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Can the Market for Brown Furniture Find Its Level?

Art Market Monitor — by Marion Maneker

George II Mahogany Bureau sold by Stair Galleries
George II Mahogany Bureau sold by Stair Galleries

The Financial Times looks at crisis in “brown furniture” as it remains over-shadowed by a taste for mid-century modern or design pieces. Some blame the trade’s failure to market its wares. But other signs point to a failure of the trade to let the market fully readjust values.

Here’s the FT on the trade’s attempts to reduce supply in the mid-range to keep a floor under prices:

Antiques in the mid-range are especially feeling the pinch — a result of oversupply and lacklustre demand. “There are huge warehouses around the countryside full of lovely reasonably priced furniture,” says Caroline de Cabarrus of Hotspur Design, a consultancy specialising in historic interiors. However, most of these treasure troves are open only to the antiques trade, she adds, and “they do not like anyone turning up only to browse”. De Cabarrus recently unearthed a Regency-period mahogany chest of drawers with original brass dolphin handles that was created to commemorate Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. It cost £650 in a warehouse in Lincolnshire, while a similar piece in central London is likely to be sold for £2,000 to £3,000.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t dealers trying to take advantage of this moment:

Will Fisher, founder of antiques dealer Jamb, is a self-confessed life-long fanatic. His Pimlico showroom is already packed with 18th and 19th-century antiques, and he admits the only way he can stop buying is if he runs out of space. “Now is an amazing time to buy because so much is massively undervalued,” he says.

Falling prices are as advantageous for dealers as they are damaging for auctioneers. Colin Stair is the founder of Stair Galleries, an auction house based in Hudson, New York. He has found the brown furniture “downturn” brutal, citing a recent sale of a rare George II mahogany bureau, c1750, which sold for $15,000 excluding buyer’s premium — its lowest estimate. Only the “drop dead gorgeous” pieces at the top of the market have retained their value, Stair adds.


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