Meet the antique collectors who have turned their backs on new decor to hunt for pre-owned vintage pieces for half the price
‘Because well-designed furniture shouldn’t cost the earth.” So goes the sustainability slogan for MADE, a much-loved, UK-based affordable furniture brand that stopped delivering to the island of Ireland when Brexit custom processes came into place.
This May, the brand teamed up with Geev, an app that helps find second homes for pre-loved items.
Technically, anyone can rehome their furniture and homewares through Geev, but now if you buy something new at MADE, you are directed to Geev to upload an item, and if you do upload a piece, MADE will donate 10pc of your order value to one of five designated charities.
Along similar lines, Ikea have just launched ‘Buy Back’ in Ireland. In this service, customers are encouraged to “sell back” the furniture they no longer need to Ikea in exchange for a voucher for the store.
‘Exchange it’ would be a more accurate name. Good-as-new products will fetch up to 50pc in Ikea vouchers, minor scratches sees this reduced to 40pc and well-used with several scratches will receive 30pc of the original cost.
This will be music to the ears of those whose children have outgrown cots, beds, desks and chairs, as well as remote workers who panic-ordered home office equipment at the beginning of lockdown one. As part of it, Ikea have rebranded their Bargain Corners to Circular Hubs.
It niggles that the voucher system makes consumption circular too. No cash refunds are offered through ‘Back Buy’, so customers must spend again in Ikea.
While giving a second life to furniture is admirable, encouraging customers to buy more Ikea goods in the same process seems to defeat the purpose. Unless you blow it all on Daim cake, which would also be admirable.
Ikea have addressed this by saying the voucher has no use-by date and can be spent on food and on second-hand furniture.
Embracing second-hand furniture fully would be a sounder option for the environment. Older pieces have stood the test of time — proving their value — and often need just a little love or time to settle into a home.
Second hand is second nature to Wendy Crawford, whose home is filled with older pieces and vintage curios.
“I like the quality and the timelessness,” she says. “A lot of new furniture is made so cheaply and fast with very little regard for longevity. It’s far too trend-driven for my tastes.
"I kind of grew up in a home with antiques and second-hand furniture as my mum really loved hunting for them. Long weekends driving round the country looking for chairs and tables whetted the appetite.”
Over the years, Wendy has developed contacts from markets and dealers.
“Once they know your tastes, they tend to contact you if something comes up they think you’ll like. Instagram, in more recent years, is a great way to find things, but you have to be fast.”
Wendy was a big flea fan.
“I really do miss Dublin Flea. To have it on our doorstep was such a joy for the whole community. I wish there was a way to reinstate it somehow.”
Previously, she was also a keen charity shop rummager, but between running her business — clothes and homewares shop Scout in Temple Bar — and having a young family, she hasn’t had the time lately. Wendy hasn’t ventured into selling second-hand homewares either.
“We have vintage props in the shop, but I don’t sell any. It’s a tough business and I like vintage too much to sell it. It would ruin the joy for me, I think. People nit picking flaws, which to me make up the beauty. I’d hate that.”
These days, she prefers a more edited selection and is willing to pay a little more for it. Her business neighbours, Find on Cow’s Lane, are a frequent shout. “Naomi has a lovely eye and really knows my style.”
And one of her most-loved pieces comes from there — a pantry press Wendy painted on the inside with Annie Sloan’s Svenska Blue to display her favourite pieces. “I love it. It’s used and enjoyed daily. The bottom acts as a second larder for the kitchen.”
She looks farther afield than one street over too. “I recently bought a beautiful set of drawers from House McGrath in Cork. It was a leap of faith as I hadn’t seen them in person, but it turned out well.”
Wendy also happens to be college friends with Joy Thorpe, owner of Joy Thorpe Decorative Antiques in Castlecomer.
Joy’s impeccably curated, styled and photographed images on @joy.thorpe have stopped many a scroller in their tracks, and though the shop is now open, Instagram remains an added shop window for her pieces.
She has been interested in pre-loved things for as long as she can remember, from vintage cars, to antique furniture to old houses. “My grandmother was a bit of a hoarder, so her house was jam-packed with the most beautiful things,” Joy says.
Currently, her well-honed eye sources mainly online, with a weekly visit to her local car boot sale.
Banks of drawers, leather club chairs and Chesterfield sofas are always popular, and her customers are leaning towards linen, leather, old pine and marble. “Sustainable, hardwearing and natural materials,” she says.
Joy’s customers look for pieces that will last and potentially become heirlooms. “I’m always amazed by how much new furniture costs in comparison to buying vintage or antique. Antiques bring warmth, charm and individuality to a room.”
Someone who certainly has a flair and an eye for individuality is Kat Lonergan of @houseofklaximalism. Her west Dublin home is brimming with old pieces, animal décor, marble and eastern styles. She also grew up with antiques at home.
“I always appreciated second-hand pieces, but for me personally, vintage shopping began initially as I love a good bargain,” Kat says.
“Then when I saw the quality and the uniqueness of the pieces I was finding online and in vintage shops, I realised that in some cases, I could find nicer and more original pieces for way less than high-street furniture brands.”
One of Kat’s most-prized pieces is what she calls the “monk’s bench”, which is ornately carved with dragons and lives in her hallway.
“My mother was moving house and had nowhere to put it, so I volunteered to mind it. She has since passed away, so it’s a very treasured piece for me.”
Kat keeps an eye on easyliveauction.com, and also loves eBay, Pamono and Catawiki, but it’s not all online.
“Some of my favourite places in Ireland are antique shops in Sligo, Killarney, Clifden and Mulranny. Too many to mention really, but basically, I will sniff out antiques and vintage wherever I go.”