Buying vintage furniture is one of the smartest options for buying good quality furniture for less. It is also great for when you want to furnish your home in a style that is completely your own. If that is not enough, give yourself extra "friend of the environment" points, as bringing vintage furniture and home furnishings into your home is one of the most earth-friendly acts you can perform.
Buying vintage furniture is a little different from your usual garage sale or thrift store shopping, because you are not looking for just any used furniture, but furniture from a specific era. To qualify as real vintage furniture, it should be at least 30 to 40 years old. Anything more than a 100 years old qualifies as antique.
This difference can make people a little nervous about buying vintage pieces. How do you determine it is a good piece and well worth its price? Or how do you even find a piece?
- Find Good Sources and Pay Frequent Visits:
Explore different vintage furniture stores in your area. If you live in an area with newer housing,you may want to explore an area that has older homes. Flea markets, auctions, and estate sales may also yield fantastic finds.
Once you have located some good resources, it helps to go there often. Make friends with salespeople or vendors, as they can provide you with plenty of information or let you know when something you need is available.
Frequent visits also pay off as sometimes vintage stores may even offer markdowns after a piece has been sitting on the floor for a certain period of time. Here is where a relationship with the staff can really pay off, as you may get the news earlier than others.
- Look for Gently Used:
Gently used furniture is always preferable to furniture that has been trashed, vintage or not. The reasons are obvious. Sometimes vintage furniture items sold on consignment are in a better shape, so make sure to look for those.
Generally case goods such as dining room furniture, cabinets and chests hold up better than upholstered furniture. However, if you are shopping for upholstered furniture, it makes sense to look for gently used furniture. It is not very cost effective to refurbish upholstered furniture generally, and not something that most relish doing on their own. There are exceptions of course. See below.
- Find Furniture with Good Bones:
Look for furniture with good bones. For instance, drawers should slide out easily and upholstered pieces should have good sturdy frames. For instance, The Divine Chair uses antique frames refurbished with new upholstery. But again this is not a task that can be undertaken lightly. If you find plastic furniture, it should not be on the verge of cracking.
- Look for Less Well Known Brands:
While it would be great to find familiar brand names, don’t confine yourself to well known brands only. You can look for other manufacturers, too, and they may be less expensive but just as good. Just remember to look for furniture that is well made.
- Look for Quality:
Just because it is old furniture doesn’t mean that the quality is great. Avoid furniture made with inferior materials and with poor workmanship. Every era has its share of well made or poorly made furniture. Vintage furniture is no exception.
- Don't Let Scratches Scare You:
While it is important to look for gently used furniture, surface scratches can be fixed. Don't let minor scratches scare you. There are many products on the market that can help you with those, and if a truly remarkable piece warrants it, you can get it professionally refinished.
- Use Defects to Bargain
Use those scary scratches to your advantage by bargaining. We all know that getting a good piece is only half the battle, so also look for a good price. Examine carefully for damage or alterations. If the piece is worth buying, use any evidence of damage to bargain for a better price. But before you do that, make sure that the piece can be fixed and that the price of repairs on your vintage item does not drive the entire cost too high.
- Make Sure it Fits:
You are not buying your vintage furniture to store it away somewhere. So consider size, especially if you are buying the furniture for your own home. Furniture can always look too big or too small in a store. Take your space measurements with you so that you buy something that can fit into your home and is scaled right.
- Re-purpose for Style:
See if you can repurpose the furniture, for example, use a small table for a nightstand. Unusual furniture in unexpected places will give your place its own distinct style.
- Look for Individual Pieces That Go Together:
Buying whole sets of vintage furniture might be expensive. If your budget is hindering you, try purchasing individual pieces that would work well together one at a time. Incidentally, buying individual pieces that look good together is also the best way to buy good quality new furniture. It is also the best way to express your own unique style.