Designing the Office: The Benefits of Buying Vintage

24th August 2021 | 4 min read

Here at LABS, we’re all about attention to detail and creating moments of interest and inspiration in our spaces.

To do this we source a lot of vintage pieces as not only do these items enable us to generate our vision, but it’s a sustainable way of decorating our buildings and spaces.

For Anna Unwin, founder of AU, which specialises in antique, mid-century and vintage pieces and helps us find the perfect items for our workplaces, the sustainable aspect is reason enough alone for people to explore reusing vintage and antique items when furnishing spaces.

“I am passionate about the environment, sustainability and not buying lots of stuff. I believe that good design stands the test of time. The pieces that I source will sit easily in an ultra-modern or a traditional environment, Good quality natural materials such as wood and marble just get better with time.”

A study commissioned by the International Antiques & Collectors Fairs highlighted the difference in the carbon footprint between two chests of drawers – one from the 21st century and the other built in the 19th century. The total carbon footprint for the more recent piece of furniture, which had been made in China from birch, MDF chipboard and walnut veneer, weighing approximately 69kg, was 170.38kg CO2e over 15 years. This equated to an annual carbon footprint of 11.36kg CO2e, 16 times higher than the antique set of drawers, which weighed in at 43kg and were thought to have been made from pine wood from somewhere in the Baltics. The total carbon footprint for the 19th century drawers was 139.6 CO2e over a 180-year lifetime, equating to a 0.72kg CO2e yearly.

A staggering difference, particularly when the research from the IACF also reported that around 10 million items of furniture are thrown away in the UK each year with three million of these items reusable without needing repairs.

For Anna though it’s also about “the pleasure of acquiring a beautiful and often unique piece to enhance” your space.

Having studied at Chelsea College of Art she became an interiors stylist, which is where she thinks her “magpie instincts” developed.

“As an interior stylist I always enjoyed looking out for that one-off piece to make a shoot look really special, I usually found them at vintage fairs, so I guess that is where my passion came from. I was not looking for things that could be easily found on the high street or could be easily replicated,” she says.

It was after this that she moved into sourcing and selling vintage, antique and mid-century items. Anna sources from many different places including antique and vintage fairs across the UK and internationally, but has also established and built-up relationships with dealers who get in touch when they have pieces they think she will like. Anna adds that there are also good sources online for worldwide dealers, which has been particularly important over 2020/21 due to travel restrictions caused by the pandemic.

If you decide to source antique or vintage pieces for your own space, Anna stresses that it is important to look at the condition of the item “as it really has to stand the test of time” and the need to remain critical.

She adds that you should “wait for the piece that you are interested in. You have got to love it and will have to live with it so hold out for the exact piece that you want. Sourcing takes time, but eventually you will find the piece.

“Go with your gut, look at the condition, be critical and think about where it is going to go in your space.”

Her greatest find was “the most incredible” Carlo Scarpa dining table.  “It was a rare piece and just beautiful and in perfect condition. I was very fortunate to find that.”

As a “visual person,” Anna says, she would always suggest “buying based on how a piece makes you feel and how attracted you are to it rather than on who the artist is”.

“However, it is always a really lovely bonus to discover that it has been made by an inspiring artist or craftsman,” she adds.

But what should you be buying? Well, according to Anna, 1970s vintage marble and travertine tables are still really popular, which she says look amazing next to textile wall hangings as they provide a lovely, soft contrast to the hardness of the stone. She would like to see more people explore interesting textiles for wall hangings, particularly as beautiful, vintage ones are hard to find.

“I had an incredible 1970s African black and cream silk woven wall hanging, it was definitely “the one that got away,” Anna says. “They are so hard to find and it was on such a large scale, a really breathtaking piece of work. I would really like to find some more vintage hand-woven wall hangings.”