Love everything vintage? If your idea of a perfect home includes a couple of inherited treasures and flea market finds, bridging the past and the present, then you’ve landed on the right page.
Whether it’s a rare small home decor from the 50s or a large-scale statement piece, like a midcentury sofa, we can all agree that shopping for antiques and vintage furniture feels like heaven. Since it’s a unique item you might not find anywhere, it’s so easy to get carried away and fall into impulse buying. However, not all items in vintage shops are worth the investment. Some items are useless and beyond repair, while others just have questionable authenticity.
In this article, we share 9 tips to consider when buying vintage furniture and help you score a unique, high-quality, and genuine piece.
1. Learn the lingo
Is the item “vintage” or “antique”? Is it authentic or is it simply a reproduction, disguised in terms like “inspired by” or “in the style of”? Before shopping for furniture online or in person, arm yourself with knowledge.
Antiques refer to items that are 100 years old or older. Vintage items, on the other hand, aren’t as old as antiques. They refer to items that are less than a hundred years old.
And if you’re unsure of something, it never hurts to ask.
2. Do a background check on your source
Explore different vintage furniture shops in your area. Flea markets, auctions, and estate sales are great places to get great finds. You can also browse online. Once you have a good list of shops in mind, it helps to pay frequent visits.
Not all vintage stores are the same. Get to know their salespeople and see if they can provide you with information, including the places they get their items and their history. You can also ask them to contact you when something you want shows up or when they have a sale.
3. Have a home design plan in mind
How are you going to incorporate that item into your home? Will that mid-century Cesca Chair work with an ultra-modern and sleek dining table? Do you have a display shelf for small knickknacks? How will the large-scale pieces look in your home when mixed with contemporary pieces? Is the item going to be a statement piece?
The last thing you want is to make your home look like a cluttered junk shop. Before buying a period piece, have a plan on how to decorate with vintage or antiques. Think about its form and function, and how you can create a cohesive look with the various period pieces.
Lastly, bring a measuring tape with you!
4. Beware of rip-offs
How can you ensure the item’s authenticity? Check for the following guidelines:
- Understand where the maker’s tags, signatures, and labels are placed.
- Ask the dealers where the item originated and was sourced from
- Seek out realistic signs of wear-and-tear, since there are “knockoffs” that are made to look old
- In most cases, older pieces have irregular dovetailing and joinery while newer, machine-made furniture pieces are symmetrical.
5. Look for items with good bones
Don’t let the scratches and other surface imperfections scare you — they can be easily fixed. Instead, focus on the item’s structural integrity.
For instance, upholstered pieces likely need some work on the cushion but they should have sturdy frames, to begin with. Drawers, on the other hand, should slide out easily. As for chairs and tables, check the legs and feet for damage or replacement. You can sit-test too for checking its sturdiness and comfort.
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6. Evaluate the cost of refurbishing
If you’re into DIY, then refurbishing slightly defective items, especially those with mere surface scratches, won’t be such an issue. But if you have to do major repairs and hire someone, then take a step back and determine whether it’s worth the cost.
The golden rule is the bigger the flaws, the higher the costs of restoration. Not all vintage items are worth the restoration expenses. If the furniture is in an irreparable state or you need to alter the item into something that doesn’t serve its original purpose, it won’t have the same value.
7. Focus on the furniture piece’s quality and materials
There’s a myth that today’s mass-produced furniture is usually “run of the mill” and vintage furniture pieces are always better in terms of quality and aesthetics. That’s not always the case. Every era has its fair share of bad apples too, a.k.a poorly-made furniture. The same goes for vintage furniture.
Stay away from furniture made with inferior materials and poor workmanship. While it’s convenient to browse online for choices, your best bet is to visit the store in person to get a good check on the item you’re buying. It’s also a good idea to research brands of the era before bidding at an auction or shopping.
8. Look for something that ticks all the boxes
Not all old furniture pieces are worthy of keeping. Some vintage items have distinct and exceptional quality and historical significance while others are just “old and rusty”. Or “just weird.” When you see something that moves you, take a step back and refer to the following criteria:
- Uniqueness or weirdness
- Color palette
- Material / Quality
- Overall feel
It’s easy for vintage-loving folks to be overly emotional when visiting a shop with a plethora of choices. I think we can all agree that as soon as we have that “I must buy this before someone else does” feeling, it’s game over. With this, it’s important to have a checklist to make sure you’re investing in something truly worth keeping.
9. Last step: follow your heart
I know it sounds counterintuitive to the previous statements about being overly critical. But trusting your gut is a foolproof way to get the best deals. Sure, you can have authentic, beautifully preserved furniture but it’ll be a waste if it doesn’t have that “wow factor”.
Invest in pieces that are visually and emotionally compelling, or give that “spark” in you — something you’d love to use and look at when you’re at home.
Author Bio: Carmina Natividad is a resident writer for Where Saints Go, an eclectic online furniture company based in the UK, providing unique and quality furniture and home accessories at affordable prices. This passionate writer loves looking out for new home décor trends and writing articles focused on interior design and home improvement.