FUTURES IN FURNITURE?
A well-designed couch or chair is more than just a thing to sit on. It can be a collectible that may actually earn you money.
It's a Sunday afternoon. The Apartment is on TV, and that's the kind of movie you never get sick of watching (evil Fred MacMurray is compelling) . Scarfing chips and wearing sweats, you're sprawled across your sofa with the down-filled cushions. Sure, the thing cost you around $2,500, but right now that seems like a small price to have paid for the cozy, deep-pile satisfaction that comes with playing couch potato on a perfectly suited piece of furniture. Just don't blow the moment by considering that your comfy little couch lost nearly all of its value before you even lugged it into your living room. Ten years from now it will only be in demand by the Salvation Army. Or possibly your son's frat house (if he goes to a state college).Your beloved sofa need not have such a low-rent fade-out. For a bit more money, you can get yourself a couch or chair that is infinitely more interesting than what you'd normally find in the showroom at Levitz. It will be a piece that is arguably as much a work of art as it is a thing to sit on. Better yet, it actually stands a chance of increasing in value.
Visit any antiques shop say, one that specializes in mid-century furniture and you'll be surrounded by pieces priced at two or three times their original tariffs, like the marshmallow sofa by George Nelson or a Tiffany-tiled table by Edward Wormley (both from the 1950s). These are bona fide collectibles that went straight from the store to some forward-thinking person's living room. But not only have these furnishings gone up in value, they've also provided the same kind of lasting aesthetic enjoyment one would get from a handsome limited-edition lithograph.
Considering that the Wormley table originally sold for several hundred 1950s dollars and currently fetches more than $ 10,000, this makes designer furniture sound like a great investment when you compare its worth against anything that resided in your parents' postwar living room, spent part of the '60s in your attic, and has long since been junked. But how do you know what to look for when shopping for that Future Collectible?
The trend of the moment in high-nd furniture design is to combine the natural world with space-age sleekness. "Hallmarks that are part of the new millennial design are clean lines, luxury materials, and a stripped-down minimalistic look," says Evan Lobel, whose Lobel Modern in downtown Manhattan specializes in selling collectibles from the '30s through '70s. "The 1950s modern era is echoed in today's pieces in terms of their focus on elegance and simplicity instead of the fluffier, fuller body look that was popular in the '40s. But the current goods also have a unique kind of minimalism that didn't really exist then.
According to Jack Levy, an interior designer with the Manhattan based John Barman Design and Decoration, furniture that promises to stand the test of time will not be totally extreme. Enduring pieces will lack the instant, plasticine kitsch that dooms, say, flamboyant creations by Philippe Starck. "What they will have is a streamlined design merged with earthy materials such as steel, leather, and wood," says Levy.
But, even after taking all of this into account, there's still a chance you'll spend a chunk of change on a piece that will be worth only a fraction of something similar in a particular designer's collection. To illustrate what can go wrong, Lobel points to a Venini vase in his shop. "In the 1950s, this vase was probably next to three others that sold for the same price," he says. "Now the other three are worth a couple thousand each while this one is $ 10,000. Why is that? It's because of the design, the coloring, and how representative it is of the artist's work. It's the same thing with furniture." So, before buying a piece that has the potential to be a Future Collectible, Lobel advises, "educate yourself, figure out what you really like, and establish in your mind what it is that makes the designer's work truly special "
FOUR DESIGNERS FOR THE NEXT CENTURY
Jack Levy spends his days thinking about furniture. People hire him for his taste and his ability to pick designs that work well with other pieces and won't soon look outdated. Here, Levy singles out four designers whose furnishings are likely to remain stylish and financially worthy over the next fifteen to twenty years.
"Her style is an updated version of pared-down 1940s French moderne. Her Bedside Table ($ 1,892) is my favorite thing in the whole world. It has a sliding shelf below for books. It's strong and clean-looking. It's made of a very dark oak, has a straight top, and sides that go right down to the floor. The table is almost mission style. You look at it and see it as a beautiful piece of art."
"His pieces are made with lots of dark wood. Liaigre often works with hammered metal and leather tops, and the wood tends to be very tapered, almost anatomical. One particular chair I like, the Chamane ($2,025), is a low-to-the-ground, wide-seated slipper chair. It has a leather upholstered seat, and the back's got a square hole in the center. The chair is comfortable, has a tactile quality, and is a very masculine piece."
"Holly has a small collection of furniture that comes out under her own name. She's best known for representing high-end designers like Dennis & Lean and Formations, but she also develops her own items when she notices something missing in the market-place. She has a glass-topped coffee table called the Dorsay (starts at , $4,275) that has a very delicate frame with splayed legs, both in oiled bronze, which makes for a appealing contrast to the glass. It comes in several sizes and can be customized with different tops. Regardless of the dimensions, though, the bronze has an incredible patina."
"Pieces from B&B tend to be very low, very linear, with a minimalistic Zen-like quality. The particular couch of theirs that I like is the Charles ($8,700 and up) , which stands on skinny chrome legs, so it seems to float. Even though it's big, it doesn't appear big, partly because the back isn't very high. So you look past it, which means that it would work great in a loft or smaller apartment. And, unlike a lot of sofas that are designed so sleekly, this one's actually comfortable. You can get it upholstered in beautiful wools or boucles. This piece is going to be a classic because it's new while being re-inventive of the 1960s and '70s. Most importantly, there is nothing else like it."
THREE TIPS FOR LONGEVITY
Whether you bought a Future Collectible thirty years ago or are buying it today, antiques dealer Evan Lobel says the same qualities will help it to hold its value. Quality always wins out: "For furniture to simply endure for fifteen years or more, it must be well constructed from the best possible materials. Look for materials where the inherent richness is evident, like what you see in a striking piece of mahogany. Stay away from materials that seem flimsy and woods where the finish obscures the natural beauty."
Cleanliness is next to godliness: "Clean lines and elegant design never go out of style. Make sure that what you buy is likely to be chic rather than kitsch in the year 2020." Prophesize your taste: "You are buying expensive, high-quality furniture that you want to keep in your living room rather than your attic. Know your tastes and make sure you'11 be able to live with the piece, after it no longer resides on the cutting edge of design."