Brown furniture. This two word phrase in the personal property appraisal world, refers to property that has no to little market in today’s economy. Brown furniture may or may not be brown. It covers antiques, from English to Japanese, and includes stemware and porcelain that many a wedding couple selected and used for special occasions. The phrase also covers the sterling silver flatware and candlesticks that earlier generations enjoyed. Many Baby Boomers are downsizing, the market is flooded with this material and no one wants their heirlooms, including their own children. As an appraiser of Asian art, I encounter this frequently, and it often includes large six panel screens or tall heavy cabinets, sets of Chinese or Japanese export porcelain with large serving platters or bowls. Homes today don’t have large walls, and heavy furniture becomes a burden for storage.
Millennials may want antiques but can’t afford them, or don’t have space, as rents rise and living spaces shrink as reported Erin Arvedlund of The Inquirer in Philadelphia. Most millennials don’t own their own home, the result; no market for heavy antiques or grand pianos or Oriental carpets. If you happen to want antiques, or pianos, or carpets, it is a good time to buy. One can find value investments; there is ample supply for comparison shopping.
My 31-year old son, a firefighter, recently became engaged and moved into a new home. Last week we sent a leather sofa and two large antique Japanese wood chests to he and his fiancé, a truck-load of brown furniture. By pure coincidence today, was I texting with my soon to be daughter-in-law, and she asked what topic I was writing about. Brown Furniture. She wrote regarding my inquiry, “I don’t know many people my age that own a home and I wouldn’t want to invest in furniture that I would have to move from place to place. A lot of my friends that are travel nurses have zero furniture, maybe a bed in storage.”
My husband and I are very lucky that the time was right and our heirlooms are enjoyed by another generation. We included family china but silver was perceived as a burden of weight and of little use. Why have something that will be used little when space is such a premium, and it is heavy besides. Along with the grand piano, the silver tea service was often seen in homes of baby boomers. This is no longer the case, living space is at a premium.
I went to Home Consignment, the retail store just off Highway 101 in Corte Madera, to talk with the staff. They accept very little antique and vintage Asian furniture; it is too big and heavy and does not sell. Most people looking to outfit their homes don’t have the space for large furniture and newer homes have a more open floor plan that works really well with mid-century modern furnishings, especially if small.
The irony of this experience was that my husband and I moved from a larger house to a small apartment. Now we have downsized and have light, easy-to-move, home furnishings. We understand the weight of our previously owned brown furniture.