There is no denying that antiques elevate our interiors in more ways than one. They connect us to the past and create unique spaces full of character. The often forgotten but equally important point is just how sustainable antiques are.
We spend a lot of time showing off our beautiful antiques here at Lorfords and too little time sharing how good for the planet they are. This may seem like an obvious statement, as antiques are in essence sustainable. And yet, in an age of climate consciousness around food, clothes and single-use plastic, the fast furniture crisis is on the backburner.
This doesn’t mean the crisis is not there, nor that it hasn't been exposed. A study commissioned by Antiques are Green found that a new piece of furniture lasts for an average of 15 years. Meanwhile, an antique piece of furniture is resold once every 30 years. This study concludes that the environmental impact of an antique piece is six times less than that of a new piece of furniture. Stark statistics indeed.
What is fuelling this crisis? Throwaway culture has become the norm. In 2019, the North London Waste Authority found that 22 million pieces of furniture are binned in the UK each year, with much of that going straight to landfill. Super low prices and the flatpack revolution have simply made it too easy for us. We’re on a conveyor belt of buying a piece of furniture, getting bored of it or it breaks, throwing it away and then buying another to replace it.
Conscious interior design
It’s not all bad though. A younger generation, the same age group we have labelled the ‘flatpack generation’ in years past, are waking up when it comes to their interiors. This is partly because they want to live an eco-friendly life and understand that fast furniture has a big impact on their carbon footprint.
But it is also because they are seeking soulful interiors – and the same can increasingly be said for all of us. The fast furniture culture resulted from modern living demands, the rent revolution and constantly changing fashions. The result was minimalist, functional… uniform.
The theory that such interiors aid our busy lives started to show cracks in lockdown. The Marie Kondo approach felt stark when our homes acted as a permanent base and refuge. This generation is seeking interiors with personality, character and soul. They want novel furniture and decorative pieces that provide a talking point. Our interiors are a reflection of us, so looking the same as everyone else isn’t cutting it anymore.
Antiques create more sustainable interiors - that's a fact. But why, exactly?
Antiques are one of the most forgotten forms of recycling, and yet one of the most obvious. To classify as an antique proper, an object must have survived for over 100 years. This is no mean feat and often a credit to the original craftsmanship. We already mentioned the statistic that antiques are resold every 30 years on average. They were crafted to last and be passed down through generations and that trend continues today.
Through materials and craft
Before the industrial revolution, cabinet-makers did everything by hand with a limited range of tools and techniques to hand. There was no MDF, nor any laminated chipboard.
Makers had to be invested in their product; if a piece fell apart after a few weeks, they would be the talk of their community – and not in a good way. There was a personal responsibility for good craftsmanship, a sense of ownership. It can feel like eco-consciousness is a relatively new development, but this is not the case. Back in the 19th Century individuals were striving to counteract the excess and waste of the industrial revolution.
One such pioneer was William Morris. His enduring mantra ‘have nothing in your home you do not believe to be beautiful or know to be useful,’ is more relevant than ever. The Arts & Crafts movement put moral responsibility back into furniture and interior design. Ernest Gimson made his Windsor chairs from ash, beech and elm sourced from local woodland. Given the fact that antique Windsor chairs are still very popular today, it is hard to get more sustainable than that.
It wasn’t just wooden furniture, either. Bamboo and rattan, both rapidly renewing plants, boomed from the Mid Century onwards. Leading designers of the age transformed them into stylish wicker furniture and homeware. Sustainable production certainly didn’t sacrifice style then, and it doesn’t now.
Through timeless appeal
Antiques are not bound by style, however. They are sustainable because they are not subject to the whims of fashion. Modern furniture companies jump on emerging trends and overhaul their collections when they are no longer fashionable. Antique and vintage designs, on the other hand, have a very enduring appeal. Take the iconic Chesterfield sofa, for example. Since its conception in mid 18th Century, the mighty button back has never been considered passé.
Likewise, a 17th Century oak refectory table has survived for over 300 years and lived to tell the tale. Such a piece may have characterful grooves and a deep aged patina, but its solid construction means it will likely go on for hundreds more. Aside from anything else, these are investment pieces. An antique dining table will serve you and probably your children and grandchildren too. It won't ask for much in return other than an occasional polish or reinforcement. A small price to pay, we think.
You need only flick through this month’s interiors magazines to see that we are moving in the right direction. Ethical sourcing and a ‘period meets contemporary' aesthetic are top of the agenda for an increasing number of interior designers. This sway is not only good for the planet, but for the end result. When you hire an interior designer, you don’t want them to present you with something akin to a department store showroom. You want something layered and lived in; this is what antiques provide in spades.
For some, antiques feel too special, too majestic, for their lifestyle. But respecting antiques doesn't mean having no relationship with them. You can still be careful whilst making bold choices. We are seeing something of a ‘recovering revolution,’ whereby contemporary fabrics breathe new life into period pieces. This is a great way to adapt antiques to your taste. You might love the imposing proportions and design of a Victorian armchair, but the faded and dated covering? Not so much.
Part of the reason for the current throwaway culture is our reluctance to put a bit of work in. Less than 1 in 10 people are willing to repair an item to extend its life – a fact I’m sure would horrify our ancestors. Restoration and upcycling are not only satisfying, but they also connect you to your interiors in a personal way. If DIY is not for you, many talented experts are on hand to help. Read some tips for the amateur restorer from our in-house professional Dave.
The truth is there is a vast spectrum of antique and vintage pieces out there. Our collection offers something for every soul, from traditional Georgian furniture to cool vintage memorabilia. Not only are our pieces an antidote for flat interiors, but they are also an ethical choice. The best thing? There is no flatpack assembly involved.
Get inspired with our latest lookbook, 'The conscious interior.'