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What’s New – Again

Sustainability. Renewable resources. Environmental consciousness. Recycling. These words and phrases are essential guidelines for a healthy future. It’s not just unfashionable to use things for a short while and then send them to the landfill. It’s plain self-destructive.

Until mass production evolved in the late 19th century, making possible a huge variety of inexpensive goods, almost everyone lived by the old adage “Use it up; wear it out; make it do, or do without.” The concept of disposability, the idea of one-time-use-only—these are very recent developments, and largely limited even today to well-off people in first-world countries.

Most people who collect antiques and vintage pieces aren’t primarily motivated by a concern for the future of the planet. But a great side benefit of adopting, adapting and re-using beautiful, well-made older things is a reduction in new “stuff,” often created from less durable and less sustainable materials, and also sometimes made under questionable labor conditions.

Skinner’s auctions regularly offer furniture, rugs, table wares, and decorative items in a near-infinite range of styles and materials. These are pieces with a past, and a future. And having stood the test of time and use, they are very likely to retain and, in many cases, increase their value.

George Nakashima (1905-1990) Walnut Coffee Table
New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1960
Sold for $22,140

Antique, vintage, old—these terms don’t mean outdated, quaint or useless. Good design and good construction are ageless. Many pre-owned articles are still ideally suited to their original uses and fit seamlessly into current lifestyles and surroundings. It’s no longer considered “risky” or “daring” to mix pieces from different periods. In fact, that mixing creates a personal, distinctive look.

Office furniture has to be functional and comfortable. These vintage leather-upholstered swivel chairs from a famous design studio offer perpetual bonuses as well: durability and good looks. An icon of mid-century modern design, the Eames chairs have been in continuous demand since their introduction in the 1950s. Although supremely business-like, they are also at home in the increasing number of home offices.

Eames Aluminum Group for Herman Miller Task Chair
Sold for $375

One of the key design elements of any space is floor covering. It doesn’t have to be run of the mill, mass produced beige/gray blandness. Auctions offer a range of distinctive rugs and carpets ranging from Persian high-style palace rugs to Scandinavian abstract designs, and all the places in between. Vintage floor coverings possess a variety of color, pattern and texture that can only be found in hand-crafted textiles. 

Bidjar Carpet, Iran, c. 1915, 10 ft. x 13 ft. 8 in.
Sold for $8,750
Rya Rug, likely Sweden, mid-20th century, lg. 72, wd. 48 in.
Sold for $875

We’re all increasingly aware of the costs of fast food and fast fashion to our personal and environmental health. Fast furnishings present the same dilemma. Thoughtful choice of antique and vintage items for homes and offices makes sense, both in terms of style and cost.

The math is simple. The planet has limited resources for making new things, and limited room and methods to dispose of the things we no longer use, need or want.              


Consider reading:
Going, Going, Gone

This piece was written by Skinner New York Regional Director, Katie Banser-Whittle, for WAG Magazine in 2022.

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