Vintage furniture: why is it so popular?
For some years now, the new generations have been favouring vintage furniture over antiques. What are the reasons for this growing phenomenon? Discover the explanation in this article which explores the origins of vintage furniture and the reasons for this craze.
The origin of the term “vintage
Originating from the Old French word ” vendange ” and having undergone a semantic and pronunciation alteration, the word ” vintage ” is an Anglicism from the world of oenology. In English, it refers to a wine of great quality, a grand cru, particularly in relation to its age or vintage. Although it officially appeared in the Robert dictionary in 1967 to designate a “vintage”, today the term has evolved considerably and designates anything second-hand: clothing, furniture or even a vintage car. According to the definition in the current Larousse, vintage “is said of a garment, accessory, etc., from previous decades, brought up to date”.
A piece of furniture can be qualified as “vintage furniture”, provided that it is at least 20 years old and that it was created after the 1940’s (before that, one would speak of Modernist style, Art-deco, Art-nouveau, etc… and then of antique). Vintage furniture is therefore a piece of furniture from the 20th century. It is therefore a piece of furniture that has passed through time, that bears witness to a strong history, that offers a characteristic line of the different trends that appeared in furniture during the 20th century.
Nowadays, the term“vintage furniture” is used to describe furniture signed by major designers as well as anonymous pieces known as “off-the-shelf“, which do not use wood or noble materials. When a piece is signed or includes design work and precious materials, it has a certain value on the market. This is known as “20th century design furniture” rather than “vintage furniture”, because it is the result of real research work by a designer. These are the pieces that still influence modern designs in the 21st century.
Why is vintage furniture so successful?
Vintage furniture is becoming more and more popular, that’s a fact. But what are the reasons for this success? Let’s try to decipher it..
Many factors can explain the growing success of vintage furniture. Here are the main ones:
- Firstly and undoubtedly, the unique and original lines
of true vintage and design furniture from the 20th century, a real revolution that continues to influence contemporary designers.
- Secondly, for well-made pieces, quality manufacturing techniques associated with noble materials
(teak, rosewood, brass, cast aluminium, etc.) guarantee quality and longevity of the furniture produced at the time.
- An increasingly rare commodity and collector’s items. There is therefore a certain pleasure in acquiring a piece of furniture from the 50s or 60s
- A market price
for signed pieces. Your signed acquisition will not lose value, or even increase in value over time! This is rarely the case with new furniture, which loses 20 to 30% of its value when it leaves the shop.
We can add to this:
- A style that is reassuring
in a period of economic downturn like the one we are experiencing, with the global crisis and worries about the future..
- Furniture that brings a touch of originality, a unique and timeless cachet
to your interior, especially when combined with contemporary furniture.
- In France, the history of furniture is centuries old and extremely rich. The influence of the “classical” style and antiques has long been the order of the day: Louis XV, Napoleon, Empire, Directoire… so many styles that have dressed our interiors for centuries. But the new generations shun antique styles,
which they consider dusty and outdated. The new reference for antique furniture is the 20th century, not the 19th or 18th century, which convey a dusty, outdated image that is out of step with young (and not so young) working people.
“There is a loss of faith in the future, in the great value of progress”,
Michel Maffesoli, sociologist.
Vintage, antique or retro furniture?
“Retro” and “antique” are two terms often used to describe furniture with an old style, so that confusion can quickly arise with the term “vintage furniture”. However, these terms have very different meanings: while “antique” furniture refers to furniture that is more than 100 years old according to common definitions, “retro” refers to contemporary creations inspired by the curves, colours and trends of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. A “retro” piece of furniture is therefore not a “vintage” piece of furniture, since it is contemporary by virtue of the period in which it was produced.
Different eras, different styles
Vintage furniture can be of different styles, depending on the underlying influence (modernist, post-war, memphis, etc.) that characterises it. The materials, colours and shapes are all distinctive elements that allow vintage furniture to be dated.
- Vintage furniture from the 1950s:
It is characterised by light, minimalist and slender curves, but above all by the presence of metal, a material launched by designers such as Pierre Guariche or Jacques Dumond in France.
- Vintage furniture of the 1960s:
This saw the advent of mass consumption, via industrial quantities imported mainly from the United States, and the use of new materials: bakelite, moulded plastic and ABS appeared in designers’ creations. Colour was used more and more and organic shapes inspired by nature began to appear.
- Vintage furniture of the 70s: It is a continuation of the leading philosophy of the 60s: the free spirit. The shapes are original, the patterns psychedelic and the colours flashy
. The style of the time defied codes, and plastic and its derivatives were used en masse. In addition, Formica, stainless steel and Plexiglas are particularly present.
- Vintage furniture from the 1980s: They are characterised by “fluorescent
” colours and more generally by bright colours. The protest against the consumer society and individualism is reflected in the various creations and the main desire of enthusiasts is to mark their difference by acquiring these new designs.
Is this a fashion effect or a lasting trend?
In France and in many other countries a new way of consuming has appeared, the era of hyperconsumption is over; ecology, sustainability and “green” are the order of the day. Second-hand and vintage furniture are logically part of the new modes of consumption that are taking hold in our daily lives.
“People are fed up with Kleenex consumption,” says
Nathalie Rozborski, director of consulting for the Nelly Rodi style bureau.
The purchase of a vintage piece of furniture expresses in the mind of its buyer a desire to consume in a more responsible, more ecological way. Vintage furniture reassures and symbolises a return to the roots, a need to turn to safe havens, to affirm a style and to vary the inspirations for an interior decoration with diverse, cosmopolitan and timeless influences.
And in twenty years, will vintage furniture still be relevant? Well yes, because today’s new furniture is tomorrow’s vintage furniture! Just like fashion, vintage furniture follows cyclical trends and patterns that reappear over time, with timeless pieces that endure.
Reissues, inspirations and copies
Original vintage furniture is widely reproduced today, in various forms, both legal and totally illegal.
is a legal reproduction by a manufacturer aiming to re-produce and then distribute the pieces designed by the great designers of the 20th century once the rights and licences have been acquired. The model produced by the manufacturer is therefore perfectly in line with the original model, both in style and quality. Reissuing is therefore perfectly legitimate and many manufacturers are playing the game of reissuing, surfing on the success of vintage furniture. But the prices are incomparable with the original: with the exception of collector’s items (which will no longer be collector’s items if they are reissued…), a new reissued piece is often much more expensive than a period piece.
- As forvintage-inspired furniture
, it is also becoming more and more numerous. The success of vintage furniture has led to the creation of numerous companies offering vintage-inspired furniture, in the style of, well, “fake real” in a way. The shapes and colours are strongly reminiscent of vintage furniture, the pieces are very much inspired by design icons, but a few centimetres of difference in the curves allow the rules imposed by the law to be respected. The legislation is clear, the term “inspired by” must be mentioned so that the furniture is not considered a copy and the lines must be different of course. Although similar in style, the high quality of a vintage piece of furniture cannot be found in a heavily inspired piece.
however, some unscrupulous sellers, mainly operating on the internet, simply plunder the creative work of the great designers of the 20th century. They do not hesitate to offer copies and play on the ambiguity of the terms displayed on their sites in order to deceive buyers. Unlike the sites offering inspirations, these are perfectly forbidden. Although the price is low and may therefore seem attractive, this is done at the expense of quality. The materials used are fragile, less aesthetic, the life of the furniture will be reduced and breakage frequent. Not to mention the fact that the electrical standards are not respected, which presents a danger of electrocution. If there is the slightest problem, it will be impossible to hope for an after-sales service since no guarantee is offered by these sites. Finally, unlike vintage furniture, copies lose their value very quickly and do not represent a lasting investment over time. That being said, it is up to each person to decide according to his or her budget and convictions…
If the original term comes from the world of wine and grape harvests, there is no universal definition because the term “vintage” is used today in all fields of activity. Its success can be explained by various reasons, the main ones being the unique charm and the extra soul they bring to their owner, the lasting and reassuring aspect they provide in these uncertain times, their growing popularity on the market, etc.
And this phenomenon is not about to stop, if we are to believe sociologists and decorators, and if we look around us: in northern Europe – Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden – the history of furniture is different. Design took off much earlier than in France, and everyone has designer furniture and vintage furniture. It’s a bit like their standard. France has a lot of catching up to do and the penetration of design and vintage furniture in France will intensify in the coming decades.
As for copies and inspired furniture, if they don’t go in the direction of the great historical publishers of design, they at least have the merit of allowing the greatest number of people to discover the origins of design, and to democratise the new style that is imposing itself in France: design and vintage furniture.