We get asked about where and how we buy our antique, reclaimed vintage furniture in India. So here’s a diary our trip from a recent trip. We fly into Delhi arriving at just after 3am, catch a few hours sleep and then hop onto the the mid-day flight to Jodhpur, there’s also the option of the bustling evening overnight sleeper train bound for the ancient blue city. west India where we meet our furniture and interiors advisor the next morning. He has been in the trade for over 25 years and has an unrivalled knowledge of the antique and vintage sellers and restorers in the city. Jodhpur is the best place to buy old, vintage and antique furniture in India, interiors from all over the country from the old trade ports like Cochin, historic fortified cities like Jaisalmer and traditional tribal areas like Nagaland. It’s always wise have a shopping list of things you want to buy aong with target prices. I share my wish list with our adviser and ask him if he has seen anything new whilst visiting his contacts.
Some dealers and sellers specialise in certain types of objects like antique doors, windows and architectural salvage or ship’s lighting or antique padlocks; others stock a variety of antique furniture and interiors. There’re are shortage of places to buy from
Over the next 2-3 days we visit around 15-20 reputable buyers and sellers of vintage and antique furniture, the majority have been supplying us for the last 8 years. Their stock changes daily and as they are all unique pieces we do not hesitate to buying something we like or somebody else will buy it!
We buy stock that is in need of full restoration, part restoration or has been restored already. If we see something that needs to be fully restored and repaired we can specify how we want it finished, so we may want the paint left on and not stripped off. We like the restoration to bring items back to life, but not looking pristine and brand new. So we specify that only reclaimed wood is used along with original hardware such as handles. We ask that where there are gaps between joints that they are left as they are and not filled. Once the piece has been made structually sound our overall our instructions are: ‘wash and wax’. There’s a growing trend amongst sellers in India to repaint and distress furniture to look old. It’s a process we don’t like. If we want blue bathroom cabinets we hunt for them and buy them with their time-worn paintwork.
We usually negotiate the buying price on lots, so 20 similar sized antique teak chests are bought together, which means quicker negotiations and it usually allows us to get a better price. Restoration work begins immediately.
Our adviser arranges their delivery; checks the restoration and repairs have been completed and he carefully packs them into a container, which usually arrives 8 weeks after we buy the furniture. At the end of 3 tiring days and after dozens of cups of chai we have bought enough furniture for 1.5 containers. We then meet up with 2 or 3 of our suppliers for a meal at Jodhpur’s On The Rocks for a few drinks and dinner.
If we visit a vintage furniture seller we have not bought from before we will look carefully at their restoration work. If we buy from them we will be very specific as to how the furniture is to be restored. We don’t hessitate to ask for them to restore a piece for us to examine and inspect. Indian antique furniture sellers will have customers with varying tastes. Although we don’t like re-painted furniture many do and they might not hesitate to slap fresh blue paint over a a wooden chest with old faded blue paint in an attempt to make it look more attractive.
History of our vintage furniture – generally our antique and vintage furniture is between 50 and 100 years old. Sometimes it is hard to date old pieces because makers did not stamp or date their work like they did in the UK. But certain styles can be identified that can help with dating old furniture. E.g. bold curves and geometrical shapes may point to the Art Deco period. A single plank used on the top of a large wedding chest from south India made from Burmese teak, is usually 80-100 years old because high quality teak with a width over 50cm was very rare to find after 1930s and after teak trees became a protected species. We have a large number of blue old furniture items, blue is a popular colour in Jodhpur, where hundreds of house are painted blue, furniture in these and other house is also painted.
Most of the furniture and interiors we sell are typically still in use in many Indian homes. Their uses are often different; merchant’s use wooden boxes for keeping their cash, documents, valuables and as a desk, we would use them as a memory box or jewellery box. Old cabinets are used in India for keeping spices, where we would use them for a bathroom or bedroom for displaying our prized possessions. Our wooden framed mirrors were once old window frames reclaimed from old house being renovated or demolished.