After a solid 15 years of ho-hum at best business, the decorative arts are finally reaching a critical state, with the greatest potential for success in front for all to see. Great merchandise has never been more available. The quality is of all shapes and forms, and anyone with some sense of taste and value can find great objects like never before (or perhaps since the last three decades after World War II).
I think it has taken a maturation of the decorative arts to be weaned off auction blood for survival. The biggest potential market for a dealer’s acquisition of inventory is now the private collector or client who employed a talented decorator to design rooms that exuded a class not seen but in old time moving pictures. It can be purchased (or preferably consigned). Today a dealer has to adapt, and the better ones tend to be on the mark with the right kind of inventory and a well-developed internet presence.
So why is business so good? I’ll tell you a little secret, it’s not. But still, the opportunities have never been greater. The availability of exceptional merchandise at auction is a joke. If they would only sell works of art without a reserve, everyone (buyer, seller, and auctioneer) would be happy. After sale haggling sounds like auction houses truly want to be dealers. With the 25% buyer’s premium is tacked on, so much merchandise is now bought in. There is a better way.
In all my years in this business, I find that it has never been hard to buy good merchandise. Except for the obvious financial constraints, I have always been able to find antiques and decorative arts that had a saleable personality (or rentable; our TV and movie rental business in New York City is doing fantastic). Rustic and Regency are as connected as Mid-Century Modern with Italian Neo-classic. If you keep your eyes wide open, the pieces are there. My favorite phrase, “opportunity meeting preparation” works with everything.
So what are the chances that we will actually see an expansion of business in the next couple of years? Well, we all know, and have been saying for some time that “it can’t get much worse.” The heroes of today in this industry are the ones that are still here, a lot less than in the last millennium. I also don’t see many new “start ups” in this field. Capital allocation is the wildcard.
There needs to be an understanding that personal capital allocated to this asset class, can be a value investment, especially for better quality. Anyone can “pick a stock,” but those that see value will make a profit. At market price or a great deal, there is undeniable value in the decorative arts, hopefully with functional and intellectual user benefits. For this industry to be able to expand and grow, the dealer function will be even more critical. The dealer must act as a conduit for merchandise distribution. It will take more than the likes of 1stDibs to make this happen. However, capital allocation to this market will grease the wheels of the evolutionary growth in this industry.