina and the stories it must hold. “The table is now surrounded by a mix of chairs, some donated from parents and grandparents and other antique Bentwood chairs found on DoneDeal.”
It goes without saying an online purchase can never replace a purchase in person. Yet, as young buyers continue to buy locally and online and revolutionise the world of antique auctions, it is clear the future of furnishing lies in the past. As Fortune says, “So many beautiful things exist in the world already, let’s use and bring them into our homes. Quality lasts a lifetime, long after the price tag is forgotten. ”
For a list of favourite Irish antiques shops see here.
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