The Joy of the Old
By Eleanor Hall.
Eleanor Hall (Diploma Architectural Interior Design) graduated from Inchbald in 2015 after winning the Principal’s Prize. She is now working at Tessuto. Eleanor has written a guest blog for us lamenting the loss of “brown antiques” in modern interior design schemes – bring back brown!
“Brown furniture”. A distinctly uninspiring title conjuring up images of rambling and dilapidated country houses, National Trust properties or furniture left to you in a great aunt’s legacy.
One thing is for certain, for many people this type of furniture does not have a place in modern life.
Thirty years ago brown furniture was the cornerstone of the country saleroom and London’s Fulham Road was known as “the brown mile” for its wealth of antique dealerships.
However, those halcyon days are now firmly behind us. As reported in the Financial Times last year, the value of high-end antique furniture has fallen astronomically. English pieces from the Regency period and the 18th century are worth 30 per cent less than 10 years ago and French 18th-century furniture has halved in value over the same period.
As an interior designer, one often feels the pressure to follow the latest ‘trends’, finding new pieces for clients which perform on a multi-functioning level. The demand for single-use pieces has decreased. Brown furniture does not fit into the design aesthetic of modern life. People ask for clean, modern, Italian or Scandinavian style furniture that fits into modern lateral style apartments. The problem with a lot of old furniture is that it is often very large in scale and needs room to breathe – think Downton Abbey rather than 2 bed apartment in Bermondsey. With London’s prime real estate market now worth more than £12000 per square metre, every millimetre of space counts and it becomes a mortal sin to waste it on a George III Regency Chest.
As a result, one of the things that so often gets forgotten is the classic antique piece of furniture. After all, who can find space for a “what-not” in a modern apartment?
However, there is a mounting campaign for reclaiming the right of brown furniture to a place in the twenty-first century home.
In 2015 Jeremy Lamond, the fine art director at the auction house Halls of Shrewsbury, launched a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #BringBackBrownFurniture. Mr Lamond called for us to take our brown furniture out of the attic and for interior designers to use it as part of an interior concept; as the ‘making of an interior’. Clients may already have antiques handed down to them by a great aunt or grandmother, in which case the job of the interior designer is then to consider how to incorporate favourite pieces into their design, rather than encouraging them to replace an old family heirloom with something sleek and Italian. That is not to say that these items cannot sit alongside new pieces of furniture or modern wall treatments – indeed I actually think that the juxtaposition of old and new furniture can create the most wonderful, personal and eclectic interiors.
I believe strongly that antique furniture can be aesthetically appealing to the modern eye if styled carefully and with consideration for its historical value.
Recently I was fortunate enough to visit the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice, where art dealer and antiques guru Axel Vervoordt has curated the most inspiring installation that challenges our notions of how antique furniture can be incorporated into 21st-century design. Within the walls of the Gothic Palazzo, visitors will find an elegant treasure trove of modern art and sculpture, with works by artists such as Anish Kapoor and Anthony Gormley sitting happily alongside classic Italian antique furniture.
A British designer who has done more than her bit to “bring back brown furniture” is Rose Uniacke. Her showroom and design studio on the Pimlico Road showcases a wonderful mélange of the old and the new. Her designs complement the antique pieces that she incorporates and gives them new life and relevance. Furniture showrooms such as Jamb (Pimlico Road) and decorative antiques fairs like the one held at Battersea Park are also excellent places to spot pieces that can be interspersed with newer items in a contemporary interior.
So why not spend time a little time indulging in a spot of “antiquing” at the weekend, challenging perceptions of how the modern home should look and bringing life and purpose back to beautiful antique furniture.