Why brown fur­ni­ture is back in style

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

For the pro­lific Soho House’s lat­est ven­ture, the zeit­geisty com­pany has ren­o­vated part of the old BBC Tele­vi­sion Cen­tre to cre­ate White City House. Opened last month, it is packed with a cus­tomised mix­ture of high­end, de­signer fur­nish­ings and ex­pen­sive art on the walls, along­side pieces of fur­ni­ture that would have looked more than com­fort­able in your granny’s sit­ting room (and to match the Six­ties build­ing it sits in).

Fur­ni­ture from the Ge­or­gian, Vic­to­rian and Ed­war­dian eras has long lan­guished, unloved, in garages, char­ity shops and auc­tion houses. Now, it is mak­ing a comeback, ei­ther for those want­ing some­thing more sub­stan­tial in their homes than cheap, flat pack fur­ni­ture, or those bored of spend­ing hours putting it to­gether.

De­signer Linda Boronkay, who led Soho House’s White City project, says the in-house de­sign team has long used vin­tage pieces in its rooms. “An­tiques give a lot of char­ac­ter and sub­stance to a room,” she says. “They are the hero pieces that draw peo­ple’s at­ten­tion and spark their in­ter­est.”

The resur­gence of so-called “brown fur­ni­ture” is part of a grow­ing trend: the Of­fice for Na­tional Statis­tics re­ported a 0.3 per cent rise in sales at the end of last year, which it said was largely due to a rise in peo­ple buy­ing it at auc­tion houses and an­tiques and fine art deal­ers. “We have def­i­nitely seen a resur­gence of in­ter­est in 18th and 19th-cen­tury English fur­ni­ture,” says Thomas Moore, head of fur­ni­ture and works of art at Bon­hams auc­tion house.

In fact it was an old Bon­hams cat­a­logue, dis­cov­ered in the old Mid­land Bank head­quar­ters on Poul­try in the City of Lon­don, which in­spired the team be­hind the other re­cent Soho House trans­for­ma­tion, The Ned.

Adam Greco, lead de­signer of the club, said the cat­a­logue “was full of very good an­tiques from the Ge­or­gian will­ing­ness these days to mix styles and pe­ri­ods in in­te­rior de­sign, and there is a real un­der­stand­ing of how the past and the present can live hap­pily to­gether,” he says.

The best news of all is that, un­like many other re­cent de­sign trends, this one can be easy and cheap to copy. Search eBay for a ma­hogany ch­est of draw­ers and you can of­ten pick up an an­tique piece for about £100, which is sig­nif­i­cantly less than many flat pack pieces of sim­i­lar sizes.

“The funny thing is it car­ries on get­ting cheaper, not least be­cause it’s so read­ily avail­able,” says the de­signer Ben Pen­treath, who counts the Duchess of Corn­wall among his clients. He of­ten styles his rooms with an­tique pieces of dark-coloured fur­ni­ture.

At Bon­hams – not, ad­mit­tedly, where you could pick up a £100 ch­est – you can buy a piece of his­tory; for ex­am­ple, a Ge­orge III ma­hogany break­front sec­re­tary book­case, which was re­moved from The Clois­ters of Wind­sor Cas­tle in 1931. Moore thinks that “an­tique fur­ni­ture rep­re­sents ex­cep­tional value for money”.

Over the past decade, the value of high-end an­tique fur­ni­ture has fallen by al­most 30 per cent, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from Art Mar­ket Re­search, which mea­sures prices across dec­o­ra­tive goods. But recently the mar­ket has picked up. “There are still a great num­ber of high-qual­ity tra­di­tional pieces reg­u­larly avail­able at auc­tion at rea­son­able prices,” adds Moore.

The trend also plays into our cur­rent mood to re­cy­cle. “I think that peo­ple are in­creas­ingly aware that buy­ing these aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing, yet highly practical items, is a far greener choice than opt­ing for new fur­ni­ture which in most cases sim­ply can­not com­pare in terms of ei­ther qual­ity or de­sign,” says Moore.

Pen­treath is an ex­pert at this, as ev­i­denced by his own home in Dorset, where dark an­tique fur­ni­ture sits next to a mod­ern yel­low sofa, pink walls, Chi­nese pot­tery and boldly pat­terned rugs and cush­ions. “I like brown fur­ni­ture be­cause it has charm and char­ac­ter, and a sense of mean­ing,” he says.

“You can bash it up with­out wor­ry­ing. Like old peo­ple, it has more sto­ries to tell, and that’s the pur­pose of all in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion – to cre­ate sto­ries and nar­ra­tives where none ex­isted be­fore.”

White City House, main and below; Cor­nell desk, left, £279 (made.com)

Two bed­rooms in The Ned, a mem­bers’ club in the City

£1,200, Cox & Cox (coxand­cox.co.uk)

£399, Made (made.com)

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