In case your favorite millennial hasn’t told you yet, he’s ready to start fixing up his place. Generational trends show that people from the largest group ever to hit the American landscape, who are now roughly 36 or younger, have been converging on real estate for the past few years, so naturally, it’s time for their thoughts to turn to decorating. Not just any decorating will do — it must be individual, focused on self, an aesthetic so personal it’s as though the home were furnished with their very own style DNA.
At least, that’s what the antique dealers are hoping.
Individual style has been a mantra of designers for years and is considered a watchword of good taste in interiors circles. And one of the best ways to get it, to find the raw materials that can be shaped into that cool space that no one but you (and your interior design guru or that woman you obsess about on Pinterest) could ever have come up with is to buy antiques.
“It’s all about individuality and what best expresses your personality,” says New York designer Nick Olsen, a style savant who gets the Everyman sensibility. “You want something different that’s not in every store window. As much as I still love a cheap and cheerful style moment from CB2 or elsewhere — I’m sitting next to a drum table from CB2 in my own apartment right now — antiques, vintage pieces have a level of personality that should be speaking to the younger market right now.”
Olsen, who is co-design chair of the Chicago Antiques, Art and Design show at the Merchandise Mart on May 17-20 with California designer Ruthie Sommers (they’ll be hosting a “lively talk” May 18), notes that even as midcentury design stalwarts have remained popular, classic antiques have plummeted in price.
“The contemporary market is so hot in the collectible area, and even the prices of catalog-quality furniture are creeping up,” says Olsen. Which makes antiques, quite frankly, a steal. “Right now, antiques are a really good deal.”
Millennials, take note: For prices that are likely to be lower than the ones you’ll see in your favorite home catalog, you can get a quality piece of furniture that will get you instantly closer to the cool, original place you crave. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
You can’t beat the quality. “I hate that old ‘they don’t make ’em like they used to’ refrain,” says Olsen, “but it’s pretty true. Even as far back as the 1960s, it’s just a higher level of quality. And craftsmanship, structure, fabrication — a sofa that might be 40 years old might be better quality than what you’re buying at one of those mass-market retailers.”
Seriously, it’s not haunted. “You have to get over the stigma of ‘Oooh it was pre-owned,’” says Olsen. “I mean, don’t pick up something from the side of the road because of bed bugs. That’s the only thing that stresses me out, but otherwise, get over it.”
Don’t let the vocabulary throw you. One client told Olsen she didn’t want anything like a breakfront (a style of bookcase) in her home, then admitted that a breakfront “sounded like something her mother would have.” Listen, if you want to buy a sofa, no one’s going to try to sell you a Davenport.
Focus on form. It’s the shape of vintage pieces that matters (upholstery can be changed) and the contrast between antiques and newer things. “I think there needs to be a re-appreciation of how cool antiques look next to contemporary pieces,” Olsen says. “How long have we been saying, ‘It’s all in the mix,’ but that somehow still needs to sink in. The market is now educated enough that people are not buying a suite of furniture, but they also might not get that something curvy and art nouveau might look really cool next to the Florence Knoll classic modernist sofa.”
Buy when your heart is in it. Though Olsen has a savvy eye for trends (art deco has already had its return to glory, art nouveau is coming back, American arts and crafts such as Stickley, not so much), he counsels clients to stick to pieces they fall in love with. “They should be things that speak to you. You’re not buying it because all of your friends have it or just because it’s old or because you need to have vintage to round out your living room. I want people to respond to the personality of something.”
If you don’t get the French armchair … we’re going to grab it. “I’m always looking for an interesting French or Italian armchair,” says Olsen. “One interesting chair, next to a modern sofa, can make a room.” And at these prices, “it brings out the hoarder part of me.”