Scrolling through Instagram, past the sponsored posts and shots of beautiful interiors or influencer OOTDs, an unlikely product is being sold via DMs: vintage furniture. Secondhand furniture shops across the country are posting their unique finds online, and seeing those items sold the same day. Though ordering brand-new, trendy, and inexpensive furniture online is just a few clicks away, it's vintage furniture that has seen a major resurgence over the past several years, especially during the pandemic.
"More and more customers are finding us through Instagram," Alison Abrams, the showroom manager for NYC vintage shop Furnish Green, tells MyDomaine. "We do definitely feel like more and more people are finding us every day. Even if they're not necessarily purchasing something right away, they're coming and looking around, they're watching our Instagram and DMing us, and we do feel like we're definitely seeing some pretty palpable growth."
Though "antiquing" may feel like an activity your grandmother used to enjoy, today people of all generations are flocking to buy vintage, whether they're enamored by thrifting or looking to invest in a high-quality piece.
"Vintage is hot!" Anna Brockway, the co-founder and president of Chairish, an online antique and vintage furniture destination whose revenue more than doubled over 2020, says. "Not only is vintage furniture beloved for its chic, one-of-a-kind style, it’s also increasingly appreciated for its immediate availability and sustainability. Right now, due to serious supply chain snarls, contemporary furniture manufacturing and delivery is moving at a glacial pace, while shoppers' expectations around speed and instant availability have never been higher."
From sustainability to an emphasis on uniqueness, here's why décor enthusiasts are swapping out box store finds for something with a little more history. Or, as they say at Chairish, "Bring in the old."
An Emphasis on Home
Once staying at home became a necessity, it gave homeowners and renters time to reevaluate their spaces, even if they never saw any issues before.
"Living in New York, I think most people kind of thought of their apartments as an afterthought," Abrams says. "If you're just like a regular Joe, you work, you go to concerts, whatever, you don't really care a ton about what your furniture is. People think a lot more about their clothes than their furniture. I think definitely last year people were sitting in their houses and looking at their stuff, and wanting the things around them to spark happiness."
Whether people were tired of their apartment décor or looking to furnish a new home bought during the pandemic, supply chain issues across the design industry made sourcing new furniture increasingly difficult, especially for consumers used to the instant gratification of the digital age.
"Due to COVID, more affluent homeowners than ever before are passionately engaged in home design projects and they’re hiring professionals to bring their vision to life," Brockway explains. "If clients are greeted with endless lead times, cumbersome delivery services, and intimidating shopping experiences, it’s likely they’ll throw up their hands and spend their disposable income elsewhere. So to satisfy clients’ expectations, design professionals are increasingly turning to vintage and antique furnishings to complete their projects, with beautiful and timely outcomes."
With some Americans choosing to leave their tiny city apartments for the spacious homes of the suburbs, Abrams also noticed an increase in consumers moving away from flat-pack, easy-to-move furniture and toward older, sturdier pieces that are made to last. Designer Kerry Vasquez agrees.
"In this day and age of mass consumerism, being able to cultivate unique pieces is definitely becoming more attractive to people," Vasquez says. "I also think that some vintage items display a craftsmanship that is not found in today's world of fast fashion and fast design that is very appealing to clients, especially when that level of workmanship can be found at a significantly lower price tag than an equivalent new version."
It's no surprise that for those interested in sustainability, buying vintage is a natural choice, with Gen Z leading the way. 77% of Americans across all generations expect brands to become more sustainable, while 62% of both millennials and Gen Zers already prefer to shop sustainably.
"12 million tons of furniture are disposed of in the U.S. every year," Brockway explains. "Choosing vintage and antique furniture extends the lives of well-made pieces and keeps them in circulation longer. Increasing buyers are turning to the 'circular economy' or re-using pre-owned furnishings, a kinder, smarter and stylish way to create a home."
When consumers are looking to make climate-conscious decisions, buying local or shopping vintage can minimize a carbon footprint.
"The perception from millennials is if you're buying vintage, it's either that you have a very curated aesthetic or that you are concerned with sustainability," Abrams says of Furnish Green's clientele. "Whereas I do think with Gen Z, it's more about the uniqueness and sort of a non-traditional approach to things and wanting to interrupt that like brick and mortar or the big chain store element, which I think is rad."
While the '90s were known for "shabby chic," and the aughts brought back midcentury modern, this era of design is really more an age of eclecticism. Scandinavian minimalism is the style du jour for some, while bold and colorful maximalism is in for others. Modern farmhouse reigns supreme in some parts of the country while other enclaves much prefer an art deco sensibility. The bottom line: Being unique is in fashion, however you'd like to interpret that.
"We're in an interesting trend point with the discourse around design and furniture where typically it's been a pretty cyclical thing like 'This is the Mad Men moment', 'this is the '70s moment,'" Abrams explains. "It's hitting that point where typically it would just recycle around back to whatever the one thing is, but you're seeing a split where rattan is in with some people, deco revival is in with other people. I don't think any of [the mass retailers] can keep up, especially because all of the styles that are on trend right now are the weird ones like that. Minimalism was easy for them because the whole point is that it's not complicated whereas like deco revival is weird and kind of hard to duplicate if you're trying to do it on a mass level."
With an anything goes design mentality, curating a personal style is a surefire way to add cool to your home. And what says unique better than a piece of furniture that's not even made anymore? Vasquez has noticed clients wanting one-of-a-kind pieces you can't find in a catalog.
"I think clients love the unique and cultivated look a vintage piece can add to a room," Vasquez says. "Nothing adds patina and an immediate visual story like a good vintage piece. Vintage always adds personality and a sense of time and place, all of which I feel add to the layering and depth of a space."
Instead of fretting over what's en vogue, Abrams has seen customers drawn toward pieces for other, less tangible reasons.
"People seem to be letting the furniture speak to them and mixing styles a little bit more which I think is really fun," Abrams says. "That's definitely always what I like seeing in customers, because I think furniture should be about what makes you happy, not about what looks good on the 'gram.'"