The world of fashion, design in general, is, by its very nature, fickle. Clothing is certainly top of the list, but art, architecture, furnishings, almost every other field are all close behind. The desire to be new is built into us. The problem is that our brains tell us to adhere to what works which is what sways us to cling to the old. (Classic products, like Coca-Cola labels are a good example.)The fine line that dictates what might be good, or not so good, can get lost in this seesaw of competing desires.

English antique furniture (and 18th century furniture in general) slots into this dilemma perfectly. Admittedly, the price for it was going ballistic (and still is for certain items) but in essence, there is a reason for the meteoric rise it had in the 1980’s and 90’s. The best of it is the quintessence of quality, built to last, well designed, ergonomically well thought out and beautiful. Simply put, from the point of view of functionality, there are few other eras of furniture that work quite as well.

Notwithstanding this, it is easy to understand why people follow fashion. Our brain seeks stimulation. A building  that is made of poured concrete, for example, is new in a world of bricks and mortar. Given that poured concrete can do so much more, you can understand why some might feel this would be the style for the future. And yet, as many Brits will confess about the Southbank Centre complex, it is cold and uninviting, no matter how well it functions. The city of London’s love affair with raw, poured concrete lasted a little too long in the eyes of many.

The reality is that the natural flux of fashion doesn’t call for the destruction of the old. It does call for a re-evaluation of it, however, which is often seen through a lens that is of the moment. Hence, the destruction of wonderful buildings such as Penn Station to name one of thousands. And, of course, this is true in every field. Ironically, particularly as regards to fashion, second hand clothes merchants are doing very well. Certain models of the Birkin bag continue to sell for well over $100,000, for example.

Inevitably, fashion is affected by market which will either diminish or enhance the way we look at things. The second hand market strongly affects our rationale for liking something. I have yet to meet a woman who would not want a Birkin bag, but is it the best hand bag in existence? That is a silly question. The intrinsic value of something is altogether separate from perceived value. And therein lies the rub. But it is also the reason why new markets create themselves. Thank goodness for that.

The value of art remains, as ever, a hot topic of discussion. Whether it is the soaring prices of (some) modern and contemporary artists, or the mostly falling, with exceptions, value of old masters, the market place remains unsettled, not unlike the English furniture market. The fact is that the buyers seem to be either uncertain or completely bullish. It is, of course, a market, but I often feel that the art itself gets overlooked.

I was thinking about this after reading an article in the NY Times in re to a Constable that was espied by a dealer in the UK who purchased it for $5,200 and later sold it at Sotheby’s in London for one thousand times that price. It underscores the paradox that the art market holds for me that people aren’t really looking at and liking the art, they are looking for an investment. As much as I understand the fact that people do not wish to throw money away, isn’t art about visual pleasure?

Spending time with an artist as I do, I constantly hear how a painter has really mastered certain aspects of painting. I love these observations as it encourages me to look even more closely. I remember when I first saw a JMW Turner painting in Jansen’s “The History of Art”. I was fifteen and I was enthralled that this man could capture light with the colors in his palette. I continue to be enthralled by Turner. I feel that appreciation is even deeper having seen so many of his works.

Value is so tricky. Investors warn that buying the last known painting of a given artist is a bad idea. For one, the value might get overblown, but secondly, if no other paintings by the artist come to market, the artist’s value will fall. These observations clearly have nothing to do with art, just the market and even though you cannot deny the art market, it seems almost antithetical to art appreciation. Thank goodness for museums.

The furniture market is not that different. I hear of people referring to English furniture as “brown”, a pejorative that belies the premise on which good English furniture dealers work. Our focus is on color—of the wood, the paint, the gilding—it’s not brown but a panoply of colors. Such objections will rise about any market “in decline”, be it about modern or contemporary, except it will be about comfort, or craftsmanship or something else. It’s really just about economics, don’t let them fool you. You can like whatever you want.

For those of you who know my gallery on East 72nd Street, just off the corner of Lexington Avenue, I regret to say that I have moved out of those premises. In fact, regret is not quite the correct word since I felt that I was not seeing enough interested people that were actually buying and so regret is coupled with relief that I am no longer paying the substantial rent that came due every month. And yet, my furniture needs to be seen, and not just on the internet. I will now focus on a different strategy for doing that, but I am not sure what those logistics are just yet.

More and more art dealers, particularly fine or decorative dealers selling pieces that qualify as antique, are moving out of public premises and using art fairs to sell their wares. People attribute this public retreat as a fall off in the taste for the antique, but I am not certain that is the sole cause for this trend. There has been some shift in taste, but old things will always have resonance and few dealers want to abandon the trade they worked so hard to learn. The option to be a private dealer is really the best one available.

I can better speak about furniture than art although the sound and fury (huge prices) surrounding modern and contemporary art is a phenomenon that has a great many people scratching their heads. As far as I am concerned, long may it run.  As for the shift towards modern and contemporary furniture, I believe it is predicated on a number of things. There is, for example, an intellectual attraction to finding the early work of contemporary designers such as Hans Wegner or Gio Ponti. More mundanely, much of the 50’s-80’s furniture is less expensive which will appeal to a younger market. But for the shelter magazines, contemporary allows for a new swath of advertising revenue.

This may sound cynical, but it isn’t. The supply of quality antique furniture of any nationality is limited and when there isn’t enough to sell, the market drops off because customers get discouraged. This will affect ancillary businesses, most notably the fabric houses who are huge advertisers, which, of course, affects the shelter magazines. The food chain gets disrupted and so the only smart move is to try and shift the market to a more lucrative vein. It is an effective strategy, but it inevitably moves public opinion away from one thing and towards another.

My rationale may not be absolutely watertight, but when you combine the fact that very few people are spending money these days—you can read endless articles about how businesses are sitting on piles of cash—it begins to round out a picture that demonstrates just why fewer people were coming into my gallery than ever. There are plenty of English furniture enthusiasts out there and there would be a whole lot more if things were slightly different. But I am dealing with reality which means it was the right move to become a private dealer. I love this business and would never give it up, but I also have to adapt to the moment.