Often misinterpreted to mean used or second-hand, vintage furniture can be well worth imitating – and sometimes extremely valuable.
Vintage home designs in demand, for decorators and collectors
"Vintage is a lifestyle," says Guillaume Cuiry, the founder of La Galerie Nationale, a Paris-based gallery now open in Dubai and dedicated to 20th century furniture and design. "This is one of the latest ways to customise your home interior with exceptional, unique and rare pieces. Vintage design illustrates that the contemporary does not exist without its famous and respectable past."
Vintage is a much used, often abused term that is often subject to misinterpretation, particularly in this part of the world. "There is a lot of confusion and misconception in this region - and others - over what vintage actually means," notes Cyril Zammit, the fair director of Design Days Dubai, which takes place Marcy 18 to 21 in Downtown Dubai. The event will incorporate a large number of highly covetable vintage pieces. "Sometimes 'vintage' is misinterpreted as being used or second-hand, and is subsequently brushed aside, which is a huge pity as vintage design really deserves a closer look."
Precise definitions of vintage vary. For the Kuwaiti design collector Mariam Al Nassar, it means objects that have been produced within the last 100 years (anything older is classified as an antique). For François Laffanour, the founder of Galerie Downtown Laffanour, one of the first galleries to start focusing on vintage design more than 25 years ago, it simply means "historical".
For Zesty Meyers and Evan Snyderman, the founders of New York's R20th Century gallery, vintage has the following connotations: "In general, we define vintage design as pieces that are no longer being produced. The vintage pieces we specialise in were often made in very small productions or as singular, one-of-a-kind pieces. We emphasise works that clearly reveal the designer's hand and are, in many cases, crafted by the designers themselves, or in their atelier."
Whatever the exact definition, there is no denying that the popularity of vintage design has increased exponentially in the last decade. Online resources such as dealers' websites and online auction catalogues are playing a significant role in widening the profile of vintage design and bringing it to the attention of a much broader audience, says Al Nassar.
People have come to realise that investing in vintage design means getting a unique, inimitable object - as well as your own little piece of design history.
"Furniture design is now considered as being a part of the history of art," says Zammit. "Classic modern vintage design from the mid- to late-20th century has become hugely popular and collectable over recent years. The 1950s post-war period in Europe and America was dominated by the urge - and necessity - to create and reconstruct in order to forget about the war. Architects and designers used new materials and new manufacturing processes to create for the largest number of people. The way of thinking about furniture design radically changed, and the design of some vintage furniture represented a revolution in style."
According to Meyers, people are now collecting design alongside art. As a result, the price of vintage pieces continues to rise. However, one problem with this growing popularity is that it is leading to scarcity; it is becoming increasingly difficult to satisfy demand for vintage pieces.
"A common misconception is that there is plenty of this work out there," Meyers notes. "People don't yet fully realise the rarity of the important pieces and that they should seize the opportunity to acquire these pieces when it presents itself, as it might not be possible five years - or even one year - from now."
Vintage design has not traditionally been popular in this part of the world - we do, after all, live in a region that places great value on the new. However, change is afoot. Hence Cuiry's decision to open a Dubai branch of La Galerie Nationale in Al Quoz's Alserkal Avenue this month.
"I discovered the UAE in 2005 and have been studying the market since then. At that time, I thought that the market and the collectors were not aware enough of 20th century art design furniture. But now it's a different story. Events like Art Dubai, Abu Dhabi Art and the development of places like Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz are changing the vision of art in the Emirates," Cuiry explains.
Events such as Design Days Dubai will also encourage UAE consumers to reassess their perceptions of design in general and vintage design in particular. For many reputable, international design galleries, including R20th Century, this will represent a first visit to the Middle East, and they will be eager to gauge the market, but also to develop and move it forward.
During the show, Cuiry's La Galerie Nationale, which focuses on design from the 1930s to the 1970s, will present between 15 and 20 items. Among these are the Homage to Mondrian coffee table by Mathieu Mategot, which was made in 1956, and a pair of armchairs by Marco Zanuso from 1953. Also on show will be a table and four armchairs by Warren Platner. "It's very rare to the five pieces together," says Cuiry.
Al Nassar will present an eclectic collection from the Forties, Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, including some of her personal favourite designs by Angelo Mangiarotti, Jules Leleu and Fontana Arte.
Meanwhile, R20th Century will present a selection of work by the Brazilian designer Joaquim Tenreiro. This will include an octagonal, custom-made coffee table in jacaranda with a marble top from the 1960s, a pair of upholstered lounge chairs from the same era, and a curved sofa with an upholstered seat and back and jacaranda frame dated at around 1950. "Tenreiro is a true master," says Meyer.