Why vintage furniture is back on trend
'A funny thing happens on the vintage furniture scene," says Killian McNulty of The Vintage Hub. "And it makes me wonder about the human psyche." The phenomenon, as he describes it, is that one type of furniture becomes hugely popular for no apparent reason. It waxes and then it wanes.
"Last year, it was sideboards, then there was a wave of dining tables and chairs. And no sideboards...."
McNulty sounds like a man with a warehouse full of sideboards, waiting until their star is in the ascendancy once again. "Now, we're at the tail end of dining tables and there's a bit of a run on chests of drawers. Then it's rinse and repeat."
The Vintage Hub is one of the exhibitors at Timeless - The Irish Antique Dealers Fair, which takes place in the RDS, Dublin, next weekend. The fair runs the gamut of the antiques and contemporary design world, with everything from silver and jewellery to chandeliers, but mid-century furniture is a regular crowd-pleaser.
"The vintage furniture thing has become mainstream," McNulty says. "The people that come to us know something about it, they've done their homework and they're less focused on the price than on how it will function in the space.
"And there's the environmental thing. You know that vintage furniture has longevity. It has already survived a family. It's proved that it can have an afterlife. And we've refurbished it to as good as you can get." Punters can expect the dealers to bring their largest and most spectacular pieces to the fair. Some of them can do tricks.
"You need to see a bit of action," says McNulty, who hopes to bring a Flip Flap table, made around 1960 by the Danish firm Dyrlund-Smith. It's a round-topped extendable dining table. This sounds like a physical impossibility, but not to the clever Danes. The table (120cm in diameter) seats four.
"Under the table-top are four individual leaves. These pull out and each leaf opens like a book and slots into the piece next to it, a bit like a hatch in a bar. The extended table (175cm in diameter) seats eight. The brass hinges are exposed and contribute to the aesthetic of the design. "It's a very unusual thing and great for demonstrating," McNulty says.
Danish furniture was often designed for compact living and the Roundette dining table, designed by Hans Olsen in the 1960s, comes with four chairs that fit under the rim of the table (€1,995). When they're in place, the chairs are almost invisible. McNulty is also bringing a No.58 desk, also designed in the 1960s, by Arne Wahl Iversen for Vinde Møbelfabrik (€3,950). "In fairness, it's an expensive thing," he says. "But it's a desirable desk that's hard to come by."
Domhnall Ó Gairbhí of Acquired is also exhibiting at Timeless. When I speak to him, he's driving out to Italy to collect a rosewood drinks cabinet with a revolving door. "I'm hoping to be back in time," he says, a little anxiously. "If everything goes according to plan, it will be one of my feature pieces."
The drinks cabinet is Italian, attributed to Paolo Buffa, and dates from the late 1940s. Like the Flip Flap table, it's a performance piece. It presents as a flat-fronted cabinet with a spectacular modernist design painted on the front. Push it and the front of the cabinet swings around, like a revolving door, to reveal a hidden drinks cabinet.
"We've a growing number of younger clients, but last year at Timeless, we also saw a lot of established collectors who have invested in antique furniture all their lives and are moving towards mid-century," Ó Gairbhí says.
When collectors are downsizing, and can no longer accommodate massive Georgian sideboards, compact vintage furniture comes into its own.
For people that want to begin a collection, or those without a lot of money to spend, he recommends starting with one or two feature pieces. "That's what people seem to do and it works very well for them."
For around €150, you can buy a vintage industrial wall clock made in Czechoslovakia by Pragotron, the company that produced most of the clocks used in schools, offices, train stations and factories in the Eastern Bloc. The clocks were originally designed to be "daughter clocks" run by a central "mother clock" to synchronise work shifts or the beginning and end of a school day.
Alternatively, you can buy an entry-level drinks trolley in brass and rosewood for €250. It's neither very large nor very grand but, with a nice ceramic piece from the same period, would dial the tone of a room back to the mid-20th century.
At the other end of the scale, Ó Gairbhí will be bringing a rare 1950s drinks trolley (€1,750) by the Italian designer Cesare Lacca. With a glass top and large wheels in Italian brass, it looks more like a sports wheelchair than a piece of furniture. He's also bringing sideboards, both the accessible and the very much less accessible. "Sideboards are a firm favourite with both existing and new collectors," he says. "It's mainly due to the ease with which you can develop a room around them."
Timeless runs in the Shelbourne Hall of the RDS on September 13 (11am-8pm); and on September 14-15 (11am-6pm).
See iada.ie, thevintagehub.com and acquired.ie.