Antiques are often associated with high price tags, but this isn’t always the case. Like anything, absolute top-of-the-range will reflect high prices. But for the middle market, prices of antiques are generally low compared with 10 or 20 years ago, and many antiques can be just as affordable as modern-day furniture – only with more character and craftsmanship.
The word from local antiques dealers is that now is the time to buy – before the Chinese completely buy out the market, before the European markets recover from the GFC, and before everyone catches on to just what good value is out there.
“In general, prices have come down,” says Walter Antoniazzi, owner of Louis Antiques in Wembley. “Some people are intimidated by antiques but if they get out and have another look I think they’ll be surprised at the sort of deals they can find.”
Walter recently sold a Victorian five-leg table and 12 Victorian balloon-back chairs for $15,000. They were the finest example of that kind of furniture and, 20 years ago, they were bought in Perth for $26,500.
Similarly, Walter points to a burr walnut card table that “down Stirling Highway in the old days you’d pay around $8000 for. Now you’d pay half that,” he says. “It’s hard to put a finger on why, but that’s the reality. And if we, as dealers, can buy something and sell it on then it’s good for all parties. I certainly don’t want to be a museum.”
Derek Aslett, owner of Empire Antiques in North Perth, agrees prices of antiques have come down, relative to the prices of everything else. “And of course the price of an antique is a lot cheaper than something custom-made to the same quality today,” he adds.
“It’s a good time to buy because it’s easier for dealers to buy at a better price because the Australian dollar is still strong, economies in Europe are still recovering and also because, in general, antiques aren’t in fashion. But as economies in the UK, Europe and the US recover, the antiques market will pick up. Coupled with the fact that China is now buying so much and also that people in Australia are realising antiques are very good value, it’s inevitable that prices will rise.”
Both Derek and Walter talk about a new generation becoming interested in antiques. “More young professionals are showing interest,” says Derek. “They’re tired of buying furniture that’s not made properly and doesn’t last. They want something that’s made by craftsmen and not mass-produced.
“This new generation is buying a lot of French semi-formal pieces, while Victorian mahogany and the darker timbers are probably not as popular. However, there’s really a market for everything because the lower prices have opened up the market to people who previously couldn’t afford it.”
Walter says the younger buyers, in their 30s and 40s, are chasing rustic pieces, be it French or English, which they’re mixing with modern and designer pieces. “For example, they’ll buy an old farmhouse table from us and put modern Danish plastic chairs around it. And it looks fantastic.
“People are getting right into mixing – no longer does everything have to be one era,” says Walter. “A lot of our furniture ends up in ultra-modern apartments. I think the contrast between old and ultra-modern adds a certain amount
of class. Minimalist has done its dash.”
Derek says it’s great to see antiques losing the stigma that they are only suited to old houses. “A lot of designers are placing one-off pieces to add texture to modern homes. So many modern houses are being built and people are getting fed up with the sterile look and lack of character,” he says.
“In my experience, some of the most attractive interiors I have seen have a combination of old and modern. It can work really well because a lot of antique furniture has similar lines to modern furniture. But even if a piece is quite rustic, it can make a very good contrast to something that is sharp.”
As for ‘investing’ in antiques, neither Walter nor Derek like to use that word. “Antiques generally aren’t going to make you money so I never say it’s a financial investment,” says Derek. “But antiques will give you enjoyment, they will last and they can be passed down through the family. That’s the investment – buying something that has already stood the test of time, something that you can live with and enjoy.”
“If you want to invest, go and buy shares,” says Walter. “You buy antique furniture because it’s good quality and really good value for money. In 10, 20, 50 years, when you have no use for it, it might be worth more or less, but one thing you can guarantee is that you won’t be putting it on your verge for collection. It will be worth something to someone.
“Buy things you really like,” advises Walter. “Talk to reputable dealers. Have a close look at each piece to make sure it’s in good order and any restoration has been done well. Do the rounds. Don’t just go into one of these shops and buy
a houseful. Find places you like the look of and feel comfortable with the dealer, and frequent them.”