Fred Taylor: The Furniture Hunter

Fred Taylor’s career in furniture, furniture restoration, antiques and collectibles began when he and his wife, Gail, moved from a one-bedroom apartment to their first home in 1973 – a 2,000-square-foot house in Tampa, Florida. “We didn’t own a stick except a couple of bean bag chairs,” Taylor said. And so the hunt through yard sales and junk shops began.

From the very beginning, however, they were looking for pieces that fit with their 1928 Craftsman style bungalow and over the last 35 years that led Worthologist Taylor to become an expert in a broad range of American antique and collectible furniture styles — from the Late Classicism of the early 19th Century to 1930s Art Deco.

In those early years it was just as much about restoring pieces as finding them. “It was a learning process,” Taylor said. “We’d go to shops and ask how do you do this or that.” The furniture shops always had the same answer: it was a trade secret and they weren’t going to tell.

Still, by degrees Taylor amassed knowledge and technique, learning, as he calls them, “the shortcuts and the long cuts.” The vendors of finishing supplies were a particularly valuable source, Taylor said.

All this, however, remained a sideline until the day in 1981 Taylor walked into the conference room at the corporate law firm where he was an administrator and found a couple of workers repairing the boardroom table. After a brief chat, Taylor offered to buy their business and so he purchased a fledgling furniture repair business working out of “a little house in a ratty neighborhood” in Tampa.

“The question was how many suits can you own and how many Mercedes can you drive?” Taylor said. “You’ve got to do something you want to do.”

Taylor doesn’t mince his words. He says what he means and does what he says he will do. He’s a man who is more inclined to live his passion than to talk about it, but it is clear he’s found what he wants to do in life. He’s well respected in the industry, and he was one of the first experts to join WorthPoint as a Worthologist..

Over the years, the Taylors have built a reputation and loyal customer base and remembering those rebuffs from furniture shops that guarded their information, Taylor has made an effort to share his knowledge and expertise. He is the author of the book “How to be a Furniture Detective,” a DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture” and a column “Common Sense Antiques.”

And if anyone asks Taylor a question, he’ll give an answer – though it may not be what the questioner wants to hear. “The most asked question is about the early 1900s bedroom set they have from a grandfather,” Taylor said. “Well, in most cases the entire bedroom set isn’t worth $300.”

The keys to analyzing the value of furniture, according to Taylor, are construction technique, construction material and construction style and it is only the “exotic stuff” that fetches the astronomical prices.

The 19th Century New York cabinetmaker R. J. Horner, for example, is known for his winged griffins. While a drop-front desk of oak from the period might fetch $400, a Horner will cost $50,000. “If you have an R.J. Horner desk in your office you are making a statement,” Taylor said.

The Internet – as it has for many collectible and antique markets – has had an impact on the furniture trade, Taylor said, “accelerating” some prices. The upper end of the market, however, where authenticity and condition is key, has not been affected.

While some collectibles – such as baseball cards and comics have become national or international, there is a still a distinctly regional flavor to the furniture market, Taylor said.

In the South, mid-19th Century pieces from the region’s glory years are in demand, while in the North there is a bigger market in New England colonial furniture of the mid-18th Century. Out West, an electric variety of more modern styles, such as Mission and Art Deco, are in vogue.

And unlike other collectibles, which may end up in a box or a display case – furniture is part of the home as a piece of “functional art,” Taylor says. “Unlike most art forms it has to meet its function,” he explains. “Before it is a ‘Horner table’ is has to be a ‘table.’”

More information about Worthologist Fred Taylor.

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