Please Stop Saying Millennials Killed Antiques

It's just not true.

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Alice Morgan

If you've read about design at all in the past few years, chances are you've come across a headline like "Millennials Don't Like Brown Furniture." Or maybe "Today's Kids Don't Want Their Parents' Antiques," or even, "Millennials Killed Antiques." It's just one of several things—Applebee's, canned tuna, home ownership—my generation has been accused of murdering. But, as a millennial entrenched in the design world, and as one who proudly owns several antiques, I'll say it: All evidence I see suggests that there is very little truth to that.

Last month, my colleague wrote about the trend of "Grandmillennials", a portmanteau for the kind of 25-40 year old who prefers chintz to chrome, and would happily eat off of grandma's passed-down wedding china (🙋🏼‍♀️ guilty!). The internet was abuzz with like-minded people chiming in to own up to their fondness for fanciful antiques.

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Antiques in the home of Michael Diaz-Griffith, a proud young collector.
Michael Diaz-Griffith

This weekend, I had the chance to speak on a panel at the AADLA Fine Art & Antiques Show alongside some of my oft-hated-on generation's most respected antique lovers: interior designer Caleb Anderson of Drake/Anderson, fashion designer Adam Lippes, and design world figures Michael Diaz-Griffith (founder of The New Antiquarians, a group of young antique lovers) and Emily Evans Eerdmans (currently at work cataloging the estate of Mario Buatta, the so-called Prince of Chintz). The subject? "The New Connoisseurs: Collecting with Personal Style," an exploration of young people's treatment of antiques.

About halfway through the conversation, Diaz-Griffith piped up, "I'm going to say something controversial. When people talk about the kids that didn't want their parents' furniture, those are not millennials. Those are Gen Xers. They are my parents. They got rid of the antiques and painted everything gray and beige."

Indeed, it was the homes of the 90s and early aughts—far before Millennials were decorating—that featured a sea of beige and, of course, the dreaded open floor plan designed for a kind of "casual living" that eschewed fine china, or even a dining room.

By contrast, many in the room agreed, young people now do cook, and they do like to eat and entertain at home—just look at the rise of meal delivery kits, or exploding foodie culture. One reason for that might well be Instagram, where young people can show off the fruits of their cooking skills. They also want to show off their homes—and a collected, personal space is far more interesting in the feed than a beige room filled with standard-issue catalog furniture.

There's another reason, too, that I find my generation to be more attracted to vintage furniture. No conversation about design today is complete without touching on sustainability. Younger people are more likely than ever to consider the environmental impact of a purchase (or any decision, really), and what's more eco-friendly than reusing a previously loved piece of furniture? Give it a reupholster and you have a totally new piece (like this George III bergère from Hyde Park Antiques, above, that looks anything but old-school covered in a Voutsa fabric).

"I think my age group is more morally driven when shopping," pointed out Kelly Maguire, a 25-year-old antiques dealer who works alongside Margaret Schwartz (age 35) at Modern Antiquarian. We also, it would seem, love items that have a story—just look at how many more brands are spotlighting the makers behind their products in an effort to cater to a younger, perhaps more discerning, set.

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At a picnic for The New Antiquarians, a young antique enthusiast captures a photo of an antique object.
Michael Diaz-Griffith

And yes, we love to shop online—but does that have to be a bad thing? "I think 1stdibs and online auctions totally changed the game," Lippes pointed out. "People who might not have felt comfortable walking into an auction house are happy to do it online."

What Lippes says taps into one of the most important distinctions in this argument: Young people don't necessarily not like antiques; they just feel intimidated by them. A digital medium offers the opportunity to peruse safely. Still, Anderson said, there's no substitute for shopping in person. That's the way to build your knowledge and discover those stories. "I didn't know much when I started," he says. "I learned by not being afraid to ask questions."

The more we ask, the more confident we are, and confidence is what enables us to create interiors that are truly unique, personal, and even daring. That is to say, exactly the kinds of interiors we'd be proud to show off on our Instagram feed.

So no, my generation doesn't all hate antiques; we just want to live with them in a way that's personal—and to not be talked down to when we're shopping for them.

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