Brown is Back

Is Brown Back?

Firstly, I really don’t like the term “brown furniture”, currently used to describe Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian era furniture, for me it has negative connotations, lumping all similar shade furniture into one worthless (or almost) pile. A term some in the trade have used derogatorily over the past 10 years, and it is time to change our thinking or at least the vernacular and then let the market decide true value.

A short history lesson for those who weren’t around the auctions and antique stores in the 80’ and 90’s, the golden years of Georgian and Victorian Furniture. I remember the evening “Antique Auctions” were filled with large cedar wardrobes, sideboards, chiffoniers, lady’s kneehole desks and other wonderful “brown” pieces, steeped in history and each with a story to tell. And the retailers were having a great time of it, the upper end of the market selling Victorian cedar and mahogany dining suites for $25 000 or even $30 000 and selling them regularly.

Then the bubble burst, or at least had a decent size hole and with the air escaping quickly, the signs were clear we were in for a change. Some of the smart top-end retailers started reducing stock, closing/retiring or changing their style. As our lifestyles changed, the day of formal dining became a mere recent memory, large homes were knocked over and developers built two sometimes three smaller dwellings and the room sizes diminished. The next generation of buyers wanted for something different, lighter timbers, more rustic and usable pieces. As open planned and outdoor living became the mainstream, the formal dining and lounge were a thing of the past, and simple economics kicked in, we just didn’t need these pieces any longer.

As time rolled on, trends changed, and we neglected this once heralded style. Prices tumbled over the years, the once $25 000 Victorian cedar dining suite is now a shadow of its original price at $1500, and even then, not selling quickly. For the past ten years, the prices and interest slumped to an all-time low, until recently. The past 12 months have seen a renewed interest from buyers in “the brown”.

Trends come, and trends go, and then come back again. Historically we have a void in our design and manufacturing history between WWI and WWII, and we I have seen in the last 30 years Victorian, Country Pine, French, Shabby Sheek, Industrial and Mid Century.

So where to next?

Two places, country pine, and Georgian & Victorian furniture. This time it won’t be rooms full, just one or two fine pieces, watch with a story to tell that blends seamlessly with our lifestyles and other furnishings. They will catch the eye and invoke a conversation, and be memorable, and maybe, just maybe preserved for the next generations to enjoy.

And our recent auction results, Showcase Auction Monday 8th October 2018, in part supports my theory. 19th Century Chest on Chests achieving $1200 + bp, Walnut cylinder cabinet $1100 and a late 19th Century Oak Bookcase $1700. Whilst these figures are nowhere close to the heady days of the 80’s and 90’s, they do represent a simmering change in popularity and something I welcome.

To those buyers looking for advice, and I use this sparingly (my experience is there are so many “experts” out there dishing out poor advice), buy one or two of the best pieces you can afford, pieces that are interesting, functional for you and have a great story.