When I sold Mum’s tables, I also sold her handsome mahogany secretaire, leather-lined with claw feet, secret drawers and the gleam that comes from centuries of elbow grease. It fetched £120. Ikea sells no such item, but an undistinguished Hurdal chest of drawers, made of cheap pine, and again with no craftsman to help as you flail about with an Allen key, costs £250.
There are decent reasons why the price of antique furniture has fallen. With everyone crammed into tiny flats, there is no space for anything big. And as no one writes letters any more there is not much use for a writing desk, even one lined in leather. And who needs secret drawers, when all secrets are guarded by the cloud?
But people still need tables and chairs, and somewhere to store their yoga pants. I know that the consumer is supposed to be always right. But in according these relative prices, the consumer is behaving like a ninny.
The continued unpopularity of brown furniture proves all those experts who talk about consumer behaviour are talking rot. One of the biggest trends for the past few years is meant to be authenticity. We are meant to love things that are hand made, constructed from natural materials and which come with stories attached.
There is nothing more authentic, hand made, or natural than a mahogany demi lune table, and when it comes to stories, being 250 years old means you have collected a few. Yet we do not love those tables. We hate them.
What consumers actually love, and always have loved, are things that are fashionable. No one values authenticity or stories in the abstract. We only like them if we can attach them to something that we already desire because all our friends desire it too.
Fashion will turn, as it always does, and brown furniture will come back in. And then it will be bad news for Mr Brodin and his team at Ikea, but jolly good news for the new owners of Mum’s beloved furniture, who got themselves a bargain.