Antique, vintage, retro or antique style furniture?

A friend asked me to help him furnish the attic. He wanted to use the old furniture for the fitting, insisting that it was inherited from his parents and was of great value. I figured out pretty quickly that the furniture was from 1975-1980, oak veneered wood paneling and carved appliques - worthless beyond sentimental value. I discussed with him what old style, valuable furniture means and how it is different from vintage or retro furniture with more sentimental value. I also told him about antique furniture and how you can get an old look for your home with new furniture. He was convinced that his parents' furniture, which he thought was carved solid wood, was very valuable. In fact, it was the only reason he kept it, as the furniture was heavy and rather sad. I thought it might also be interesting for you to find out what truly valuable furniture is.

Style furniture, valuable furniture sold at auction houses

It is furniture that belongs to that group called "antiques", furniture sought after by collectors, by connoisseurs. It is the kind of furniture that is bought out of passion, in which a lot of money is invested and which, with very few exceptions, increases in value over time.

Rare pieces are treated as works of art. They are catalogued and the period in which they were made is mentioned, style, the creator or the school to which it belongs. Such pieces of furniture are at least 100 years old. To be truly valuable, they must have been made when furniture was not made industrially, and the pieces are much fewer, even unique. It is solid wood, sometimes even very valuable woods such as ebony or rosewood, worked by hand and embellished with carvings or inlays.

Those who are involved in this world of antiquities have serious knowledge of art and art history. An antique piece of furniture is examined in detail to determine its approximate age and provenance. The style in which it was made and its resemblance to other pieces made by the cabinetmaker to whom it is attributed is studied. If the piece is part of a private collection and these things are known exactly, then information about its journey through time (who owned it) gives the piece even more value.

Another aspect that increases value is uniqueness. If it's a one-off, the value will increase a lot. Any manufacturing defects can also increase its value. If 5 identical pieces were made in the same period and one of them has a small defect that makes it stand out, it will certainly be more expensive than its sister piece.

The condition of the piece of furniture is not very important, provided it is not irreparably damaged. It is possible that a good condition means a higher value, but a less good condition does not reduce the value very much. It can be restored by specialists and regain its former charm.

These pieces of furniture can be traded for very large sums or end up in auctions at incredible values. An example of a rare piece is the desk pictured below. It is attributed to Pierre Golle, who is said to have introduced inlay to French furniture making in the 17th century. The desk is named after Mazarin because Golle was something of a protégé of his. From 1656 Golle produced furniture for Louis XIV.

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Mazarin Office
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Mazarin office countertop
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Vintage furniture

Vintage furniture is also old furniture, but it doesn't have the value of what is considered "antique". It is closer in time to us, being made in the industrial period. This removes that element of uniqueness, of a handmade model.

It is furniture that we find in antique shops and that belongs to more similar styles, for example Danish or Scandinavian style. There are also older styles or models that have been produced in very large numbers, which has caused the value to decrease. This is the case Thonet chairs or armchairs. Most of the vintage furniture is made in the 1940s and 1960s.

Such pieces of furniture are not very expensive and you may find real bargains. They are pieces with which you can recreate past times, furnish a house with an authentic old look.

Vintage pieces can also be chosen to create a special place in the home. And you don't need to furnish a whole room for that. A table, a chest of drawers, a sofa, a picture frame, an old mirror or a coffee table will add a touch of personality to the room.

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old furniture
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Retro furniture

Retro furniture is the furniture of grandparents and parents. It's the furniture we grew up with and associate with our memories and childhood experiences. It does not represent a particular style or period. You know those CDs that say "Oldies but goldies"? So is retro furniture. It's the furniture of our past.

It's hard to draw a clear line between retro and vintage furniture. There are pieces you can put in both categories. The difference is that retro furniture is about memories. We choose it because we have lived with it and have nostalgia for our childhood or youth, because we miss our parents or grandparents.

Not belonging to a particular style and without value given by design or period, retro furniture is the kind you find in second-hand shops or flea markets. We and our memories give value to this furniture.

old furniture
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old furniture
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Antique furniture

This is no longer old furniture but furniture that reproduces the old look of a piece of furniture. They are different techniques that make furniture made one morning look like it was made 100 years ago until the next morning.

The most important thing in these cases is that the techniques are used in such a way that the piece looks as authentic as possible. Any exaggeration will make the furniture look closer to kitsch than an antique.

To "age" furniture the wood is knocked, stabbed, scratched, brushed or hit with a chain or bag of nuts and bolts. Lacquer or paint applied layer upon layer is sanded on the edges sometimes down to the wood. The following are applied ageing skids different colours or substances that make the paint crack like the old one.

There are many who choose such furniture benefiting from both the look of old furniture and the pleasant feeling of new furniture.

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old furniture
photo source: restorationhardware
In conclusion

The older a piece of furniture is, the more valuable it is. Its value comes from its uniqueness, from the fact that it clearly belongs to a particular style, or from the fact that it was made by famous cabinetmakers. If it is damaged, it can only be restored by specialists because otherwise its value is compromised. Buying such furniture is an investment just like buying a work of art.

Vintage or retro furniture is the furniture we choose with our heart and soul out of a desire to give personality to our home, to create a special place or to relive memories. It is not bought as an investment but for pleasure and its value is often sentimental.

Antique furniture is new furniture made to look old using various techniques and materials.

About the author

Mihaela Radu

Mihaela Radu is a chemical engineer but has a great passion for wood. She has been working in the field for more than 20 years, wood finishing being what defined her during this period. She gained experience working in a research institute, in her own company, as well as in a multinational. She wants to continuously share her experience with those who have the same passion - and more.


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  • Welcome and necessary this article, for everyone interested in the correct evaluation of furniture pieces but also simply for the education of lovers of beauty. Congratulations!


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