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  • Writer's pictureMeade Murphy

Retro Now Value for Money

I am seeing now that 1970s furniture and collectables are becoming popular with the younger generation for several reasons.


As a licenced second-hand dealer, it has always been hard to buy what the public wants. Currently, the younger generation class antique furniture as ‘brown furniture’. In the 1920s, the only stain used was bitumen based and then finished in a brown varnish. For decades we stripped it all back to bare timber, then sanded and cleaned it to a natural clear finish. In the last few years, fashion has changed again. We are now applying a 2-pack product to this antique furniture to achieve a satin white paint finish.


“... in the 1970s, even though the 1970s furniture still had machine dovetails in the drawer fronts with the backs made from ply and not cardboard like today, we classed this furniture as rubbish new furniture. We left it for the second-hand shops to buy while we bought the old furniture.”

I am seeing now that 1970s furniture and collectables are becoming popular with the younger generation for several reasons. The new modern painted cardboard furniture did not survive the floods over the past few years. The price increase of modern furniture due to increased shipping costs after the Covid-19 broken supply chain. Then, of course, the rise in interest rates, rents and fuel is pushing up the cost of living.


The younger generation also grew up with 1970s furniture in their family home. Until now, we Murphy’s have never dealt in 1970s items for one simple reason. My Uncle Kerry started antique dealing in 1969. When he opened his shop, Murphy’s Mart, retro furniture was brand new and wasn’t considered second-hand items. Uncle Kerry dealt in 1920s and 1930s art deco furniture, which 50 years ago was classed as vintage furniture.


In 1972 my Father bought Murphy’s Mart from my Uncle, who moved into the Brisbane Antique Market in Clayfield. They were simpler times for the trade back then. It was pre-Fitzgerald Inquiry and the dealer’s licences were managed by the police, not by the Department of Fair Trading as it is now.


So in the 1970s, even though the 1970s furniture still had machine dovetails in the drawer fronts with the backs made from ply and not cardboard like today, we classed this furniture as rubbish new furniture. We left it for the second-hand shops to buy while we bought the old furniture.


The introduction of the internet led to thousands of unlicenced second-hand dealers, which resulted in most second-hand dealers closing their shops. Still, we left the 1970s furniture behind for the backyard and gypsy fair dealers to set the price for their Facebook and Instagram followers while we continued to chase antiques.


Everything changed this month when I bought 45 pieces of 1970s retro furniture from a deceased estate. After cleaning it up for the last week, I can see it is all glue blocked underneath, and all the backs are glued and nailed to give this furniture super strength, unlike flat pack furniture. 1970s retro furniture can also be modernised with a paint finish, which the younger generation seem to be doing themselves. If you are going to do this yourself, make sure you wash the furniture down with Digger’s grease and wax remover with 00 steel wool, then dry with a rag. Give it a light sandpaper followed by an oil-based undercoat. Leave to cure overnight before papering back with 400-grade paper before finishing in your choice of paint finish.


Visit my website to see how cost-effective this furniture is compared to new cardboard furniture. www.murphysantiquerestorations.com.au

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