Tips for Buying Vintage Furniture

by | Feb 10, 2022 | Farmhouse Furniture, Refurbishing Furniture | 12 comments

Do you want to know what you should be looking for when buying vintage furniture? I will share with you my tips.

One door open of the enamel top cabinet

This is a question that I am asked frequently by people who read this blog and by people who shop at my booth. They want to know what characteristics they should look for when buying vintage furniture. Should they buy a certain piece of furniture or not? What if the piece of furniture is refinished? In this post, I will share my thoughts on all these topics.

A quick note that this post includes affiliate links and I will receive a commission but at no additional cost to you. I am presenting you with my own opinion and honest review of the information provided. If you want to read the entire disclosure statement, please click HERE.

What to look for when buying vintage furniture

Victorian wash stand

There are many traits to look for when shopping for vintage furniture. Here are some basics to help you get started.

  • What do you need? (And yes, you will need measurements)
  • Do you like the piece in question? (or are you buying it to just fill a spot?)
  • Has the piece been refinished or refurbished?
  • Are you going to use the piece “as is”? (or are you going to refinish it?)

So let’s get started! This should be fun.

What do you need?

I know. It seems ridiculous to start off with this question. Obviously people know what they need. Right? Well . . . actually . . . when you are out in the wild -shopping- and you stumble upon the most gorgeous reupholstered settee that you fall head-over-heels in love with on-the-spot – your first thought isn’t “Do I need this?”. I know. I have been there. Let me share with you – I have too many settees. I also have too many dressers and too many stools and too many tables. Also, I would like to say – I consider myself to be a very rational person.

So now, when I go out into the wild to find furniture – I bring a list that tells me exactly what I need. This list also provides measurements so that when I find the perfect piece, I know it will fit into my home.

This type of advice is not very exciting. However, I can tell you that writing down what I NEED and the measurements has saved me thousands of dollars. By the way, entering what you need and the measurements into the “Notes” app on your phone also works well. Another trick – writing down what you need and the measurements on a piece of paper and then take a photo of it with your phone. Voila, now this information is with you whenever you need it.

Reupholstered stool with antique grain sack

See that stool in the photo above? I still have it.

Do you like the piece of furniture in question?

I know! Another ridiculous question. Who would buy a piece of furniture that they don’t like? That’s just laughable. Right!

Except, I have done that. Once, I bought a sofa that was thousands of dollars EVEN THOUGH I DIDN’T LIKE IT. I regret that purchase to this day. The worst part is this – once you buy a piece of furniture you don’t like – it’s almost impossible to get rid of it. Disposing of furniture at a local landfill can be costly. Trust me, I know.

What would posses me to buy a sofa that I didn’t like? Well, I needed a sofa. There were none that I really liked. I thought buying an expensive sofa would solve the problem and I could check this problem off my list. Sometimes I am so eager to just “solve a problem” or fill a hole in my house that I don’t take the time to figure out if I really like the piece of furniture.

The moral of the story is that you should love any piece of furniture you buy.

Has the piece of furniture been refinished/refurbished?

Now, I know that there are those of you who are looking for the authentic antique that has never been modified and still has its original finish. These are the folks that bring their great-great-great grandmother’s sideboard to the Antique Roadshow for appraisal. There are some pieces of furniture that belong in museums because of those qualities.

However, by and large, the rest of the world does not contain these rare antiques. For the most part, you will find furniture from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Most of it will have some type of damage including: chipped veneer, drawers that stick, missing hardware, cracked glass or doors that won’t open.

When you are out in the wild, hunting for furniture, and you come across a refinished dresser (or any refinished furniture) that:

  • you need; and
  • you like

Then my recommendation is that you buy it! Someone invested considerable time and energy into repairing that piece of furniture. I can guarantee that when the dresser was first found – the drawers didn’t work, the hardware was missing and the existing finish was in terrible condition. If you can find refurbished or refinished furniture – it is almost always a bargain.

Trust me – the amount of time, work, and materials that need to be invested in some pieces of furniture are seldom recovered in the sale price. It is my experience that people refinish/refurbish furniture because they love to do it and not because it’s a way to make money.

Antique Baskets

The dresser in the photo above took about 40 hours to repair and refinish. In addition to scraping off multiple coats of green paint using a heat gun, I also cut new drawer bottoms from plywood, repaired the drawer rails and gave it new brass hardware. I did this amount of work because I loved the piece and saw its potential. P.S. I still have this dresser because I use it for staging photos. Plus, it fits in nicely with my collection of dressers.

The final take away – if you find a refinished or refurbished piece of furniture that you need and love then that’s a great find.

Are you going to use the piece of furniture “as is”?

This is also an important question to ask yourself before purchasing a piece of furniture. If you are going to use a piece of furniture as is – then look at it a bit more critically. Do the drawers work? Is there a water stain on the top? Is the piece of furniture stable or does it rock slightly? Are the knobs loose? Does it smell funky? Make sure you inspect the furniture closely and carefully so that there are no unpleasant surprises when you get it home.

Wooden work bench with chippy white paint being used as an entry table

This workbench we purchased from City Farmhouse is a perfect example of a piece of furniture that was purchased and used immediately. I did nothing to this piece and I think it’s perfect. You can read the story about how we got this table from Tennessee to New York in this post about Home Stories.

If, however, you are going to paint/refinish/refurbish/modify a piece of furniture then you have more liberty to look past certain flaws. Water stains on the top? A coat of paint can fix that problem. Missing hardware? Buying some replacement hardware from ebay can solve that problem. The drawers won’t open? There is a fix for that too. In fact, I wrote a post about how to fix sticky drawers. Finally, if a piece smells a bit musty – then there are some fixes for that too. Here is a post on how to clean antique furniture.

Summary

Thank you for stopping by the blog today. I hope you found some useful tips for buying vintage furniture. Happy hunting the next time you go antiquing, or to a flea market or yard sale. Those are all my favorite past times. (Hence the collection of settees, dressers, stools, and tables)

If you are looking for more inspiration for home design, furniture makeovers, or recipes, stop by the blogs listed below.

Michele at My Vintage Home Designs

Renae at Peacock Ridge Farm

Diane at South House Designs

Lynn at Living Large in a Small Home

These ladies are full of inspiring ideas!

12 Comments

  1. Susan

    Omg, thank you for the advice. It’s so easy for me to get carried away in the wilds of Facebook marketplace! I’m thinking of a particular marshmallow chair that was “such a good buy!” But then we got it home and realized we just didn’t really like our “good buy.” Yes- sticking to what we need AND like is an excellent starting point.

    Reply
    • Sky Lark House

      I can totally relate. I have made many a bad purchasing decisions. It’s all part of learning how to hunt in the wild.

      Reply
  2. Marieza

    These are all great tips. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Sky Lark House

      Thank you Marieza!

      Reply
    • Anita

      Great info! And yes, just buying something to get decision making done, will almost always lead to regrets, for sure.

      Reply
      • Sky Lark House

        Thank you for commenting! As you can see I have a lot of experience with making poor furniture buying decisions.

        Reply
  3. Renae

    This is awesome. So many great tips. Thank you so much for sharing on Fabulous Friday Link Party. We sure appreciate you. Hugs and blessings to you.

    Reply
    • Sky Lark House

      Thank you Renae for commenting. Thanks also for the Link Party! There are so many great posts.

      Reply
  4. Donna Allen

    Thank you for all the great tips, very helpful! Donna

    Reply
    • Sky Lark House

      Donna – Thank you for commenting. I am glad you found the tips helpful.

      Reply
  5. Rachel

    Amazing post and even better tips!! I love to look at furniture on FB Marketplace but am always uncertain of whether to buy it or not. Thanks so much for clarifying so many things for vintage furniture!

    Reply
    • Sky Lark House

      Rachel –
      You are welcome! I hope that you can use them when you are hunting in the wilds for FB Marketplace.

      Reply

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