April 15, 2024
The ‘retro’ vintage furnishings that may value lower than a flat-pack

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A sketch of a woman lying back on a bed in a room full of antique furniture
© Zebedee Helm

Of the handfuls of things of second-hand furnishings I’ve purchased over the previous few years, none has delivered higher bang for its buck than the Georgian oak linen press I picked up from the Golding Younger & Mawer public sale home in Lincolnshire final spring.

Linen presses — generally known as garments presses — are usually not usually present in modern properties, although they’re good-looking and helpful; I can’t think about why they fell out of trend (the erratically dependable Wikipedia suggests built-in joinery is in charge). With a regular chest of drawers for a base and a pair of double doorways opening to disclose often 5 rows of slides up high, they had been in style objects of bed room furnishings from the seventeenth to Nineteenth centuries and used, because the identify implies, to retailer mattress sheets, garments and different textiles (the deep slides are significantly nifty, as they assist you to see all your folded-up jumpers directly, slightly than go digging by means of ever-toppling stacks as you’d on a traditional shelf). At the moment they are often had for subsequent to nothing at public sale — I purchased mine for £120, lower than a two-door Pax wardrobe from Ikea — and use it to retailer the entire garments I don’t cling.

Linen presses fall broadly right into a class of what I describe as “helpful however retro” furnishings that’s of terrific high quality and, when sourced at public sale, usually prices lower than an affordable excessive avenue equal. It’s a class of antiques that features different giant items of storage furnishings similar to tallboys (primarily two chests of drawers stacked on high of one another), armoires and freestanding wardrobes, open bookcases, sideboards and pedestal desks.

“The market could be very polarised with the sought-after objects that are few and much between fetching actually sturdy cash whereas ‘home fillers’ are inclined to go for firewood,” says Gear Antiques’ Marc Costantini, whose Lillie Street store has been the supply of a few of my finest (and best-priced) finds up to now. “Auctions are fantastic for getting giant or very giant objects which most individuals, commerce included, can’t give storage to and usually are usually not impulse buys. Most auctioneers have a tendency to offer them very low estimates and no reserves simply to get them away. Conversely, these are the issues that the majority vintage retailers cost essentially the most for as a result of they’re so giant and ponderous.”

An early Nineteenth-century mahogany bow-front linen press up for public sale this week by means of Tennants Auctioneers in Leyburn, North Yorkshire, est £150-£250 © Tennants Auctioneers, North Yorkshire

Past my record, that features eating tables, giant buffets, sofas, Chesterfields and beds, says Costantini. Smaller items of furnishings similar to facet tables and washstands, of which there are dozens up for public sale every week, can simply be repurposed as desks (as long as the peak is about 73cm). Journey trunks make for cheap espresso tables, and corridor chairs that after graced the entryways of grand nation estates make for engaging and surprising bedsides (and at a fraction of the worth of matching Georgian washstands, pot cabinets or commodes).

There are some bits of furnishings, nonetheless, which are finest left on the saleroom flooring. Davenports had been “the Rolls-Royce of furnishings of their day, however not given home house” says Costantini, and it’s not tough to see why — with their compact proportions and sloping leather-covered tops, they had been good for storing stationery and dashing off correspondence within the Nineteenth century, however gained’t help right now’s typical WFH setup. An inlaid Edwardian open bookcase may be discovered for £100 or much less, however I believe it’s value paying up for the superior solidity and patina of the Georgian originals they had been typically aping.

In the event you actually worth operate over type, you may pursue the deeply retro stuff — eg darkish, Victorian and heavy. Inlaid Edwardian furnishings can also be little in demand and whereas I don’t personally prefer it, it’s preferable to particleboard. Arts and Crafts furnishings tends to be solidly made, and sure items, similar to wardrobes and bookcases, can go for little or no. And Artwork Deco furnishings veneered in birdseye maple or burr walnut — once more, slightly hideous to my eye, however maybe well-suited to a Thirties home — is each simple to seek out and usually cheap.

A phrase of recommendation for those who do go the public sale route: at all times e-mail to ask (or higher but name) for situation experiences, guarantee drawers and slides run easily, and doorways keep shut. An public sale discount can turn into something but when it’s worthwhile to ship a chunk out for repairs. Keep away from something described as “Georgian fashion” or “Regency fashion” — it’s a shorthand for a copy. It’s at all times finest to see a chunk in particular person, and failing that, get as many images (ideally in pure mild) because the showroom will ship you. And don’t overlook eBay.

If I’ve offered you on the excellence of linen presses, however you’d slightly skip the public sale home, I extremely suggest seller Ron Inexperienced’s choice. The family-run crew has fantastic style and terrific information, and each merchandise is restored of their workshop earlier than going surfing, so that you don’t have to fret about wonky drawers.

Lauren Indvik is the FT’s trend editor

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