Take a scroll through your Instagram feed and you’re likely to come across a growing number of photos of stylized home interiors. Understandably, during the pandemic our aspirations have shifted from fashion to furniture. The result is a burgeoning marketplace of enterprising sellers offering stylized vintage decor via Instagram, with some pieces becoming social media icons in their own right.
Vintage home decor was a key trend highlighted in CB2′s Next in Design Report released in January, 2021. In a world of mass production, vintage offers a way to score something unique while also consuming responsibly – a priority for Gen Z shoppers. Couple that with most of us staying at home and staring at our furniture, and online shopping for home goods has jumped dramatically. In the U.K., online sales of home products grew by 74.4 per cent in 2020, with homewares and decorations increasing by 108 per cent, according to market research firm IMRG.
“COVID has dramatically accelerated digital adoption and legitimized the medium as a way to discover and buy luxury items,” says Tony Freund, editorial director at New York-based digital marketplace 1stDibs, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. “We have seen increased demand for one-of-a-kind luxury items across all categories – furniture, art, decorative objects, jewellery and clothing – and all time periods, from antique to vintage to newly minted items.”
Freund says that while 1stDibs has been doing been doing brisk business throughout the pandemic in work-from-home accoutrements like bookshelves and small tables, aesthetic preferences tell a more emotional story. “We’ve noticed a huge shift toward furniture and objects that offer a sense of comfort and coziness, that are rendered in a soothing colour palette inspired by nature and that are steeped in a type of nostalgia that references, real or imagined, better days.”
Nostalgia is a powerful drug, especially when it’s delivered through social media. Sophie Blumenthal, who sells authentic vintage furniture in Toronto primarily through her Instagram account @sbexchange, points to the emergence during the pandemic of two distinct vintage furniture aesthetics on the social media platform: a monochromatic, minimal style consisting of creamy dulcet tones and organic materials, kind of like living inside of a mushroom, and a pastel, seashell-filled wonderland Blumenthal likens to your bubbie’s home in Florida.
The latter is the style favoured by Chicago’s Anna Rafferty, who switched from selling vintage fashion to vintage furnishings on her Instagram account, @barbie_roadkill, in February, 2020. “The things I used to find so tacky growing up are now some of my favourite pieces,” she says of her Golden Girls-inspired wares. “I’m drawn to opalescent lamps and muted pastel vases, but also edgier items, like postmodern zig-zag lamps or Patrick Nagel prints.” Some of her most requested items are clamshell lamps with pearl globes.
Now, some of these cult pieces have major social-media clout of their own. “They almost operate like a celebrity on Instagram,” says Blumenthal, offering examples like Marcel Breuer’s Wassily Chair, the wavy Ultrafragola mirror/lamp by Ettore Sottsass and Murano glass mushroom lamps by Vetri. The Ligne Roset Togo, a curved, hug-like sofa, meanwhile, provided fodder for a January think-piece on ArtNews titled, “Why Togo Is the Instagram-Friendly Couch of Quarantine.”
It’s hard to ignore the link between the #OOTD and the #InstaHome, where those who once found an audience by posting photos of their outfits of the day online are now proudly broadcasting their on-trend taste in home decor. At VSP Consignment in Toronto, owner Britt Rawlinson added home decor to her online fashion offerings in December, placing retro ceramic vases and catchalls alongside Hermès bags and Chanel jackets. “We wanted to be able to find things so people could add that fresh touch without a massive investment,” she says. For Rawlinson, when an influencer showcases their home in addition to their fashion choices, it deepens the overall message to their audience. “It’s not enough to have just one or the other.”
Influencer Hawley Dunbar, who started the blog Sidewalk Hustle with partner Tristan Banning back in 2007, says that some of their most popular Instagram posts have been shots of their Toronto home. “I love sharing that and I think it’s really cool that people like our space but it also makes me want to just keep reinventing it, which is not necessarily something you want to do with furniture,” Dunbar says.
So, has keeping up with the Joneses simply shifted to housewares from clothing? Banning says yes. “It’s the same desire and the same cycle that the outfit of the day was born out. Now it’s your home,” he says. “You’re not going to buy a new TV or sofa every day but it’s the things that go around it, the must-have pieces.”
Or, you can just follow along on Instagram.
Advice from the experts on how to shop for vintage furniture online
“There’s a bit of a hype or frenzy that comes along with someone releasing a one-off item. You have to act quick or the pieces get snatched up. In the same breath, you shouldn’t worry because more stuff is always coming.” – Sophie Blumenthal, @sbexchange
“Because so many of our pieces are one-of-a-kind, a buyer has to be especially vigilant about looking closely at the images the dealer has provided and not being shy about asking for more if a complete picture of the object’s size, silhouette or condition is in doubt.” – Tony Freund, editorial director of @1stDibs
“If you stick with one or two colour palettes that complement each other and keep those as your focal point, it will all come together at little easier.” – Britt Rawlinson, owner of VSP Consignment @vspconsignment
“I recommend sourcing for items that will become a focal point, be it a couch, lamp, or rug. If I’m going to splurge on a pricey piece, then I want it to shine.” – Anna Rafferty, @barbie_roadkill