In his lifetime, Danish designer Hans J Wegner (1914-2007), the master of Danish chair design, produced more than 500 chairs, many of which have become classics. Among them was the CH27 Easy Chair, designed in 1951 and produced by furniture company Carl Hansen & Son. Distinct for its solid oak frame and cane weave on the back and seat, a piece recently came up for sale at Noden in Singapore, where it sold in no time.
In recent years, vintage furniture has experienced a resurgence, and this sale represents just the tip of the iceberg. In particular, there has been a demand for 20th-century Scandinavian pieces by the likes of Wegner and his ilks, including Arne Jacobsen and Poul Henningsen.
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Noden’s owners Marko Yeo and Tawan Conchonnet can attest to this. According to them, it is the result of hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga”), a Danish concept associated with cosiness and comfort. In the bid to recreate it, the timeless Danish furniture designs that spanned the 1940s to the 1960s have taken centre stage.
Embracing the Power of Nostalgia
“Their stories and adventures are reasons enough to fall in love with them,” says Yeo, whose shop specialises in vintage Scandinavian furniture from that period. “They still look perfect in today’s context and give a more authentic and warm feel.
“It is a compelling experience to purchase something that was manufactured during the golden age of Danish design, when the designers and cabinet makers were still alive, and it is still in excellent condition.”
“Every piece is unique and tells its own story,” says Dennis Cheok, creative director of interior design firm UPSTRS_ and a fan. “To be able to bring new life to something that has survived the passage of time has a certain poetry.”
As Conchonnet points out, “Vintage furniture, particularly vintage Danish design has a soulful and timeless appeal that new furniture can never replicate. It represents a time when workmanship was unparalleled. The timber used from this period is also something you cannot find today.”
Another reason for its appeal, according to Lynette Wong, is its environment. As the founder of retailer 1B2G, which sells furniture designed by Danish designers from the 20th century, explains: “There has been a shift towards sustainability and this has extended to our homes as well. The ultimate in being eco-friendly is to buy vintage.”
At Journey East, a stalwart in the industry since 1995, founder and managing director Anita Sam agrees, “There’s a renewed appreciation for things that will withstand time as a nod to making responsible choices in our lifestyle.”
Additionally, she says popular culture has had a hand in this, too. “Shows like Mad Men and Queen’s Gambit helped to make the Art Deco and Retro periods popular. Nevertheless, I believe that the designs of that era stand firmly independent and will always have an appreciative audience.”
Journey East customer Shiv Nayar has furnished her home with many pieces from the store. “I probably hold the record,” she jokes as she describes how her home is filled with everything from bookshelves to a buffet hutch, tables, armchairs, mirrors and more.
“Vintage furniture to me represents an interesting and winning combination of fashion and function. As with wine, the older, the better. There is no need to replace them,” adds Nayar.
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Buying What Makes Sense
While stores with well curated collections are not hard to find, private collectors, dealers, and auctions are Wong, Yeo, and Conchonnet’s go-to sources.
Finding vintage furniture is a lot of fun when you find the right piece. “There’s a certain thrill in hunting through the shops for hours, and relishing the excitement and joy in finding a piece of furniture, or object, that speaks to me,” says Cheok.
Those who prefer a structured approach should search online first for the most valuable and iconic pieces designed by the most renowned designers. “You will be able to see what makes these pieces special and why they are so valuable,” Wong says.
“This is usually due to the high level of craftsmanship and type of wood used. For instance, Brazilian rosewood will always command a higher price. Aside from being a costly material to begin with, its prestige has skyrocketed since it was added to the CITES endangered species list.”
Wong suggests relying on instinct to make your purchase, regardless of price. Before analysing the quality, material, rarity, or heritage, it should stir the emotions. “Buy a matching set whenever possible. These are more difficult to find, but will have the same patina and provenance, and are therefore more valuable and rare,” she suggests.
Vintage pieces (or collections) add a unique character to a room. According to Nayar, their versatility allows them to blend with any kind of interior décor. Hers is a mixture of Indian, Chinese, country and even steam punk styles.
“They seem to soak up all the details surrounding them as well as the character of their owners and become one with them,” she says. “They also reflect your personality. It is precisely this fact that keeps me attracted to them at all times.”
Even as a retailer, Sam finds herself attached to the pieces she procures. One of them was an Art Deco bar that was the centrepiece of an event for Journey East. “Though we would have loved to keep it, it now proudly sits at Monument Lifestyle in Tiong Bahru. Occasionally, I still go there to reminisce with a cup of coffee, a bagel and some retail therapy.”
Cheok can relate: “There’s a certain charm in nostalgia. It’s a powerful emotion, and is something that no shiny, new-fangled thingamabob can match.”
(Related: Where to buy designer furniture in Singapore)
How to Integrate Vintage Furniture into a Space
Dennis Cheok, creative director of interior design firm UPSTRS_, offers three ways to ensure the past fits comfortably into the present and future.
Make it the Centrepiece
Keep the area around it clear of clutter. Less is better. Combine it with pieces that complement in form or colour, but keep them to a minimum. In contrast, an organically shaped mirror can be placed above an angular vintage console.
Keep it Eclectic
Choose what tickles your fancy. Don’t be afraid to mix it up with other pieces from different eras or cultures. This is especially useful if the collection is large and includes family heirlooms. Consider whitewashing some pieces, such as kopitiam chairs or a credenza, to contemporise their appearance.
Don’t be a Minimalist
I have seen many beautiful homes filled to the brim with all sorts of wonderful furniture, objects, art, and paintings—each one unique, each with so much history. However, this approach is not for everyone as it could lead to sensory overload. It is purely a trial and error process with the ultimate goal of creating equilibrium within the space.