We’ve said it before, the market for antiques is picking up. Despite their cost at the outset, antiques bring with them the rarity of owning a piece of history, and can mix surprisingly well with contemporary design and architecture.
“Antiques and vintage items are definitely on the way up, and there are various reasons for this,” says South African Antique, Art and Design Association head Paul Mrkusic. “Probably the main reason is that people in their homes are tired of the anaesthetising effect of the sterility of minimalism that's been dominating the world of interiors for the past decade or so. The problem with modern minimalist interiors, is that they often lack grounding: one could be almost anywhere in the world. And while they may say a lot about who the designer – be that the that the inhabitant, or a professional – aspires to be, they can say very little about who the designer actually is: their history, their interests, and their quirks.”
So what exactly should you be hanging onto? We asked 3 individuals in the know…
TESSA PROUDFOOT, creative director of Tessa Proudfoot and Associates interior design firm.
THE PIECE: A classic French or Dutch armoire, the plainer the better. Or the English counterpart which is a chest-on-chest. They are traditionally tall, strong furniture items which serve to anchor a space and provide great storage. There are very few interiors where one of these beauties wouldn’t work.
On what antiques bring to a space, Tessa comments: Every good interior should have at least one antique or vintage piece, irrespective of architectural style. Antiques add an element of history that provides depth and contrast, which to me, are the ingredients that take an interior from one dimensional 'paint by numbers' into a living, breathing space.
THE PIECE: Any vintage curiosity that could be considered a precursor to some of the technological gadgets we use today and take for granted, like a Victorian stereoscope, a precursor of today's virtual reality. Furthermore, in the South African context I would recommend holding on to any early to mid-20th Century artworks by artists such as Jackson Hlungwani, George Pemba, Lucky Sibiya, Sam Nhlengethwa, and Gerard Sekoto.
Paul’s tips for investing in antiques is to consider the following: The design of the item: Was it forward-thinking for the time when it was made, or merely copying what was made before?
The rarity of the item: Items with age will only become increasingly rare as only so many exist today, and some of those will be lost or destroyed as time passes.
The integrity of the item: Its condition, and the respect given to any subsequent restoration.
The intrinsic value of the item: Furniture made of pricey solid and rare timbers is almost unheard of in today's manufacturing industries, and jewellery of incredible period design is often also made up of precious metals and gemstones that have a proper value of their own.
Lastly, who the buying market is likely to become and what they are likely to value in the future: If you can answer that, you can make some pretty shrewd investments that are also items of beauty to be enjoyed in the meantime.
JO-MARIE RABE, owner, with her husband Pier, of Pier Rabe Antiques in Stellensbosch and an authority on Cape furniture.
THE PIECE: If you come across any serious Danish furniture with a maker’s mark, hang onto it. It’s a market that is growing all the time and it’s a rand-hedged investment. Even though not strictly antique (yet), we find that the mid-century items are particularly popular with both young and old.
Jo-Marie’s advice to novice collectors is: Facts are our friends. Read, read and read about your new passion, visit antique dealers and ask questions. Remember, there are no dumb questions, only dumb answers and most dealers know their subject and would be delighted to share their knowledge. And touch the things you like, it is amazing how much we can learn with our fingers.