Thursday, September 17, 2009

How to tell "Real" Vintage Furniture from Contemporary Knockoffs - Part 2b: Powers of Observation

Wood Furniture

In our last entry, we discussed using your powers of observation to distinguish real vintage furniture from contemporary knockoffs, with a special focus on upholstered furniture. Today we're going to talk about wooden furniture - tables, dressers, sideboards, desks, what have you.

At one point or another, you may have heard someone say, referring to new furniture, "they don't make 'em like they used to"! This is true of many things in life, but is especially true of wooden furniture! Today, you would have to pay thousands of dollars for a dresser that was built to the same quality standards as the most boring, run of the mill, "nothing special" dresser made 50 years ago. There are many reasons for this - chief among them that wood is simply a lot more expensive than it was 50 years ago! Because of this, in the last 30-40 years, the solid wood or plywood that was common for use in furniture up until the early 1970s, has been largely replaced by particleboard, the bane of modern furniture. The chief advantage of particleboard is that is is cheap. Apart from that, it has very little to recommend it. It's not sturdy, it's heavier than real wood, and if it should ever happen to get wet, it swells up and basically becomes unrepairable.

So, while the presence of particleboard in a piece of wood furniture is not enough to finger it as a contemporary knockoff (since pieces made in the '70s and even '80s do classify as vintage), it is something to keep a lookout for. You will see particleboard mostly in drawer fronts and the tops and sides of case pieces (dressers, sideboards, etc). Once you've sniffed out the presence of particleboard, you also want to take a look at the general quality of construction. Are the drawers made with dovetail joints? a dovetail joint on a dresser drawer

Are the drawer sides made of solid wood? If it's a table, is the top made of solid wood or veneered?

Unless a wooden piece has been refinished, it will likely show many signs of age. These can come in the form of scratches and dings, finish wear, and sun fading. None of these things by themselves will designate a piece as being vintage - after all, a piece that's only 5 years old can definitely be subjected to abuse - but considered together with the quality of construction that we discussed above, taking all these things into account, you're getting close to being able to say that a piece is in fact vintage.

Sun fading, while present in all different kinds of furniture, is usually most prominent on dining tables with leaves. The reason for this is that the main part of the table will be exposed to the sun while the leaves will be stored away in a closet never seeing the light of day (except for a few times a year when they get pulled out for use on holidays, but even then they're usually covered with a tablecloth) - and the end result is that 50 years or so down the line, the leaves look like they did they day they were purchased, and the main table is several shades lighter. There is no way to fix sun fading other than to completely refinish the table and the leaves, so if it's important to you to have leaves that match your table exactly, it's something to be cautious of.

Overall, just keep in mind that a vintage piece of furniture should look old! If it looks too new, and there's no mention of the piece being refinished, odds are good that it IS too new. Stay tuned for our next installment of this series, where we'll discuss how to distinguish higher end vintage pieces from low end or "middle of the road" pieces!


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Man Do said...

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Btw furnit. vintage with hotel or resort.. are different ? or what ?

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