From Antique To Modern: The Great Shift In Luxury Furniture Investing

Luxe Life

From Antique To Modern: The Great Shift In Luxury Furniture Investing

High-end furniture collectors are increasingly gravitating towards modern pieces – rather than antiques – for both their homes and investment portfolios.

Published on 29 August 2017

There’s been a seismic shift in the high-end furniture market over the last ten years, where antiques – once the investment of choice of the wealthy, who historically have a fondness for old-world elegance – have fallen out of favour, and have been replaced at the top of investors’ wish lists by modern and contemporary design pieces.

According to the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index, luxury furniture assets have seen a 31% decline in the value over the past ten years, with a 5% dip in 2016. Although these figures include both antique and modern pieces, upon closer examination, the change in the market preference from old to new is clearly illustrated: French 18th century, English 18th century, and Regency pieces fell 64%, 35%, and 30% respectively over the last ten years (and 21%, 9%, and 9% respectively last year); while early and mid-20th century furniture investments saw only a slight drop in value of 1% over the last 10 years, but an increase of 8% in 2016.

These price-growth trends can be seen in auction houses across the world, where the likes of Christie’s and Phillips have put more emphasis in recent years on masters of mid-century modern furniture design like Carlo Mollino, Gio Ponti, Jean Prouvé, and Jean Royère, as well as contemporary designers like Marc Newson and Joris Laarman. And these modern maestros have delivered some world-record shattering sales: an aluminium Lockheed Lounge sofa by Newson sold at Phillips in April 2015 for £2.4 million (US$3.1 million) – the highest price ever paid for a piece by a living designer sold at auction.

A change in tastes

So what is driving this shift from old to new among high-end furniture collectors? A look inside the typical chic, contemporary home – where Eames lounge chair is a far more likely sight than an opulent 18th-century bookshelf – reveals how tastes have changed. Indeed, many sources suggest interior décor aesthetics are now gravitating towards clean lines and functional pieces due to changes in lifestyles and living spaces over the last 15 years, where apartment-style living is preferred and floor space is a precious commodity. This kind of minimalist “Scandi” design style is very much in fashion, and even emerging designers (particularly the Scandinavian ones, who draw inspiration from mid-century design) are rapidly growing in popularity and building a significant following among collectors.

Demand now for contemporary Scandinavian home furnishings is currently so high that Danish mid-century pieces that were bought for a few hundred dollars 20 years ago are now worth 25 times that amount. The style has become a recognised collecting category over the last 10 years, largely spurred by investors from Asia and other emerging markets who are eschewing the lavishness of antique grand antique showpieces – which some call the “brown furniture” ­– and opting for a more clean, cutting-edge designs.

According to Forbes, the value of a piece depends on a number of factors including quality, authenticity, uniqueness, and the impossibility to replicate (i.e. if the designer is no longer alive or the piece is no longer in production). Much like with other assets, the rarer and better-made the piece in question is, the higher the return in the future. Acquiring a piece as part of a whole set – for example, a living room suite, a pair of matching floor lamps, or a dining room set – will also help boost its value and probably make it a more attractive lot when it eventually goes under the hammer.

The future of antiques

As it stands, the immediate future of antique furniture is not so bright – at least for those who have amassed substantial private collections and are looking to liquidate. However, there is a degree of optimism for the longer term, as prices for antique pieces are bound to rebound at some stage. Many experts say that now – with prices seemingly bottoming out – is an ideal time to purchase antique furniture.

Indeed, it may be worthwhile to consider adding an antique piece or two that will add a flourish of classic elegance to your home, to be kept as an heirloom or until the tide turns in the market and antiques become highly sought-after once again.

The bottom line

When looking to invest in either antique or modern luxury furniture as an alternative asset, purchase a piece that you love and that works well with your home’s décor. This will ensure that – regardless of the fluctuations and changing tastes in the market – the piece will have an important place in your household and in your investment portfolio over the years.

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