The price of secondhand furniture is rising on a tide of millennial adoration for clean lines, rounded edges, eco-conscious thrifting, and minimalism with a bit of spice.
Crafters and curators savvy enough to know which eras are trending can surf that wave right out of the 9 to 5 and into the bank.
Because increasingly, 30-somethings are willing to pay the big bucks for interiors.
Head of department at auctioneers Webb’s, Ben Erren, 30, identifies three major trends in decorative arts for 2021.
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The first is that people are paying more for their secondhand furniture across the board. A lot more.
Spending has trended upward beyond an auctioneer’s wildest dreams because people still aren’t able to travel overseas, , he says, and have spent a lot of time in their homes over successive lockdowns – more than enough to prompt renovation and redecoration.
“We’ve seen prices for than object that would have gone for $2000-$4000 pre-Covid go in a competitive auction for $9000-$12000. People are really pouring their money into quality design.”
Items considered to be extremely rare in an international market have drawn prices like $60,000 for a bench seat, and $45,000 for a set of chairs: “There is a definite trend of people being less shy with spending big money to get quality pieces, at all levels of the market.”
The category to get the most noticeable boost is NZ designers.
The kind of money people are now willing to spend on vintage Kiwi designs was traditionally reserved for only the most famous Danish and Sacandinavian names. But a Marilyn Sainty cocktail chair, for example, was estimated to be worth $1500-$3000. It recently sold for $5400.
“Her designs are quite iconic, but previously they didn’t demand the prices international names could get” said Erren.
Customers coming to the auction houses are also getting younger, he adds. And if they’re not shopping at the top end of the market, they’re scrounging around opshops and Instagram.
Trade Me’s data comparing average sale prices from 2015 compared to 2020 supports that. The ‘art deco & retro’ category recorded a 7 per cent increase overall, while art deco and retro furniture had a 17 per cent increase.
Furniture and woodenware listed under ‘antiques & collectibles’ increased in price by 7 per cent.
“A lot of Kiwis look for rare and hard-to-find homeware pieces that they know they won’t be able to find in stores,” said head of marketplace, Ivan Fuyala. “We know mid-century furniture is popular with our members because we’ve seen over 10,000 searches in the past week.”
Mid-century has been bread and butter for the past three to five years in auction houses too, said Erren, and that shows no signs of changing.
“It fits in naturally with any contemporary or character home, and a lot of Kiwi homes were built during that time period. So it’s not going anywhere.”
In terms of the trends we’re likely to see next, say hello to Hollywood Regency and Memphis Design. Those styles were big in Los Angeles a year or two ago, and are starting to head to our shores.
“You can see shops like Mid Century Swag bringing it in. They’ve loaded up on Hollywood Regency and Memphis styles, and it appears to be selling really well,” Erren said.”
Hollywood Regency came out of the golden age of movie-making in the 1930s. Producers and directors wanted to bring extra star power to their films, so they decorated with serious opulence in mind. Think rich textures like velvet and furs, bold colours and patterns, gold finishes, luxe accents like chandeliers, and lacquered everything.
Memphis Design is more of a meeting between Art Deco and well-intentioned kitsch. Think geometric patterns, especially circles and triangles, wild graphic prints and a riot of bold primary colours mixed with stark black and whites.
There are a couple of people who make their living from selling goods found in opshops to various auction houses, said Erren, but the days of just anyone picking up a Len Castle vase for $5, and reselling it for $3000-$4000 are gone.
“Good scores are much rarer because of the proliferation of secondhand re-sellers and the level of interest in interiors. People are more clued-up about what is valuable and what is junk.”
Alicia Beauchamp has been Instagram thrifting full-time for three years.
Last year, she was dealing almost exclusively in cane, rattan and wicker, but that’s starting to change.
“I think cane and rattan is still trending, it might have a few more seasons left in it, but boho was never my favourite style.
“I am bringing in more 80s style because we’re at the start of that blowing up. It has real groovy shapes and rounded edges. If you’re into the Ikea white drawers, but want them to be a bit cooler – 80s lacquer is good for that.”
Sought after items include lacquer bedroom furniture sets (dressing tables, drawers , and bedside tables), chrome and leather furniture, and Breuer replicas.
Mhairi Kirk, 30, has been re-selling thrifted goods from her character villa in Ponsonby Rd for five years, after starting out listing a few bits and pieces on Trade Me while she was renovating.
Her bread and butter items at the moment are natural stone and antique pine; things like sculptural split-level tables and plinths, and chunky farmhouse cabinets and chests.
“I love mixing the two raw materials together, they clash but at the same time create a softness among each other,” she said.
Kirk agrees that 2019 was all about rattan and cane – “and while the right Mid-Century piece like 1970s pretzel chairs still hold a place in my heart, the everyday bamboo shelf doesn’t really sing to me any more.”
She says 2021 is the year of travertine.
Elle Hemming, 32, is a cancer survivor and mother to a toddler, and a self-taught rattan restorer who salvages destroyed two-seaters, chairs and shelves from dumps.
“There is no real excuse to throw stuff out any more,” she says, “but I had to push my prices pretty high to turn this from a hobby to a fulltime job.”
Boho minimalism is being led by Byron Bay, she says, where the material is plentiful. “And then it was picked up by the Herne Bay and Ponsonby mums who want everything natural.
“We’ll see if the trend drops off in the next year or so, but I think it is at the height of its popularity now.
“I don’t really agree with modernist boho. Boho to me means colour and showing off personality. It’s about having a richness in your home that speaks volumes about who you are as a person.”