For the last 15 years the mantra of antiques dealers is that “the tide has turned” and antiques are coming back in fashion. The reality has been a steady decline that seems to never stop trending down. Yes, there are exceptions, but the use of period furnishings in interior design and collectors in general have gone the way of the dodo bird, probably never to return. Museums house these relics for the public to gawk at but actually living with these things presently has little or no possibility of a recovery.
The fact that there are so few dealers of any consequence in the high end period space perhaps is the clearest indication that the long awaited revival will not happen. If dealers aren’t around to promote their stock, who else will? Their trade associations died with their membership and what remains is a skeleton of what use to be vital organizations. Ultimately, it is the loss of being able to communicate with a new type of buyer that is the death knell of the trade. This failure to reach out to the public at large is to some extent a public relations issue, as most TV shows only look at it from a financial perspective, what’s it worth, and not how to live with and enjoy these items.
The window for survival outside the contemporary and 20th Century decorative styles is now quite complete. One trick pony’s or dealers that specialize in period furnishing are hobbled by a market that is shrinking faster than the loss of competition among the dealers in those markets. How many great English or French dealers are left now when compared to 10, 20 years ago? The major auctions don’t want to accommodate selling these items for fear of the high buy-in rates and a non-existent secondary market of dealers who use to vie for their goods. The show format is stale and now accommodates these dealers for a diversity of participants. Unfortunately, for those of us still left, it requires being the bearer of bad news on current values to former clients and those who are looking to dispose of these once valuable items.
The future for period decorative arts can no longer be covered over with a false sense of optimism. There are no positive trends or new horizons for the possibility of a rebound. Knowledge of these items is critical for any contemplation of a leveling off of this trend and that one commodity is clearly drifting further and further from recovery. Young decorators today don’t know or even care about the difference between a Louis XV and Louis XVI chair. And why should they, when their clients have lesser interest. The simplicity of contemporary and modern design is now so compelling. Understanding comfort and minimalism is effortless and doesn’t require a lot of money or appreciation.