(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the antiques trade
Demand for the services of antique furniture restorers goes hand in hand with the level of demand for antiques themselves. This depends to a large extent on the health of the economy, but also on fashions in interior design and decor. The antiques sector is vulnerable during any period of economic downturn or recession, and can also be hit hard at times when traditional antique furniture falls out of fashion with the general public.
The antiques trade did reasonably well during the early and mid 2000s as the economy prospered. Businesses like restorers benefited from interest in antiques which was boosted by television programmes such as Antiques Roadshow. Paradoxically, however, by the mid 2010s this may have contributed to a backlash against antique furniture, making it appear old fashioned and dowdy. TV home improvement programmes led to younger people wanting more minimalist decor and modern furniture with clean lines and neutral colours.
Unfortunately, the sharp economic downturn which began in 2008 meant that people had less to spend and less to invest on things like antiques. The economy remained very weak during the early 2010s, and there's no doubt that the antiques trade suffered as traditional antiques went out of fashion somewhat. Things did begin to improve during 2013 and the economy continued to strengthen in 2014 and 2015. 2016 and 2017 saw something of a slowdown and as a result of the UK's decision to leave the EU economic prospects are somewhat uncertain. Nevertheless there are signs that traditional 'brown' antiques have become more popular after many years of being in the doldrums. This may help to boost demand for restorers. It's still a very competitive market and it's important to make every effort to ensure that work keeps coming in from private and business customers.
Unlike many types of business, the antiques restoration industry hasn't been affected very much by developments in technology - for obvious reasons. The tools, materials and techniques used are traditional and have remained largely unchanged over the years - in fact any attempt to bring modern materials or techniques to the work can be very detrimental. Nevertheless, it's important to keep up to date with certain developments - for example your customers are more and more likely to locate restoration and conservation services by searching online. And if you buy pieces to restore and sell on, the web is often an ideal place to buy and sell them.
Keeping up to date with developments
Joining a trade association is an excellent way of staying up to date with developments in your industry.
The British Antique Furniture Restorers' Association (BAFRA) represents restorers throughout the UK that undertake conversation and restoration work. The Association has very high entry standards - for example only those who have been doing full-time restoration work for a minimum of five years may apply for membership. Full members are trained cabinet makers and are fully experienced in a wide range of skills needed to conserve or restore furniture. Accredited members' details are included in BAFRA's searchable online Find a BAFRA restorer database. You can find out more on the BAFRA website.
The Institute of Conservation (ICON) represents professional conservators and restorers throughout the UK and lists members' details in The Conservation Register. You can contact ICON through their website.
Subscribing to a trade journal is another excellent way of staying up to date with the industry. Antiques Trade Gazette is a weekly journal of interest to all those working in the antiques trade. Visit their website for more information.
Fine art and antiques fairs
To conserve and restore valuable items to a high standard you will need to have extensive knowledge of antique furniture, its history and development, how it is constructed and decorated. The more you study different antiques the better the service you will be able to offer. There are many fine art and antiques fairs throughout the year around the country where you will be able to view many fine specimens. The Antiques Trade Gazette features details of upcoming fairs.