Fine Art: Vintage and retro – antiques of the future

Tea trolleys and cocktail cabinets: Auction of mid-20th-century furniture in Dublin

Heard about the "antiques auction" with no antiques? De Veres auction in Dublin on Sunday, October 15th, features not a single stick of Georgian or Victorian "brown furniture". In fact, this long-established Kildare Street fine art auctioneers has given up selling antique furniture altogether and is instead concentrating on 20th-century design furniture and lighting. (It continues to hold separate art auctions where the occasional 19th-century painting slips through).

Items of 20th-century design will, of course, eventually become the antiques of the future but, for now – at any rate for purists – they’re regarded as “vintage” or “retro” and not antiques (the term strictly referring to items at least 100 years old).

According to de Veres auctioneer Rory Guthrie the reason is, simply, due to a change in public taste. While he acknowledges that Georgian and Victorian furniture is still being bought by people with houses dating from that era he said "the move in taste away from traditional antique furniture has seen that market really struggle and large, bulky 'brown furniture' has become almost unsaleable". He recalls selling an Irish Georgian side table for IR£250,000 in the RDS around 2000, "a huge price then and it wouldn't be repeated today".

Good value

Nowadays, he said, the growth area is for what the Americans call “mid-century modern” – furniture and lighting designed and made in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s especially in Scandinavia and Italy – that is more relevant to today’s market, with more people living in open-plan houses or in apartments and a consequent decline in the traditional concepts of separate dining and living rooms.


Guthrie also stressed that auctions like this offer good value compared with the retail cost of new furniture and that good pieces will appreciate in value. As you’d expect, he also believes that “buying at auction is fun too, more emotive than typical retail shopping. To have a connection with a piece of furniture brings with it a sense of tradition that can’t be bought from the pages of a furniture catalogue. The process does make you feel more connected, more involved. The high number of repeat buyers at our auctions backs this up.”

He puts his money where his mouth is and furnishes his own home with 20th-century furniture, art and even a 1955 Nilfisk vacuum cleaner. He’s particularly keen on Danish furniture from the 1960s, describing it as “beautiful in both its quality and design” and says it reminds him of Georgian furniture in terms of its cabinetmaking and everyday functionality.

Names to watch out for from the "golden age" of Danish design from the 1940s through to the 1960s, he said, include Hans Wegner, Arne Vodder and Arne Jacobsen – designers who "embraced the classic form, focusing on craftsmanship and functionality, furniture with simple, clean lines, made by the highest quality cabinet makers". Italian design, "synonymous with exquisite craftsmanship" is, he said, also popular among buyers furnishing modern houses and apartments.

As well as original pieces, de Veres also sells modern reproduction examples of 20th-century design classics. Most lots in the auction – that includes 1960s Italian, Danish and other Scandinavian sideboards, cocktail tables, dining chairs, coffee tables, lighting, easy chairs and mirrors – have estimates in the hundreds rather than thousands of euro. There’s a selection of Irish art pieces in the auction that were selected to create an overall modern look.

Danish architect

Among the 140 Lots, highlights include Lot 6, an Italian rosewood "T69" dining table, by Osvaldo Borsani and Eugenio Gerli for Tecno, Milan, dating from 1965 estimated at €1,000-€1,500; and Lot 58, a Danish rosewood extending dining table, from circa 1965 and purchased from "La Boutique Danoise", 42 Avenue Friedland, Paris, March 1969 (original receipt included, €1,000-€1,500).

Among the chairs: Lot 27, a pair "Model 431" armchairs, rosewood upholstered in black leather, designed in the 1960s by the Danish architect Arne Vodder and made by Sibast, €800-€1,200; Lot 51, a pair of "Timeout" chairs by Jahn Aamodt, whose slogan is "Design should satisfy the desires of the user, the company and the society. Design should have personality and character to long-lasting use," €1,500-€2,000; and, Lot 52, a pair of "Lamino" chairs by the Swedish designer Yngve Ekstrom, upholstered in cream leather; in 1999, the magazine Sköna Hems named the "Lamino" as the best Swedish-designed furniture piece of the 20th century (€1,500-€2,000); and Lot 74, a pair of "Moon Lounge" chairs by Pietro Arosio for Tacchini, Italy, €1,000-€1,500.

Lot 35 is a lacquer and smoked-glass cocktail bar, French 1970s by “Martin” . To which might be added Lot 36, a pair of 1970s bar stools in cream upholstery on a chrome swivel base (€200-€400).

If tea's more your style, then take a look at Lot 42, a 1950s Italian walnut tea trolley with trays and glass shelves, attributed to Cesare Lacca for Cassina, €300-€500. Other eye-catching pieces include Lot 28, a Danish 1960s teak writing desk (€1,000- €1,500); and, Lot 30, a 1970s rosewood TV/HiFi stand by Jacob Jensen for Bang & Olufsen, Denmark (€400-€600).

Among the lighting, top lots include Lot 73, a 1960s Italian 10-armed brass and enamel “Sputnik” ceiling light (modelled on the Soviet spacecraft) €600-€900; and Lot 92, a 1950s Italian “Oluce” lamp with shade €400-€600.

Art pieces that might match these lots include Lot 100, a “Rainbow Rug” designed by Patrick Scott and made by by V’Soske Joyce, measuring 71x47 inches (180x119cm) and estimated at €4,000-€6,000; and Lot 101, a bronze sculpture “Golfing bear” by Patrick O’Reilly, 16 inches (41cm) high, also €4,000-€6,000.

Viewing Saturday, October 14th, at de Veres, 35 Kildare Street. Prospective bidders should note that the auction itself takes place on Sunday, October 15th, at 2pm, in the Royal College of Physicians, 6 Kildare Street, Dublin 2. Catalogue online at