The Surprising Place to Find Furniture for Cheap

published Nov 7, 2018
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(Image credit: Liz Calka)

If you’ve ever thrown any kind of party at your house you know that, regardless of your best laid plans to draw guests into other rooms, everyone is going to congregate in the kitchen. Kitchens have long been the number one return on investment for remodeling for that reason, and now they’ve also become the most splurge-y place in the house for furniture and decor, as well.

But if you look outside of the kitchen into furnishings for any other room of the house, high-quality antiques can now be found for even cheaper than IKEA pieces. Seriously.

A report recently featured in “The New York Times” shows that there has been up to a 96 percent drop in the auction price for high-quality antiques over the last decade, as collectors overall become an aging market. But for younger generations with an appreciation for well-made furnishings from decades and centuries past (especially anything made prior to the mid-20th century), there are serious bargains to be had, even in the most prestigious of auction house catalogs.

Our lifestyles have changed so dramatically and so quickly that there is literally no place in our modern homes for many styles of once-coveted furniture: lushly upholstered and carved sets of matching chairs for dining rooms that no one has (or uses) anymore; dramatically inlaid or dovetailed desks that are not conducive to computing; beautiful bureaus and dressers with drawers designed to fit clothing from a more formal (now seemingly archaic) way of dressing. But for anyone with a deep love and appreciation for high-quality antiques, it’s a buyers’ market—and a seriously thrifty one at that. A mahogany bureau topped with a fold-down writing desk recently sold for $110—even a simple IKEA TARVA costs more than that.

Brooke Sivo, director of American furniture and decorative arts at Bonhams auction house in San Francisco, told the NYT that in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a good-quality George III or Regency mahogany extending dining table would sell for $15,000 to $25,000. At Bonhams’s “Elegant Home” auction in San Francisco this past June, an example that would have seated at least 14 sold for only $1,187.

“We used to get $30,000 to $40,000 for a matching set of 10 George III dining chairs. Now people prefer to buy eight bar stools and put them around a granite island in the kitchen,” Sivo said.

The NYT feature bolstered that industry evidence for what we are and aren’t buying for our homes with a tech-enabled, “pioneering anthropological study” of the domestic habits of 32 Californian families conducted between 2001 and 2005, published in 2012 by the Center on Everyday Lives of Families at UCLA.

The ethnographers behind the study monitored the traffic patterns and flow of family members throughout the house on regular days of their lives and plotted the data against a floor plan to find out where they were spending the majority of their waking and non-working hours.

The kitchen won by a landslide, with everyone congregating around the kitchen table or island, with the den or living room a close second. (The study also found that we have a “formidable amount of domestic clutter.” The study was then turned into a 2013 program for UCLA TV called “A Cluttered Life: Middle Class Abundance,” which you can watch on YouTube.)

So if you’re looking to decorate your apartment or home on a budget, antiques just might be the new thrifty option—that is, anywhere but in the kitchen.