C.R. from Santa Barbara finished remodeling her house and decided to go with a new, fresh look. She's tired of the look of rooms we used to call "period," in other words, antique-laden. She got in touch with me about a sideboard buffet for which she paid somewhere in the mid-four figures. She asked if I knew where to sell the Louis XV-style cabinet, complete with marble top, four cabinet doors below, a mirrored backsplash and a curved glass vitrine display above for fine china. The doors bear delicate and scrolling floral relief carving. It's graceful and a statement of the importance we once put on dining room furniture and display for our fine china and silver.
Business Insider features an article entitled "We went to a Goodwill store and saw how it's overrun with stuff Millennials and Gen X'ers refuse to take from their parents." Goodwill directors "have seen an uptick in donations in urban areas where a high concentration of Millennials live. There's been an increase in donations of dining room furniture in particular, as it's a room that Millennials often don't have in their homes," says the Insider.
Well, C.R., here's the problem: The form of your piece, a sideboard, makes it one of the most difficult forms to sell. And the style, Louis XV Revival, circa 1910-20, also makes it a hard sell because of the flourishes and florals.
Think of what they designed this sideboard to display: silverplate, fine china and crystal. Now think of this fact: Globally, the largest segment of the most powerful market today is people born from 1981-97. These are the millennials, with a global annual spending power of $2.5 trillion. If the millennial generation doesn't buy dining furniture, dining rooms, fine china, silverplate, linens and good crystal for the formal table, the market for such objects is anything but flourishing.
C.R. told me she's lightening up the tone of her home, using a more contemporary look. She's not the only one designing that way in Santa Barbara, where the most common phone call to my office is "Help! I want to live with LESS!" Simpler lines, less furniture, less to worry about — many of us here want to live simpler. I told C.R. the market for a sale of her piece in Santa Barbara is bad.
So there it sits in the garage. Can she sell it at auction? The two closest auctions (remember, transportation of heavy furniture is expensive) for this style of furniture are Clars in Oakland and Abell in Los Angeles. Neither house will take a piece of furniture that is estimated to sell for $500 to $1,000, only over that amount. She asked about Craigslist, which she dislikes, as do I. Therefore, I suggested a donation.
Now, an accountant will tell her that the new tax act says itemized deductions for small donations are a thing of the past. Well, a donation should no longer be considered simply a "tax motivation," says Rosemary L. Ringwald, managing director, U.S. Trust, Bank of America. I reached her by phone; she's a great resource on art as an asset class. C.R. "doesn't get to itemize her deduction unless she's over the threshold," which is now $12,000 for an individual, $24,000 for a couple. C.R. "can't get past that," she said. Ms. Ringwald suggested that a deduction is not why we donate today, against my suggestion that charities who accept small donations of art and antiques might suffer under this new act. On the contrary, "Families are increasingly setting up foundations" (involving art and antiquities), "even when a straight donation may hold more tax benefit." We discussed that C.R. might donate to a historic home museum and see her donation enjoyed by the public.
My suggestion is to ask her accountant about a donation anyway. Donations are estimated hypothetically, using consummated sales of similar objects, but those sales you find don't have to be geographically specific. Santa Barbara is not a good place to sell dining furniture or carved French-style furniture. Looking for a hypothetical fair market value for donation purposes, you'd have to look nationally for sales, perhaps where the market for this style and type of furniture is active.
Finally, C.R. would gladly sell the sideboard to you if you like the piece! Let me know, and I'll hook you up with a fine dining room buffet for your fine china, crystal and silver.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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