Furniture – Retro, Vintage or just plain old Antique?

Retro, Vintage, Antique – Seemingly interchangeable words commonly used to describe second-hand (or simply, old) furnishings. Whether you’re a life-long bargain hunter, a vintage junkie or a new homeowner on a budget, there is simply no denying the magnetic appeal of owning pre-loved accessories and furniture. And more importantly, are there truly any differences between these terms or do they all just trigger visions of dust and scents of must?

In a modern society where fickle consumers commonly ricochet between the exclusivity of bespoke designs and selfassembled furnishings targeted at the masses, there really hasn’t been anything in-between which has satisfied the inner designer in all of us.

How did old become new again, and what has been the catalyst that turned our heads to embracing all things vintage once more?

Anyone with grey strands on their head knows from experience that retro has always found its way back into contemporary life, vintage never went out of fashion, and antiques are here to stay.

These universally well-predicted cycles are the stubborn trends that stay with our aesthetic muscle memories, always finding ways to re-stimulate our emotional connections. Recycling has become an archaic term, and words like “re-purposed”, “reclaimed” and “pre-loved” have all been recently coined, each term a synonym to replace descriptions of preservation, maintenance and the revival of pre-loved items, much like the Eskimos who find it necessary to have as many as 50 words to describe snow.

So, what really triggered this change for the millennials of this generation? Some say the economic crisis played a significant part – with reduced disposable incomes, the modern day throw-away culture inadvertently gave way to decisions to spend on lasting items, gravitating towards crafts of the past when furnishings were created to survive through the generations.

Our new found love of romanticism and dramatic gravitas towards antiques may be easy to comprehend but the main question for any contemporary homeowner remains – What do these terms really mean and how do we seamlessly incorporate precious heirlooms and artefacts into the interior design schemes of our modern homes?



Retro, short for retrospective, is a term consciously derived from trends, music, fashions, or attitudes of the recent past, typically 15 – 30 years old. Often invoking a sense of whimsy, retro lifestyles commonly allude to pop-culture and maintain associations with tacky or kitschy designs inspired by fashion, street art or current events. In short – It’s meant to be anything but classic.

The problem with access to retro used to come cheap, where the bargain hunter in each of us could easily find vintage clothes, books, vinyls or even recycled bikes at bargain prices. Gone are these days! The popularity of retro furniture and decorative objects has not only led to the rise of middlemen but has allowed retailers to getting away with selling poorly preserved furniture at inflated prices. 


Caught between something “old” and “not quite new”, vintage furniture takes pride of place within a moment in time anywhere between 30 to 100 years old. Perhaps the most romantic term of all, vintage embodies a sense of the forgotten era, coloured with the patina of memories and history and often used to describe the transitory period between the playful vibes of Retro, and the serious tone of collectable Antiques.

Collectors may enjoy searching for furniture that reminds them of their younger years, but this nostalgia does not fully explain the true lure of living with items from an era bygone. Often made with superior materials and crafted with great attention to detail with the intention to withstand the test of time, vintage furniture can infinitely be more appealing than a mass-produced modern piece.

Buying vintage gives you the chance to decorate a space in your own unique style and create a signature vibe, especially since the period encompasses several decades, you have a chance to pick and choose pieces belonging to different periods.



According to Merriam Webster, an antique is “a work of art, piece of furniture, or decorative object made at an earlier period and according to various customs laws at least 100 years ago.

Do we expect all furniture from more than a decade ago to be musty, dusty and mouldy?

Perhaps, but one of the golden rules of when sourcing for antique furniture is to pay attention to the details and to understand if any damages can be fixed. A set of Victorian drawers covered in dust? No problem. French gothic dining chairs scratched and scuffed? Easily solved. A tilted or wobbly George III Mahogany library table? It might be time to walk away. Structural damage can potentially be challenging to fix and might end up costing far more time and energy than you bargained for.

Retro, Vintage or Antique, the thrill of the hunt and the joy of writing a letter on a desk once owned and possibly used by George V can certainly be infinitely more rewarding than assembling a “Stolmen double section wardrobe with sliding doors” from Ikea.

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