The Do’s and Don’ts of Buying Antique + Vintage Furniture

The world of antique and vintage furniture can seem overwhelming if you don’t know which pieces to buy and which to avoid. This guide was put together based on years of experience shopping for, fixing up, and reselling antique and vintage furniture. I made all of the mistakes, so you won’t have to.

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Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Do: Buy Pieces in Good, Useable Condition  

This may seem like a given, but when a piece is a bargain or the right size for a room, it can be easy to forgive major flaws that will inevitably result in regret. Take the time to make sure everything functions properly, and the piece is useable. You will be glad you did.

Don’t: Buy Pieces That Are Unusable

Unless you can identify what's wrong and know how to fix it, don’t buy a piece that is rickety or about ready to fall apart. That is usually an indication that the piece has been exposed to water and/or extreme temperatures. These conditions cause wood to swell and shrink as well as loosening glue in joints and destroying paints and finishes. These pieces will not be functional again without a lot of repair.

Do: Buy Pieces That Fit Your Space

When shopping for vintage furniture, it’s easy to get distracted by beautiful pieces that are not what you’re looking for. Don’t be swayed into buying a huge bookcase, for instance, just because you love it. Make sure you have the perfect spot before bringing it home. Prepare before shopping by making a list and taking measurements (height, width and depth) of the space you’re hoping to fill.

Don’t: Buy Pieces That Will Languish in Your Garage

It’s very easy to buy a piece of furniture that needs a lot of love with every intention of giving it a dramatic makeover. Be realistic when it comes to having the time and inclination to make that intention a reality. Set a limit for the amount of project pieces allowed in the garage so the to-do stash doesn’t get overwhelming.

Do: Buy Dated or Ugly Upholstery

There are some beautiful vintage and antique upholstered pieces that are in spectacular condition, but they're covered in fabric that was popular in a different decade. These pieces are perfect candidates to reupholster or update with a slipcover. In some cases, the fabric looks dated in the thrift store but can be updated with some pretty pillows and a throw once you get it home. Look for hallmarks of quality furniture like down-filled cushions, horse hair filling (instead of foam) and solid wood frames.

Don’t: Buy Upholstery That's Stinky, Stained or Potentially Infested

Unfortunately, there are some beautiful upholstered pieces that are just too far gone to save. Unless you’re willing to strip a piece down to the frame, stay away from any upholstery that is stinky, soiled, heavily stained or shows signs of bugs. Always give a piece of furniture the “sniff test”. Mustiness can be aired out, but strong pet or smoke odors are next to impossible to remove from all the layers of foam and batting.

Do: Buy Easy-to-Fix Pieces

There are thousands upon thousands of antique pieces of furniture on the market simply because they have cosmetic issues, like broken or missing hardware, water rings or scratches in the finish. Look past these minor, easy-to-fix issues and snap up that bargain!

Don’t: Buy Pieces That Are Beyond Your Ability to Repair

If a piece is damaged or isn’t functional, don’t purchase it unless you know how to fix it. Some furniture repairs are simple and straight forward, but others affect the structural integrity of the piece and are not easily fixed without woodworking knowledge and skill. Pass up pieces if you’re stumped on a solution to make it functional again.

Do: Buy Timeless Pieces You Love

The best thing about buying vintage or antique furniture is the timeless quality they give your space. If the style of a piece looked good 50 or 100 years ago and it still looks good today, it’s a purchase that’s likely to look good in another 50 to 100 years.

Don’t: Buy It Just Because It’s Cheap

It's especially difficult for bargain hunters to turn down a good deal, but a bargain isn’t a bargain if it clutters up your home. When making a buying decision, take the price out of the equation. Even if it’s $5, would you pay more for it? Do you love it that much? Do you have the perfect spot for it? If the answer to those questions is yes, go for it! If you wouldn’t pay good money for it, it’s not worth buying.

Do: Jump at the Chance to Buy One-of-a-Kind Finds

When shopping secondhand, there will be one-of-a-kind pieces that cross your path. Even if a piece is mass-produced, there might only be one in that particular store or in that geographic area. If you spot something you love and you have the perfect place for it, it’s best not to overthink it. Waiting to make the purchase could result in losing out to another shopper. Go into a shopping trip knowing what you’re looking for (color, measurements and style) so it’s easier to spot a gem when you see it.

Don’t: Hesitate and Miss a Great Purchase

Sometimes you need to mull over a purchase while you continue to shop an antique market, thrift store or estate sale to see if you like anything better. That can be a strategy that pays off with a piece of furniture that’s a better deal or a better fit. Just don’t walk away from something that you couldn’t stomach seeing sold to someone else. That’s the nature of shopping secondhand and it helps to be mentally prepared for the emotional rollercoaster that can occur.

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