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The environmental benefits of buying antiques vs modern furniture

Let’s start with the ‘Antiques are expensive’ myth

Antiques don’t have to be expensive, in fact, you can pick up some real bargains in an auction house - household items that suit the decor and style of your home.

Additionally, even in cases where your initial outlay may be higher because you bought antique over modern, you could pick up a piece that increases in value rather than depreciating - more on that later.

Aside from monetary benefits, one of the most persuasive arguments to buy antique furniture is the positive impact it can have on protecting the environment and that’s what this blog post focuses on.

Cutting down on transport costs and carbon footprint

A new (made in China) chest of drawers has a carbon footprint 16 times higher than the antique equivalent per year, according to research commissioned by the International Antiques and Collectors Fairs (IACF).

The research highlights the lower carbon footprint of antiques in comparison to their modern day counterparts. The study compares the greenhouse gas emissions associated with manufacture and use of an antique chest of drawers, versus a modern day chest of drawers. It concludes that the combined carbon footprint for the manufacture and shipping of an antique chest of drawers is 139.6kg CO2e over a 180 year lifetime. Conversely, a newly produced chest of drawers has a total carbon footprint of 170.38 kg CO2e in a 15 year lifetime.

On a wider level, It’s also been estimated that international shipping accounts for 3 to 4 percent of human-caused carbon emissions. A report from the European Parliament estimated that number could increase by 2050 to as high as 17 percent. Therefore by cutting down on buying new each time, instead choosing to purchase older but perfectly functional furniture - often with a lot more character - is a great way to protect the environment.

Throwaway culture vs buying as an investment

According to a report from waste think tank RSA, Britons throw away more than 300,000 tonnes of reusable furniture every year.

As touched on above, manufacture of new furniture uses a lot of energy. Throwing it away, only to replace with new furniture, purely serves to exacerbates the situation.

These areas are just some of the ways in which new furniture uses resources and can negatively impact the environment if supply chain and manufacturing processes aren’t carried out with sustainability in mind:

  • Product purchasing and design

  • Raw material use

  • Secondary machining losses through cutoffs

  • Coating, treating and spraying

  • Assembly, packaging and returns

Imagine the impact on the environment if more people bought second hand furniture, upcycled their own or other people’s used items, and thought about buying for the long-term (to resell at similar or even higher value than the price they bought the furniture for originally).

Average lifespan of a modern furniture

The sofa example:

According to Factotum The average age for a sofa is 7-8 years.

That’s fine in itself and we’re not saying your antique sofa or any other antique furniture will magically last 1,000 years without need for some care and attention - but what it might do is gain value, even if it does have damage to it.

Antique furniture is also very often far more robust than its modern counterparts built using solid wood rather than, for example, laminated chipboard, making it more durable for the long-term and less likely to break or get damaged during house moves and everyday use.

It makes good financial sense to invest in antique furniture, from seating to a chest of drawers and everything in between - even ones that may need a little TLC as you’re more likely to protect your purchase from depreciating in value.

Antique furniture will always have a level of popularity - modern furniture loses value quickly

Antique furniture regularly appears in the top three types of Lots we sell at Gorringe’s, with demand from collectors for every period.

Modern furniture is more likely to go out of fashion and stay that way. Even if it does come back into fashion, by the time it does, you’ve already gotten rid of it anyway because the modern piece doesn’t hold its value. This is in stark contrast to antique furniture - where, even if something goes out of fashion, it is highly likely to have its day again.

The chart below shows the most common lots, by department, sold by Gorringe’s from our most recent trends report.

One added benefit: no more self-assembly

If all of the above hasn’t convinced you, we’ll just leave you with the image below - which should be enough to have you heading down to your friendly auction house at the earliest convenience.

Not directly relating to environmental issues of course, however buying antique furniture does come with another added benefit - you don’t have to assemble it yourself!


Illustration by Fraser Geesin Comics, Brighton.