Overview: Formica's in fashion - so it must be time to buy Victoriana

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The Independent Online

The current trend for modernising the interiors of old houses has gone so far that in many homes you would be hard pushed to find even one piece of furniture that predates the 20th century.

The current trend for modernising the interiors of old houses has gone so far that in many homes you would be hard pushed to find even one piece of furniture that predates the 20th century.

I suppose it was inevitable that once interior design had gone right back to the bare brickwork and rooms became multi-functional spaces, antiques might start to look out of place. Sleek, modern furniture echoes designs from the Fifties and Sixties and while the best has always been appreciated, some furniture that you couldn't even give away a few years ago is selling for good prices.

When fashion dictated that we should all go out and buy - for no mean sum - Victorian tables, chairs, chests of drawers and iron bedsteads, it was also reckoned to be "a good investment". You can't lose money, in the long term, went the argument, if you buy a good-quality antique.

Where have we heard that before? Yes, the old saw about buying property. But as we now know, that is not always the case. Long-term, your money is probably safe, but alas the price might not be right just at the point when we have to sell. And for Victorian antiques, that means now.

Antique dealers were affected as much in the aftermath of September 11 as property brokers. Since then, fashion has also worked against them and as one dealer in a suburban London shop put it: "Not many people are looking now for dark brown furniture."

The family clearing a house - and relying on good prices at auction to pay death-duties - had to settle for £5,000 whereas as a couple of years ago a dealer would have bought the same contents for £15,000. If you currently want to sell that set of Victorian dining chairs with cabriole legs that cost you £2,000 a while back, you would probably be offered £500, with the antique dealer hoping to sell them on for £900, but accepting an offer of £700. On the other hand, Formica-topped tables from the Sixties that have been sitting in the shed for 20 years suddenly have a price on their heads.

Charles Tyler's company Tyler London spearheaded the move towards contemporary interiors in older buildings. But he now believes we have reached saturation point with the look. "It is a trend that has been emulated to exhaustion. What we don't see behind the scenes is that people are buying fine antiquities. The look is going to change to one that includes luxury textures and beautiful old furniture."

So before we throw out the cabriole-legged dining chairs for the spindly metal-framed ones, remember that fashion in furniture changes. Just as when choosing a house, trust your own instincts and, if you like something, buy it. And if what you like is Victorian furniture, what better time to buy?

* One good reason for buying a brand-new home rather than a second-hand one is so we that we don't have to deal with estate agents, according to buyers. A new survey by SmartNewHomes.com asked buyers why they had opted for new-build. This agent-avoidance tactic proved to be more important than manageable gardens, security or energy efficiency.

Estate agents can at least take comfort in the knowledge that financial incentives, house builder guarantees and low maintenance costs actually matter more to buyers than giving agents a wide berth.

The survey also shows that the majority of homebuyers would pay more money for a brand new home as opposed to a similar-sized old property. And 5 per cent of those surveyed expect a new home to increase in value more than an older home.

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