That table from your childhood could be worth thousands
Last week, by way of a break from looking at sanitary fittings - yes, it's all glamour around here these days - I went to a furniture auction. It's been a while since I went to an auction and this one was a bit different in that, rather than the eclectic array of goods that you might find at my local auction rooms - Buckley's of Sandycove - it was limited to mid-20th-Century furniture, that is, from the post-war period.
Furniture from the fifties, sixties and seventies is very fashionable these days, but if you were born in one of those decades it can be tricky looking at some of the pieces with a wholly objective eye. I'm not talking about the classics that we are all familiar with, such as the Arne Jacobsen Egg chair that he designed for the Radisson SAS Hotel in Copenhagen in 1958. It's easier to accept that a piece is desirable when it's already acknowledged as a classic and instantly recognisable in the way that the Egg chair is.
It's also much easier when a piece of furniture is by a designer that one has heard of. We all know the names of Charles and Ray Eames, for instance, and the two EA216 chairs at the sale both went for strong prices.
It's much harder, though, to make a call on a piece of furniture when it doesn't have the handy appellation of a designer's name, when the decision about whether you like it or not is down purely to your own taste. And it becomes much more complicated when furniture that you were used to hearing sneered at when you were growing up comes full circle and becomes desirable once again. It forces you to think long and hard about your own aesthetic and whether you are confident enough to decide that you like something and appreciate it, whether or not it is fashionable.
There's a nagging worry that there's a touch of the emperor's new clothes about all this and that an amount of the furniture that is being peddled as mid-century these days is really of scant merit, even though it does indubitably derive from the mid-century. A friend who was in LA recently reports that the city has gone so crazy for any bit of mid-century furniture that even a modest nest of tables costs thousands.
Anyway, I brought along my son to temper my enthusiasm if I threatened to get carried away. As it happened, there were two pieces that I had my eye on: a Danish rosewood desk that I had no need for, because I already have a fine desk (it's one that the late Sam Stephenson designed for the Governor of the Bank of Ireland and I picked it up in Buckley's) and a set of French dining chairs from the seventies that I thought were rather beautiful. The guide price on those was €1,000-€1,500, but they went for several times that, which I am taking as a vindication of my taste. I came home without having raised my paddle.