that is the question!
I always say the antique market is changing, and you should keep up with the changes, if you want to survive in the antique auction business.
So here is something I would like to address. Painting old furniture. Yes or no?
For me the answer is yes, but with some considerations. I don’t think you paint over good old original finishes, and I don’t think you should paint over good oak Victorian pieces, or nice walnut Eastlake pieces. And of course you never paint over museum quality pieces!
So what do you paint over? Well, there is an abundant supply of older, lower quality pieces, and poorly refinished pieces, that definitely get a new life, and many more years of use, with a nice paint finish.
Much of the furniture from the 1930’s and 40’s, had fallen out of favour with the antique crowd and the prices were plummeting. However, now the walnut vanities, sideboards, china cabinets, in the bland brown or black finish, are becoming more sought after pieces. They are relatively inexpensive to purchase at auction, and the ones with nice form and style, really do look much better when they are properly painted. Some skilled dealers, can now take a walnut china cabinet that would sell for $100 or less at an auction, and with the proper paint job, can make a nice return on that piece.
Personally I get a little tired of the honey coloured pieces of furniture that were all the rage 30 years ago. Some dealers refer to it as the “honey money” period. Almost all furniture was stripped and refinished in golden oak or puritan pine stains.
Now I like seeing some colour. My preference would be for original painted pine furniture in blues, greens, yellows or reds, but they are tough to come across, and when they do come to market, usually command a pretty good price.
However, I think a red, or blue, or black 1940’s walnut china cabinet can be a pretty striking piece of furniture, in the right room setting. White or cream coloured bedroom furniture was very strong, although I think the demand for that colour is levelling off a bit.
Several stores have opened in my local area in the last couple of years featuring painted furniture, and I think they are doing quite well. Perhaps even better than most of the “traditional” antique stores.
From an auction perspective, the trend to painting furniture, has helped my business. Now I look at what may seem like a bland or poorly refinished piece, and if I think it has potential to paint, then I will take it into the auction. Over the last few years, some of those pieces were quickly heading toward ZERO value, but now they are coming back in price. Some were likely heading toward the dump, and now they have been given a new life, and will survive for many more years!
So in summary, go ahead and paint the lesser quality pieces. Don’t paint the quality pieces, and the true antiques, but if it is a mass produced piece that really fits more into the category of vintage or older used furniture, then go ahead…give it new life!