Sunday, September 12, 2010

Another rant...sorry.

Perhaps it's because I first saw the ad in the middle of the night (new baby Nora is a nightowl) and I was grumpy, but a recent commercial for Ikea really annoyed me (at least as much as the recent Restoration Hardware catalog). The commercial showed a number of rooms decorated in the Ikea style (which includes many crappy knock-offs styled after antiques) and the tagline at the end: Ikea--Life Improvement Store.

What about Ikea improves anyone's life? Okay, so it's cheap and convenient and in some small way that may be a modest improvement over 1970s paisley furniture from Goodwill. But let's really think about how a chair or a sofa from Ikea improves your life. Firstly, it's cheaply made using eco-irresponsible materials. True, that may not impact you right now, but let's face it, it will eventually. Secondly, you have to assemble it. If you have ever assembled any piece of mass-produced furniture, you already know that this process will NOT improve anything about your life (in fact, it'll ruin your weekend, most likely). Thirdly, once you bought it, it's monetary value is precisely zilch. Have you ever seen Ikea furniture at a garage sale? A quick search on Columbus, Ohio's Craig's List found a couple hundred Ikea objects for sale, mostly at a teeny tiny fraction of their original price. Of course, the reality is, your Ikea purchase won't last long enough to make it to a garage sale, unless you're planning one for next weekend. The stuff is so cheap that as soon as you assemble your new chair, you should probably immediately start planning on replacing it.

Am I being harsh? You betcha. We in the antiques industry need to set our sights on the likes of Ikea...they are the ones attracting potential young collectors (or simply young folks interested in classic style). We simply have to talk louder and in one voice about antiques in terms of their green-ness, quality, style, retained value, etc. etc. If we don't start acting boldly and immediately, we are in trouble.


Author said...

As a whole, the antiques industry hasn't embraced the truth that it has been clinging to a reality which existed 20 years ago - where there were fewer options in terms of what people could furnish their homes with.

There are exceptions out there and I applaud their efforts for blazing a path. However, on the whole - antiques are a pale choice in today's world - barely registering a whisper in terms of desirability.

One quick way to measure the 'desirability' of antiques today is to browse through Arch Digest. Sadly, it's hard to find an antique there anymore. What you do find are mass-reproductions of vaguely antique-inspired forms - for the same price point as the real deal - and all are becoming the newly found representations of 'good taste and style.'

While I understand the hesitancy to step up the plate and into unknown territory, I fear that there remains the continuing belief that 'quiet marketing' will prevail, or that maybe the next reality show which poorly depicts the industry and material will help. I've heard this numerous times from dealers over the last ten years. I've also heard dealers joke about 'having to appeal to the unwashed masses'. While a snarky comment helps in the moment - it does nothing to change the situation.

It's disheartening to have watched such wonderful material become pushed to the side in terms of the larger picture - for numerous reasons, as it has yourselves.

The recent partnering of the contemporary art industry with fashion, as shown at the recent Fashion Night Out in NY (which was a raging success) demonstrates the truth that one has to create desirability and excitement for what you handle, and that sometimes it borders on 'loud and distasteful'. It is not just a random whim of the Ford Modeling Agency to open a contemporary art gallery in NY. It's marketing.

Creating buyers is a task that has always existed and will never go away as buying pools continue to contract and the as the movement to buy newly made expands. Our job has always been about creating desirability - this is not new.

Several years ago, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal discussing the Winter Antique Show. Written by a younger reviewer, she noted the declining desirability of antiques, and noted that she was not surprised given the 'pre-historic' marketing utilized by the trade. This single statement is what we should be listening and responding to. Antique dealers first and foremost clientele ARE 'home decorators', and that's ok. It's always been that way. By acknowledging this, we can move forward.

What's happened to the industry is not about changing tastes, and this is not about economics as much as we wish it was.. this is about us.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article on the future role of antique dealers in the changing marketplace...

zatoo77 said...

I am I guess part of the young market being 25. I think that some things have changed and you need to adjust. Start with improving market place. In Sydney Australia we have an antique centre. This is like a mall for antiques. There are a whole heap of small shops with a cafe in the middle and a piano that plays itself. The stock is all small in nature and most pieces are under $1000. The stores allow laybuy and there is one counter at the front which allows eftpos and packs it.
These adjustments would help modern yourself for the customers. Today’s market has smaller houses and less room for big antiques. They further mainly pay with modern means.
These adjustments maybe cheaper than what they sound. You may be able to band together to buy a site. This allows you to buy a big store which is normally cheaper than each of you going to buy a smaller one. You may also be able to rent the cafe in the middle for extra cash. You may be able to go on holidays to as someone can keep an eye on your store.

Christopher Busta-Peck said...

I agree with everything what you're saying about the throwaway nature of Ikea goods. That said, there's one thing that can significantly improve the better (solid wood) furniture from that retailer: wood glue.

We all know how chairs can get when the glue in their joints eventually fails. It's the same issue. Glue and clamp the joints and the object will hold up a lot better.

I grew up around antiques - yet I still percieved them as being too expensive for a house that might have small children in it.

What changed my opinion? When I started messing around with woodworking. I realized that, at the lower end, I could buy an 1850s dresser for what I'd spend on the wood to build a new dresser - and the dresser I built wouldn't look so good.

I make a point of trying to see what's cheap and then finding the best among that. My favorite example is this mid-century entertainment center, made of some sort of Hawaiian wood. It crossed the block for what the four largest pieces of wood used in it would sell for on eBay. (This is not an exaggeration.)

Does the piece have some aesthetic issues? Sure. Is part of the problem that it's a four piece set? Maybe.

But ignore the ugly parts and just look at the beautiful cabinetry. Surely something great could be done with it.