We get asked about where and how we buy our reclaimed, antique and vintage furniture in India. It’s my favourite part of the job. So here’s a diary of what I get up on a typical trip to India. Updated 26th Feb 2020: I fly into Delhi arriving at just after 5am, catch a few hours sleep and then hop onto the mid-day flight to Jodhpur, there’s also the option of the bustling evening overnight sleeper train bound for Jodhpur, the ancient blue city. I meet our furniture and interiors advisor Dharma. He has been buying and selling vintage furniture for over 25 years and has an unrivalled knowledge of the antique and vintage sellers and restorers in the city. We catch up onJodhpur 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.
Planning My Vintage Furniture Buying Trip:
I always have a detailed shopping list of what I want to buy. The list will include items to replace those that have sold, requests from our regular website customers and trade customers. I always have an idea of what price I want to pay for them, but that can be tricky because no two items are ever the same so prices will vary. I always advise customers of an estimate when taking requests.
I share my wish list with our adviser and ask him if he has seen anything new whilst visiting his contacts. Around 8 weeks before my trip I would also let our adviser know what I am looking to buy. He can then start to look around and let me know the availability of different types of vintage furniture. We then plan a rough schedule of who we are going to see and call them in advance to let them know we are coming. We keep in touch with suppliers and get regular WhatsApp notifications of new vintage furniture arrivals. 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 no shortage of places to buy from.
Buying Vintage Furniture In India:
Over the next 4-5 days we visit around 20 reputable buyers and sellers of vintage and antique furniture, the majority have been supplying us for the last 10 years. I always visit people who we’ve worked with the longest. Their stock changes daily and as they are all unique pieces I do not hesitate to buy something I like or somebody else will buy it! We generally 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 structurally 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. Getting the right price is critical. In general, the more you buy the lower the price. Although I have a good idea of what I want to buy it for I have to factor in other buying costs before I can calculate a price we can sell it for. Other costs include: packing, Indian customs, transportation to the port, sea freight, UK port charges, delivery to our warehouse and import duties. If we cannot agree to a price then I just don’t buy the piece. I am always prepared with an upper limit to what I can buy a piece for. Sometimes if there’s a piece I want and the price is quite high, but I have managed to negotiate to buy other vintage furniture from a seller at a lower price then I’ll buy the higher-priced item. It’s important to note that different vintage and antique sellers and suppliers work in different ways.
I will buy items similar in style to those that we’ve sold before. So lots of colourful vintage wall cabinets and cupboards. We love blues and greens, but we will buy a variety of colours. We have several trade customers who buy tables and chairs for bars and restaurants, so we’ll stock up on these along with decorative pieces like framed prints, wooden statutes and wall art. I’ll not hesitate to buy vintage furniture that’s in poor condition – doors hanging off, legs missing and with smashed panels. There’s a huge selection of furniture to look through so I will be very selective in what I buy. If I like it and the price is good I will buy it.
Vintage Furniture Restoration:
With hours of buying our wooden chests, cabinets, cupboards the restoration work starts. Different sellers have different ways to restore vintage furniture and of course different buyers have different expectations. We want our vintage furniture to have character and charm. So we want it to have an authentic used look, that might include a faded paint finish, time-worn edges and corners and uneven surfaces. So we this to be kept and not corrected to make it look newer. The first stage is to wash them pieces with a mild detergent – this removes the dirt, but nothing else. Next, we want all items to be structurally sound. So no excessive wobbling, doors and lids must close, drawers must open freely. Finally, we wax items. This nourishes the wood and then give them a light buff. The restoration work can take a number of days and I am not around when the work has been finished, so it’s important that we trust the seller to finish the furniture according to our specifications. 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 hesitate 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 newly re-painted furniture many do and they might not hesitate to slap fresh blue paint over a wooden chest with old faded blue paint in an attempt to make it look more attractive.
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.
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 as 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 another 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.