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‘Brown Furniture’ Update

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By Natalie Ahern, Owner, All the Right Moves 

One of the most frequent questions I receive from my clients is what to do with furniture they no longer need or want.  As a downsizing specialist, the families I work with are usually moving to a smaller home.  They often have family heirlooms (such as great grandma’s jelly cabinet) or beautifully made pieces of furniture that were purchased in the 60s or 70s.  As much as my families push and prod their children to take these items, very little is passed to the next generation.  What now?

You may have heard the term “brown furniture,” which refers to the heirlooms and secondhand furniture that no one seems to want these days.  Remember the old supply and demand theory of economics?  The greater the supply of an item, the lesser the value.  That is the current status of “brown furniture.” It is hard to sell or donate because there is such a glut on the market.  So, what can you do with these items you need to purge?  

I always encourage my clients to focus on two things.  The first is how much joy they received from the item while it was in their home.  Did they get their money’s worth of memories from that piece of furniture? Usually, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Secondly, I am not an expert on the value of heirlooms, so I always consult with a local auctioneer or estate sale representative.  I never assume an item does or does not have value until I have an expert’s opinion.  

You may only get $25 for an item, but it is often better than paying to have it hauled away.  If you are downsizing an entire house, an auctioneer or antique dealer may want to walk through your home and look at many other items.  While the jelly cabinet mentioned earlier might not have much value, there may be art, jewelry, coins, etc., that might be worth something.  As one appraiser recently told me, “People often think the valuable items in their homes are furniture, but it is often the items they never thought much about that are enjoying a seller’s market.  

Currently, Victorian furniture is not a popular category for New England buyers, but Art Deco and Mid-Century furniture and accessories are in high demand.  Take a walk through local consignment and antique stores to see what is selling.  Talk to the sales associates and show them pictures of the furniture you want to part with.  Perhaps your items will be saleable.  If not, it may be time to donate or “gift” your unwanted furniture.