Vintage View: Mid-century furniture

WITH January behind us, the fair and auction season picks up at a fresh spring pace — so what are we likely to buy in vintage in the new season?

When it comes to trends, the antique and vintage market is tugged along at a slow, exploratory roll, but it does shift and it leaves its traces. Where it finally, haltingly goes, commercial production, its industrial designers hungry for change, follows with curiosity.

Witness for example, the almost completely-soured appetite for late 19th century ‘brown furniture’, an area ripe with potential for collectors without investment prejudices, (and the milk paint brigade).

It was and still is, something of a shock. Tiring, sorry, of seeing rather nice Edwardian timbers and even teak Danes slathered up for candy-coloured resale. Can we please return to wood?

Watching the high-end dealers’ offerings across the world (try for a peak) we can see where the investment for those who can fling it without noticing it, is clearly placed.

Timeless is no longer a lump of toffee-coloured Edwardian varnish. It’s now as likely to be an open-framed post-war walnut armchair or a three metre, kick leg, wenge sideboard by a freshly minted or deceased, celebrated maker.

Still, once we spotted Eames knock-off Eiffel chairs in MacDonalds, the move away from full-on, undiluted mid-century hysteria seemed almost certain.

Buyers are now enjoying quality fresh pieces of the hand crafted or commercially stamped with the joys of ’50s and ’70s lines. Gone are the structural issues or honest wrinkles to the finish, inevitable with a 60-year-old thing.

Really superb authentic mid-century (Castiglione, McIntosh, Eames, Panton, Corbusier, Day, Jensen and Jacobsen) like ‘brown’ Georgian beauties will, in my view, survive the slump.

However, the middling, G-plan Fresco dressing table, orange and ghastly (it always was), will slip into the playroom and languish at increasingly low bids.

The edible offerings of Roche Bobois, Hay, Gubi, Vitra, light maker Flos and so many other top-flight firms, mine the inspirational and redeliver it to the market, in many cases better suited to our immaculately-curated homes. Creative spirits are high — the results, fabulous.

Through insightful dealers, specialised 20th-century auction houses, and this new clutch of mass manufactured lovelies — mid-century and the emerging curiosity for the 1970s will keep that early modernist ‘look’ relevant for a long time to come. Clean lines are just so darned easy to live with.

However, it’s the personal touch of the master, callused fingers to a plane, that seems to be interesting serious, moneyed vintage collectors — crafting by the designer themselves or their trusted, long time apprentices.

These areas in older things are fascinating. However, they should also prompt us to think about what we’re buying new, right now, today.

Peder Moos (1906-1991) made the single most expensive piece of 20th century design to sell on the open market. A simple 50s table made in Moos’ own Copenhagen workshop, it was created for the owner of the Villa Aubertin in Rosnaes, Nakskov Fjord in Norway, and achieved over €682,000 at sale in London (Philip’s) two years ago.

Moos was a fascinating character — he tailored a bed that pulled through a wall under a window to allow him to sleep under a blanket of stars in the warm Danish summer.

It’s worth noting this sale as a marker of the hunger for other international studio stars, including George Katsutoshi Nakashima (1905-1990) whose highly influential Japanese contemporary masterpieces we looked at last year.

Re-examine the register of the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland (DCCOI) before throwing your investment straight into vintage or expensive, commercially-manufactured, European objects — usually six steps away from the individualwho first sketched the design.

We have some of the most talented, inventive minds and hands in cabinetmaking right here in Ireland. Joseph Walsh, amongst recent design luminaries has done much to put us on the world stage,

Cillian Ó Súilleabháin, Design & Crafts Council of Ireland’s Future Maker of the Year in 2015, has exquisite angles and a truly original eye,

If you’re wondering just how good someone’s work might be, investigate their ‘about’ pages — their mission statement, showings at galleries and the commissions to public spaces and architectural firms, private and public. Look for integrity; a bravery in the work teamed to technical brilliance.

Younger and new makers prompted from other disciplines in the arts, trades and even engineering (Letterfrack is a nesting ground for some great makers; CSN Cork, too), should be followed closely.

Explore online in your spare moments. This is the joy of all this web presence we’re forced into as professionals today — visibility.

Crafts shows, graduate exhibitions, and the DCCOI website should be the start of your individual journey into design, one that celebrates the living, evolving creative, as we have thoroughly honoured the dead (

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