Resurgence of antique décor


A wide view of Milele Antiques shop in Nairobi on December 18, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

Kenyan homeowners and interior design enthusiasts are shifting their keen eye from modern décor preferences, as more individuals are turning their gaze away from shiny new pieces to embrace timeless antiques.

This shift signals the growing appreciation for the cultural, historical and aesthetic value that antique pieces bring to living spaces.

Recently, there has been a discernible trend where Kenyans are moving beyond the sleek contemporary designs and instead opting for the allure and history of older pieces.

The history-rich antiques, however are attracting wealthier older people, but young interior designers are also catching up.

This change in taste is not merely an aesthetic choice but reflects a deeper connection to the rich cultural heritage and history embedded in each antique item.


Manual Antique coffee grinders at Milele Antiques shop in Nairobi on December 18, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

Antiquaries say they are seeing more Kenyans buy antiques, especially during the holiday season and for furniture throughout the year.

Grace Iragi, 29, the owner of Antique Art has always had an artistic bone in her. She quit her secular music band to set up her antique store.

People would describe Grace as an old soul. At least that’s what she says.

One day while strolling around shopping in town, Grace and her friend stumbled into an interior décor shop. Grace’s friend went one way, she went the other way.

Something in her was always drawn to old things, while her friend loved shiny modern pieces.

This led her to start her online antique store and she plans to transition to a full-time antique connoisseur.

Ms Iragi has witnessed a growing uptake of antiques in home décor and the demographic of buyers is also shifting to the younger generations.

“There has been a rising interest in antiques in home décor, especially with the increased use of social media, we can reach more people,” says Ms Iragi.

“Most of my clientele is above 27 years old. Anyone below this will probably go for the modern shiny items and doesn’t have the eye for antiques.”

Who is buying?

Augustine Mbai, a director and owner of Milele Antiques has also seen growing demand for antiques in home décor in the country.

Curious Kenyans and seasoned interior designers, he says, are searching for valuable antiques to add to their home collections.


Milele Antiques Director Augustine Mbai Kahara during an interview at Milele Antiques shop in Nairobi on December 18, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

The antique furniture market is already booming with homeowners sifting through catalogues, online auction bids, and even TikTok to get their vintage fix.

Antiques offer a sense of style and are used to make a statement of class and mystery, but also to evoke nostalgia and surprise, often conjuring up memories with people from a different time.

The resurgence of vintage home décor pieces is also in part driven by the desire to promote sustainability and eco-friendly practices such as reuse and restoration instead of manufacturing using new resources.

Increasing numbers of people are turning to antiques and vintage items for furniture, décor, and gift-giving because of the quality level of those bygone eras and personalisation.

Interior designers, decorators, architects, and realtors have long been inspired by and obsessed with the old, the historical, and the artisan when it comes to creating interiors, designing buildings, finding the perfect space, and filling homes with beautiful things.

Sourcing antiques

“This more of a family business with me here and my sister Penny in Europe, who has been dealing in antiques for over 30 years and handpicks items from auctions and collectors to ship to us at Milele in Kenya,” says Mr Mbai.

He adds: “Our clientele includes people looking for quality unique pieces, those who want to create a nice ambience, collectors and those that evoke memories, interior designers who are tasked to curate spaces.”

“The last five years, there has been an uptick of demand. People want unique items, they want to make a statement, hence the surge even among the young who are fed up with the typical similar fashion items,” he says.

With an average of 10 visits to his store, Mr Mbai has a variety of antique furniture that has attracted big business personalities and highly placed people in the government.

A visit to his store feels like a walk in the Renaissance era with a variety of pendulum clocks like those invented by Dutch scientist and inventor Christiaan Huygens on Christmas day of 1656, antique cabinets made of oak wood, French dining sets, Pewter pots, candelabras, vintage rococo style mirror consoles and Italian tea tables among others.

A vintage piano greets you at the door, lightly decorated Christmas tree as pendulum clocks chime away in the background slightly drowned by the soft music playing in the stereo.


Old Wooden Piano at at Milele Antiques shop in Nairobi on December 18, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

Mr Mbai tells us the store started two years ago, despite the challenges in Europe, which is their sole antique collector’s hub.

“The most expensive piece I have sold was a Wilhelminian castle-themed dining table of six. It had a buffet, smaller cabinet sort of feeling, Bohemian with original leather,” says Mr Mbai.

“From what we gathered, the family that had it had been passing it down generations and it got to a point where there was nobody else to pass it down to, so they sold it,” adds Mr Mbai.

Most in-demand items

While lampshades are selling fast for Ms Iragi, Mr Mbai says paintings and mirrors are going much quicker than furniture.

Mr Mbai reckons that the smaller pieces like lampshades, and candle sticks are driving the comeback from modern interior to antiques.

At the Antique Auctions Kenya, Chilson Wamoja, the auctioneer, operations and marketing manager, says the lack of knowledge on what antiques are affects the market but people are showing interest by bringing items for confirmation to determine whether they are genuine vintage.

Local auctions

“We have auctions every two months. We have seen the rise in the auctions driven by the interest from the locals,” says Mr Wamoja, adding “People are looking to auction all kinds of items, from cutlery to antique furniture.”

Antique Auctions was founded in 1975 as a destination for local and international collectors to buy and sell.

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