Vintage furniture is design furniture that was produced between the early 1940s and the 1990s. This definition, although widely accepted, is not unanimously accepted within the community of design furniture sellers. As its use is not regulated by law, it remains at the discretion of the retailer to explain the meaning of the word he uses when selling a piece of furniture he describes as vintage.
The origins of the word
The word “vintage” was originally borrowed from the French language around the 15th century. It is an altered pronunciation of the word “vendange” which gave birth to it: used exclusively in the vocabulary of oenology, it is used to designate a wine which would be qualified as vintage, that is to say, whose year is remarkable for its quality.
The first use of the word in French, if we refer to the Robert Dictionary, was in 1967: its use still concerns wine, where it emphasises the qualitative and exceptional dimension of a production. As we shall see, this detail is important.
Its use then became metaphorical and extended to the field of fashion, where it was used to designate a garment of exceptional quality, before gradually being used to describe only old clothes. The term is then quickly used whenever a piece of clothing is old or has a retro style. As we shall see, in the furniture sales sector, a more restricted meaning will be adopted.
The use of the word vintage by design furniture dealers
As is often the case in such cases, and in the absence of any legislation that would serve as a legal definition, usage is the rule.
Design furniture dealers use the word “vintage” to describe any piece of furniture designed and signed by a renowned designer, manufactured at least 20 years ago and produced between the 1940s and 1990s.
The term “vintage” therefore does not make any distinction in terms of movement or style: the production date alone is sufficient for a piece of furniture to be considered vintage. The sine-qua-non condition is that the piece must be authentic and have left the factory at least 20 years ago to be qualified as such.
In addition, there is the qualitative dimension that was already present when the word vintage was used to describe a vintage wine. The quality of the furniture, its belonging to the world of design, is essential.
Vintage furniture is therefore made up of authentic design furniture, produced between 1940 and 1990 and signed by a recognised designer.
What is not vintage
Outside the period between 1940 and 1990, other terms will be used:
The term “antique” will be used for all furniture and decorative objects that are more than 100 years old. Beyond a century, the furniture becomes antique.
The term “retro” is often used to describe contemporary furniture whose style is inspired by the vintage period. It is also frequently referred to as “retro style”. Its production is therefore contemporary or very recent but its style looks backwards: it is retrospective.
What is reissue
Iconic furniture created by famous designers, and which have marked history, are often reissued. However, only the original editions are truly vintage. Later, and therefore more recent, productions, regardless of the quality of the workmanship and its conformity with the original production conditions and techniques, can only be called “design furniture”.