The Use of Classic Design and Decorative Arts In Interiors as a Business Driver 1st August 2022 | IN THOUGHTS & TIPS | BY SBID

In an increasingly competitive post-COVID, more financially cautious Interior Design market, it is important more than ever to have a USP that sets your business out from the crowd, and creates more opportunities to gain contracts based on something offered that is greater than a simulacrum of the previous project. The increasing reliance on fully bespoke work or ranges designed either for commercial roll-out or for a specific project is becoming well-trodden. Clients are increasingly knowledgeable but also demanding in terms of the quality-to-cost ratio, which as we all know can really start to eat into margins. While manufacturing in the far East or more obscure parts of Europe can certainly help to protect the profits, there is also another way, certainly not as frequently used as it might be.

Eco-friendly, Green, Renewable, Socially conscious – these are all phrases that more and more come into the planning of a build or a fit-out, and the environmentally astute designer will understand that many clients will be now building this into their considerations (though by no means all of them – to whom these concepts would be entirely alien..). One of the easiest and quickest fixes to this is to use antique, classic design, vintage and “retro” furnishings, underlining your green credentials but also opening up a world of other opportunities and ultimately, greater profitability. After all, no new materials are being used or manufactured, and items that already exist are being re-employed, repurposed and in many examples, aesthetically reconsidered and reaccommodated.

antique furniture, The Use of Classic Design and Decorative Arts In Interiors as a Business Driver
Jean de Lespinasse
antique furniture, The Use of Classic Design and Decorative Arts In Interiors as a Business Driver
French stoneware bust

While the phraseology and terminology surrounding this concept can often sound trite and a marketing nightmare (“upcycled”, “preloved”, “retrostyle”) it is just the other side of a coin that has on the obverse “fine art”, “design” and “antique”. With over 30 years dealing in both new and old furniture and art, I would postulate that in general the quality of manufacture in particular of older furniture and design objects is considerably higher than that of today. As an additional bonus, many things were made in small or even unique numbers – equivalent to the dream phrase “Limited Edition” that is a gilt-edged chance to increase sales.

The very best classic design and antique pieces carry unique possibilities to the curious and canny Interior Designer – the layer of intangible “softness” that comes from years of patina on wood or glass for example, is almost impossible to reproduce with newer items. Who can resist a pier mirror of old mercury glass compared to a harsh modern example – it’s even more flattering in soft lighting. Finding and placing quirky, unusual or unique items opens up a world of choices, as well as adding a story to each individual item, at the higher end of the market, even remarkable provenance on occasion. These are the kind of objects that invite conversation, not just act as a backdrop or support.

antique furniture, The Use of Classic Design and Decorative Arts In Interiors as a Business Driver
French c1960

With the rise of identikit interiors with a restricted palette and furniture and accessories that seem to disappear into the background, the bold and individualistic client will revel in this concept of “uniqueness” and this is most certainly a selling point for certain types of customer. The well-curated interior will speak of the owner’s intelligence, taste (if such a thing exists) and idiosyncratic approach. More often than not though, they will need some assistance with this, or certainly a collegiate approach.

antique furniture, The Use of Classic Design and Decorative Arts In Interiors as a Business Driver
Marcelo Fantoni

Best of all for the canny client though, is the huge investment potential for their interior choices to become a sure-fire investment. The area of Fine Art is well covered and well-evidenced, but increasingly, Design and Decorative Arts are becoming (or already are!) a rich seam of capital gain. A case in point for example is the famous Jean Prouvé Chaise “Tout Bois”- a set of four in 2019 sold at Christie’s for 23,750 Euro, but in 2021 a similar set sold for 50,000 Euro – doubling the value in only two years. The joy of investments like this is that the individual items carry great value but lend themselves collectively to creating stunning and meaningful interiors.

Many Designers are cautious about introducing these elements into their schemes as they often lack the knowledge or confidence to utilise items from eras unfamiliar to them or are unsure of the market. I don’t believe that they are not employed simply because they are inappropriate. The subject is large and potentially complex, and it is absolutely possible to make errors. However, perhaps the biggest problem of all is knowing where to find these items and at the right price for the business and the client.

I would argue that there is actually huge potential to make greater margins or certainly to protect margins, by introducing a higher percentage of such items into a project, whether it is residential or hospitality. The integration of reclaimed or salvaged architectural elements is seen frequently in hospitality, and many of the very best projects in Europe and the USA at the highest level of residential are populated with exceptional examples of classic design – it must be impossible to move in California now without bumping into a Corbusier Chandigargh chair (original of course!!).

antique furniture, The Use of Classic Design and Decorative Arts In Interiors as a Business Driver
Roger Capron Diabolo vase

It is possible to create large margins with informed and intelligent purchasing, while also offering the client the possibility of a return on investment, something that is impossible with a bespoke site-specific sofa for example. Older pieces can even be bespoked of course, through reupholstery, readjustment and gentle intervention. Clients will be aware of the market prices of brand new standard items but won’t necessarily know the price of classic design, and in certain instances may be pleasantly surprised. There are rich pickings in the market still for undiscovered gems and unappreciated designers to become household names. The value for instance of Eames, Wegner, Juul has all absolutely rocketed as they take their place in the Pantheon (or “Premier League”) of design stars, but there are plenty who are brilliant but considered “1st Division” It’s important to find new avenues for increasing profitability and a few well-sourced items will add character and interest to a project as well as increasing value to both the client and the business.

All images courtesy of Modernforms.

About Theo Mance Consultancy

Theo Mance was the antique buyer for Liberty and has 30 years of furniture experience in the UK industry with Interior Designers, Architects and Developers. Freelance with Roberto Cavalli Home Interiors in the UK, his consultancy offers investment advice & sourcing of antiques and Classic Design to Interior Designers.

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