Jun 14, 2023

5 Antiques Trends That Are Proving to Be Summer Blockbusters

These items are oldies but goodies.

Above: A 1930s hooked rug—one of the hottest antiques trends we spotted—features a cheery summer tableau.

If isolating trends in the contemporary design world is like a tiger hunt, pinning down trends in the antiques market is akin to conquering a chimera. For one (to state the obvious), there are centuries of objects to sift through. You could spend eons learning about the different ways carpenters have used pine, or metalsmiths iron, or glassblowers glass, over the centuries—not to mention devote a lifetime poring over existing scholarship, auction records, and treatises. Luckily, we enjoy doing research here at ELLE DECOR, so you don't have to do it yourself (or better yet, so you know where to start when you do do it yourself!). Fresh off the heels of TEFAF (The European Fine Art Foundation) in New York and the Philadelphia Show in the City of Brotherly Love, we have identified our favorite growing antique trends out there right now, and why we love them, where to buy them, and of course, how to live with them.

At TEFAF, the antiques fair that presents the highest echelon of objects in New York and Maastricht, The Netherlands, each year, we saw world-class examples of furniture, objects, and decorative arts titans. But the most gobsmacking piece was a Josef Hoffmann display cabinet made in 1914 at the London gallery Gallery Yves Macaux—one of only two that were ever made. The Austrian architect was part of the Wiener Werkstätte movement and is now known most commonly for the chairs he designed in 1907 for Cabaret Fledermaus in Vienna. In contrast to Hoffman's more streamlined work, the Secessions piece showed the more decorative leanings he indulged in later in his career, with intricate carving framing the glass panels at the top of the cabinet and the two drawers beneath them.

Hoffmann is one of those design prophets whose work has somehow stayed modern for more than a century, so we can safely assume an investment in a piece by him will stand the test of time—for the next 100 years at the very least. But if an ultra-rare cabinet is not in your budget, Alessi sells a handsome set of flatware he designed in 1906.

Tiffany fixtures are being seen in a whole new light by collectors this year. We spied glowing Tiffany lights in more than one booth at TEFAF but perhaps most poetically in the Washington, D.C., gallery Geoffrey Diner. The pair of early-20th-century turtle-back lantern sconces that hung on their back wall were like something out of a refined version of Mad Max post-punk with a heavy dose of historical rigor. Of course, Tiffany glass is nothing new—we even covered it earlier this year—but Tiffany glass presented sparingly is an intriguing design prompt to consider. And with the recent discovery of a rare rose window at a Philadelphia church, we’re bracing ourselves for a full-blown Tiffanyssance!

Elsewhere in TEFAF, simpler forms prevailed. British dealer Paul Jackson (who's been based in Sweden for the past few decades) showed a pair of exquisite little drop-leaf tables that could easily make sense in a contemporary interior. These painted pine tables were made in 1906 by Alfred Grenander for his own summer home Villa Tangvallen in Falsterbo, Sweden, and are perfectly suited to serve as sofa tables, or as consoles when closed, desks when open, or a dining table that could easily seat six when open together. At the Philadelphia Show last month, several other dual-purpose antique tables from the 18th and 19th centuries were on view; some that could be either a seat or table through movable tops, some that provided storage as well as a place to dine, and others that could fold up for easy transportation.

Also at the Philadelphia Show was a smattering of quirky little hooked rugs that were surprisingly humorous for objects nearly 200 years old. The most exceptional on view were from Olde Hope Antiques, one with a cute dog at its center, which was snapped up during the course of the show. Other examples from the dealer show a pair of cats in conversation amid an abstract background, another centers on a robin happily perched on a delicate branch, and yet another pictures a full blown, suburban scene from the 1930s. Many of the American hooked rugs on the market are exciting for their wide ranging subject matter, showing anything from a beloved pet to an age old symbol or playful figure in their center. South Road Antiques usually has a few in stock and recently sold a maddeningly modern one with a skull and pink abstracted angel wings. Battle Brown (conveniently located on the main street in Hudson, New York) recently offered another rug with a rich multicolored diamond pattern from around 1900. The fun thing about these is that they work just as easily on the wall as on the floor, again serving the contemporary need for multifunctional living. Better still? Their often affordable price point. Snap these up while you can.

And last but not least, also spotted at the Philadelphia Show were a few juicy morsels from the 18th and 19th centuries in the form of faux painted tables and chests of drawers. Faux painting was particularly popular in the United States during the 19th century. Craftsmen painted over wood—often pine—to imitate the grain of more costly species of wood and sometimes marble. Today the style is nearly cartoonish, in a way that feels fresh and fun. On the higher end of the market was a Pennsylvania-made chest of drawers at Olde Hope Antiques presented at the Philadelphia show from the 18th Century, unique for the textured sgraffito effect used on its vibrant red and yellow surface. Those with a bit less to spend could find a fun example at auction or perhaps back at Battle Brown. This editor recently spied a 19th-century yellow faux painted slant top desk in their window—with ample storage and perfectly angled for those frequent Zoom calls—at a very reasonable price. And that perhaps is the most important reminder of all: There are examples of almost everything at every price point, and antique dealers are often, contrary to popular belief, willing to negotiate a wee bit. If the price can't be reduced, sometimes it can be split into several payments. It never hurts to ask—either in your research or at the point of purchase—whether it's a fun faux painted table, hilarious hooked rug, or a minimal, multifunctional table on your wishlist.

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