A Case for Antiques and Vintage Design: Old is Awesome

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antique chair and dresser

I wrote recently about the journey of my dresser. From there and back again, a 6,000-mile journey and a lifetime of memories.

It’s in your future is where older furniture counts, because our connection grows as the years pass.

Sadly, in the Ikeafication of the modern world, it’s easy to forget that some furniture is so much more than just for status and style.

Thanks to being raised with a foot in the past at my childhood home, antiques are part of my soul. There’s something about furniture that maybe you don’t have a story for yet, but you know has lived many lives before intersecting with yours.

It’s not a chair, it’s a mystery

Take, for instance, my 1846 camelback armchair.

As a writer, I can stand back and look at that thing, and remember warmly all the stories of my family and all our events that occurred when someone was enjoying its big squishy comfort. But I’m a child of the ‘70s and that chair was alive for 125 years before my birth.

How many other souls have sat in it? How much life went down in that chair? Has anyone died in it? How many children sat on someone’s knees? Were there marriage proposals and other life events? What books have been read in its comforting arms over the 170 years it’s been on this planet?

That chair is five generations old, if not older. As times changed, it simply remained what it was — the carefully crafted chair sitting in the corner as life went down around it.

Reclaimed wood is reclaimed history

Another armoire I have is made of floorboards from a landmark store in Vancouver that was demoed in the early ‘90s. All the woodworkers got together and gutted the boards, turning it into reclaimed wood furniture. Now those floors are my armoire, and I can close my eyes and imagine the hundreds of thousands of people who’ve walked across them in the century they serviced a public, even though the furniture itself is less than 20 years old.

I can see men in spats and bowlers dragging their short-pantsed children across the candy section of Woodwards’ floors. I can see pretty women in the 1920s selling perfume atomizers. I can see people in awe, staring at the first electric appliances in the store.

Allowing you to dream of something bigger

And that’s antiques for you. They  allow you to dream of something bigger than just the piece you have before you, of times that precede you.

They bring to mind wars and peace, infamous eras like the Roaring ‘20s. They make you wonder how many natural disasters they’ve survived. Whether someone sold the piece in the Dirty ‘30s to pay for food for a hungry family, or a son cried to receive it on his father’s deathbed as he started his own family.

Antiques remind us that we’re passing by in the squint of an eye. As much as we think our lives bring meaning and bigness to our world, even furniture can last longer than us, bringing story after story as it goes. It’s perspective you live among.

An investment in more ways than one

The cliche “they don’t build ‘em like they used to” is true for good reason. Old furniture tends to stand tough for generations, even today, and they’re investment pieces. With the Baby Boomer generation downsizing and their predecessors in their advanced elderly years, more and more antiques are hitting the markets than ever before.

There’s never been a better time to start collecting antique furniture. Prices are low, they’ve been owned by older people who’ve cared for them well through the years, and the economy isn’t exactly awesome yet, so good prices and great pieces are aplenty.

So much great design has occurred over the past two centuries, of all kinds, that there’s a look to suit every style and they’re far more forgiving that you imagine. I have mixed pieces spanning 170 years of design and it all comes together harmoniously.

You’ll have a story to tell

Today, antique prices are fairly low, but as the years to pass, fewer and fewer of antiques will survive, due to natural disasters, fires, poor care, and more. Those who remain will enjoy higher values, and your furniture will have become an investment.

Plus, you’ll have unique furnishings, conversation pieces. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll have yet another story to tell one day.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.