The antique furniture buying guide

Second-hand furniture – whether recent or antique – is a popular, stylish and affordable option to furnish your home.

TSR Buying Guides Furniture General Dreweatts

George III mahogany and brass bound wine cooler in the manner of Chippendale - £800 at Dreweatts, Newbury, June 2022.

Practical, individual and often surprisingly cheap, these pieces also represent a green alternative to the short lifespan of newly-made ‘flatpack’ furniture.

Whether you want a wardrobe, chest of drawers, dining table, coffee table or chairs you can find what you want at auctions up and down the country every week.

The variety that can be found at auctions is huge. It ranges from pieces made in the great cabinetmaking workshops of Georgian London, products of Victorian mass production to the humble creations of a country carpenter.

More recently the trend has been towards the clean lines of Arts and Crafts (1880-1920) and the mid-century style (1950s-1970s) and these pieces can also be found in plentiful supply and at attractive prices.

TSR Buying Guides Furniture General Fieldings

Set of eight early 20th Century light oak Chartwell chairs by Heal and Son - £2400 at Fieldings, Stourbridge, July 2022.

How is furniture catalogued?

Traditionally, auctioneers will catalogue British furniture according to period and specifically with the name of a monarch from the Tudor kings and queens through to the Edwardian era.

Not only does this provide an approximate date for manufacture but epithets such as William and Mary, Queen Anne or Georgian also imply distinct styles – many of them copied and revived in later eras.

Similarly, catalogue descriptions – accompanied by terminology referencing everything from leg shapes to marquetry inlays – may reference a successful maker or designer whose style enjoyed great popularity or longevity.

In this way many pieces are catalogued as ‘Chippendale’ not because they were made at Thomas Chippendale’s 18th century London workshop but because they follow a design that appeared in his hugely influential pattern book The Gentleman & Cabinet-Maker’s Director.

Great prices

If you are looking for a wonderful piece of furniture for your home the good news is that prices in this sector have decreased markedly over the past 15 years, making it now a very affordable way of acquiring stylish items.

Depending on your budget, you could look for bargain second-hand furniture brought to auction from house clearances. Many items are available for under £100 – but be sure to check the condition of any lot before you bid.

Alternatively, you might be looking for good value furniture to create a particular look or for a few signature pieces to bring a sense of history, craftsmanship and personality to your rooms.

As the recent fad for white-cube minimalism fades from fashion, many homeowners are now looking for something unique and are happy to mix and match styles from different periods.

The price of good quality antique furniture at auction is determined by factors such as the maker, period and condition. Although the top-end of the market for the very best and rarest pieces will be outside the scope of most buyers’ wallets, plenty of high-quality, desirable items will be sold for hundreds of pounds or low four-figures – still cheaper than commissioning new pieces bespoke or buying new furniture from good high street retailers.

Antiques are green

Increasingly too, buyers are looking at the green credentials of what they purchase. And few things can match antique furniture for being environmentally-friendly. Scientific analysis has shown that the carbon footprint of a Georgian chest of drawers is just one-fifteenth of that created by its new flatpack alternative.

It is just another reason that those championing this market believe prices will rebound in time, making antique furniture not only great and green but possibly a good investment.

What to do next

Decide how much you’d like to spend and use the search facility on to find furniture coming up for sale.

You can filter your search by, among other things, price and by location of the auction house to narrow down your selection.

To research recent prices at auction to see how much different types of furniture sold for you can also try out the Price Guide.

If you are new to bidding check out our guides to buying at auction – it’s easy once you know how.

Tags: Furniture
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