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