Tips for Buying Vintage Furniture

From the thrill of the hunt to the joy of snagging a bargain, vintage shopping is a great way to furnish your home on a budget and avoid that cookie-cutter look in the process. Add to that the benefits to the environment every time a piece is saved from the city landfill and you have the scenario for the ideal shopping experience. But be warned, not everything that looks like bargain is actually a bargain. Before you head out to create that perfect room, here are five things you need to know about vintage furniture shopping.
WATCH FOR QUALITY — Knoll, Haywood Wakefield, Finn Juhl and Baughman are names to watch for when shopping for MCM furnishings. They are not common finds, but they do surface from time to time. While it is always a thrill to find a piece by a noted mid-century designer, don’t limit yourself. There are a number of unknown designers from this era with high quality work and that will cost you a great deal less. Always check for quality as well as a name.
GOOD BONES ARE A MUST — The bulk of vintage furniture available in original condition will have issues. There are two types of damage to watch for, cosmetic and structural.
Structural damage can be a deal breaker. Drawers should glide well and have dovetailed construction, legs need to be sturdy and straight and chair frames should be solid. The presence of a repair is not always a reason to pass, if the repair has been done properly. A table leg that has been stabilized by doweling may be safe to use, but one that has repeatedly been glued is one that will most likely break again.
The amount of cosmetic damage you can tolerate is largely based on your ability to do repairs. It you are comfortable with refinishing worn wood, reupholstering chairs, and cleaning layers of dirt then you will be able to spend less and use sweat equity to increase the value of your purchase. If the DIY gene is not in your blood you can still purchase those things that need work, just remember to factor in the cost of the repair. There are two signs of wear that I would recommend avoiding: heavily rusted chrome and scratched plastic. It has been my experience that these damages are usually permanent.
KNOW WHERE TO SHOP — Estate auctions, antique malls, decorator shops, and thrift stores abound and if you are not careful you can find yourself running in circles. Select three stores that carry things you like at a price point that fits your budget, then visit them on a regular basis. Resale shops often have a policy of reducing the price on items that have been sitting in stock for over 60 days. Get to know the staff where you shop. Once you establish yourself as a buyer they will often let you know about special reductions and the arrival of new pieces that may be on your wish list.
Online sources like FaceBook sites, Ebay and OfferUp give you both convenience and a wide selection of furniture for sale. Here I would offer two pieces of advice. Stay with local pick up, as shipping can be very expensive and always reserve the right to change your mind if the piece does not live up to your expectations.
AVOID BUGS AND ODOR — Furniture with age may have insect infestations. Be on the lookout for signs of roaches, fleas and in the case of wood furniture even termites. If you see anything suspicious it is best to not take it home. Odors are often present, especially on upholstered furniture. If the piece you are considering for purchase smells like smoke, cooking grease or cat urine…leave it where you found it!
GO PREPARED — Items often appear smaller in a retail setting than they will in your home. Measure your space before you leave home and then drop that measuring tape in your pocket. Most resale shops do not take returns, so it is better to be safe than sorry! Until next time….Linda

Linda Kennett is a professional liquidation consultant specializing in down-sizing for seniors and the liquidation of estates and may be reached at 317-258-7835 or