As “the auction mecca of the south”, New Orleans is a great place for finding deals on antiques and decorative items with a history. And as decorating trends are shifting away from minimal monochromatic interiors to traditional décor inspired by 18th and 19th century design, auction houses are valuable resources for everything from furniture and rugs to china and art. Crescent City Auction founder, president and auctioneer Adam Lambert offers the following advice on shopping auctions.
“Brown furniture is making a comeback,” said Lambert, explaining that “brown furniture” usually refers to English period pieces (such as Victorian and Georgian) in woods like mahogany and walnut as well as categories like Louisiana furniture such as armoires and beds by Prudent Mallard. According to Lambert, sales of brown furniture fell off during the early aughts, again following the housing market crash of 2008 when auction houses were flooded with inventory, and in the last five years. Today such items sell at auction for a fraction of what they once did, making them good buys for the return to traditional design schemes.
Supply issues have contributed to a resurgence in sales of brown furniture.
“Something new that is made to look old is so expensive right now,” said Lambert citing material, production and shipping costs.
In contrast, an antique can be purchased at auction for an affordable price. Plus, Lambert adds, a quality antique is made to last and it has the cachet of having had “a story and a life before you.”
- Do your research before going to an auction. Third-party bidding sites like Liveauctioneer.com, invaluable.com and bidsquare.com enable you to view items and see comparable values.
- Check the condition of a piece for defects and always request a condition report. An expert can tell you if it’s been relined, cleaned, restored and so on.
- It’s wise to set a bidding limit – but sometimes going over the limit may be worth it if it’s an item you’re not likely to see again. “You don’t want to be penny wise and pound foolish,” says Lambert.
Renewed interest in visually layered interiors has meant an uptick in sales of patterned upholstered pieces, patterned china and Chinese porcelain at Crescent City, as well. A patterned sofa or floral china that may have seemed grandmotherly five years ago, now seems on trend with millennials for whom everything old is new again. Lambert says sales of Oriental rugs, which “took a nosedive with the decline of brown furniture” have likewise rebounded. Consumers are also collecting paintings to hang in groupings or to fill a wall gallery- style. And all can be acquired for prices well below those in retail settings – as can timeless pieces that never go out of vogue in New Orleans like 19th century Louis Phillipe commodes.
Lambert follows designers and millennial collectors on Instagram and suggests that buyers, especially young buyers and newcomers to the auction world, do the same for inspiration on how to combine antiques and vintage wares with a fresh eye. While the internet has also made it easy to bid on items anywhere in the world, he cautions that there is a higher buyer’s premium for online sales.
Another caveat: Lambert advises against approaching the auction market purely as an investment strategy.
“My biggest piece of advice is buy what you like,” he said. “Enjoy them and use them.”
ABOUT THE DESIGNER
Adam Lambert grew up above his father’s Magazine street antiques shop and was attending and helping out at local auction houses by the age of five. He as an MBA in international business with a side focus in auction theory and more than 20 years of experience in the field of auctions. His favorite thing to collect at auction are paintings of Hawaii, where he lived for six years.