5 Things to Consider Before Buying Vintage Furniture

Are you a fan of vintage furniture and love the charm and character that it brings to a space?  If so, you are part of a growing group as vintage furniture has become increasingly popular. But buying vintage furniture can be overwhelming for those new to buying old.  Therefore consider these 5 things before buying vintage furniture. 

Table of Contents

Understanding the Value of Vintage Furniture

Why is vintage furniture a growing trend? 

Well, firstly vintage furniture is more than simply a functional piece of décor in your home. It has a history and showcases craftsmanship which isn’t found modern mass-produced furniture.  It’s unique and guarantees that your home will stand out and not look like a replica of a showroom. 

So, when you start your search for that perfect piece of vintage furniture it can be overwhelming to determine the value and quality of the pieces you are finding.  

A few ways to gauge the value of the piece you are looking at is to consider its age and style.  Key styles; such as art deco or mid-century modern, generally will fetch a higher price than an item from the 1980’s.  The age and style will not be the only deciding factors on price. The rarity of a piece, the overall condition and if it is a known brand or designer can greatly impact the value.  If you are keen on finding a good value, you will need to research and familiarize yourself with different era’s, designers, and styles to get a better understanding of the potential prices to expect.

Also remember that value is very subjective.  A family heirloom may hold sentimental value to you but will have little value on the market. A trendy item can fall out of favour and be hard to get rid of later. Ultimately, the value of a vintage furniture piece lies in its ability to enhance your space and bring joy to your life.

small cabinet with two doors and shelf.
small cabinet refinished with 3d cubed design in green, purple and pink.

5 things to consider before buying vintage furniture

Considering that you are shopping for your own home or for refinishing furniture and the potential value of a piece for resale is of no importance; what should you be looking for in a piece of vintage furniture?

There are 5 key considerations that I use to help me ensure that I find pieces that will meet my refinishing preferences but also my future customer’s practical needs. 

Condition

Condition of the piece is the number one factor I take into consideration. I want to be fully aware of what restoration work will be required on a piece prior to purchase as this can affect how much money and time will need to be invested.  I look check the following.

  1. Is the piece stable on all its legs or base, if there is a wobble, what is causing it?
  2. Are there any deep scratches, dents, or water damage?
  3. Do all the doors and drawers and any other moving parts still work?
  4. Is all the hardware still accounted for and in good working condition?
  5. Are there any signs of insect activity? Look for signs of bedbugs and wood worms.

 

While I may still purchase a piece that is missing hardware or a hinge is broken, it is important to understand the condition and restoration work that will be necessary.  You can also use this information when you go to negotiate the price.

2 vintage end tables in bad condition

Quality and Materials

After I have checked the condition of the piece, I investigate the quality.  Specifically, I look at the quality of the materials used when creating the piece.  Is it solid wood, veneer, or laminate?   I always check if there are any identifying labels or brands; however, I have never decided to not purchase a piece because it was simply missing a maker’s mark.  I find that a maker’s mark almost always increases the price of a piece.  Therefore, if you are refinishing furniture, you may even want to avoid branded pieces for good quality, unknown works.

Vintage stonehill drinks cabinet in Birdseye maple with original glass, hardware and light.

Good Bones

I then look at the bones of a piece of vintage furniture.  This is where I look at the overall style and possible eras where the furniture item may be from.  I look for key forms which are great sellers, such as the sleek look of a midcentury buffet, or the curves of an art deco cabinet.  Even though the piece itself may be a more modern reproduction, I look for the shapes and lines which will go well in current interior décor.

I will also consider the overall functionality and practicality of a piece.  If it has doors and drawers, I know that it can support a customer with their quest for more storage options.  What about a vintage desk?  Even if it is a trendy style, I may pass it over if it does not meet modern norms regarding chair heights.

Size

Size and measuring are two very important considerations to make.  What is the space your customers or you are looking to fill?  Will the piece need to fit into an elevator or perhaps be carried up narrow Amsterdam stairs? My largest pieces always take longer to sell, simply due to their size.  I receive wonderful comments from people who simply want me to know that they love the piece but unfortunately it will not fit in their home.  I have learned my lesson and now opt for smaller pieces, despite personally loving a large buffet style item in my own personal space.

large shiny veneer buffet

Price

Finally, consider your budget when buying vintage furniture. Vintage pieces can vary greatly in price, depending on factors such as rarity, condition, and demand. Set a realistic budget before you start your search and stick to it. You may be tempted to splurge when you didn’t find anything in your budget on your initial search.  But the whole point of searching is that you will need to look multiple times. This is vintage, not mass produced and waiting in a showroom.

Go out and comparison pieces and prices on items from different shops and don’t be afraid to negotiate the price with the seller.  And my number 1 tip, don’t be afraid to lose out on a piece.  Walk away if it is priced too high and wait.  Maybe it will drop in price or perhaps you will miss out this time, but surprisingly, I have come across doubles of some of the pieces I have bought in the past.  Mass production is nothing new, so there is the chance there are multiple copies of that piece you came across and fell in love with. Vintage is unique but not always one-of-a-kind.

Small brown dresser with two drawers
Rainbow pride colours across a cabinet

Where to buy vintage furniture

Now that you have a list of things to consider before buying vintage furniture, the next question is where to them. There are several options available, each with its own advantages and considerations.  I have written more extensively on this topic for the Netherlands market.  You can find all details available on where to find vintage furniture.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Vintage Furniture

Buying vintage furniture can be exciting, especially when you feel that you found the bargain of the century. It’s important however to avoid common mistakes that could lead to disappointment or regret. Here are some pitfalls to steer clear of:

  1. Impulse Buying: Don’t rush into purchasing a piece without thinking through all 5 key considerations. Take your time to research, inspect, and compare before deciding.
  2. Overlooking Repairs and Restoration: Minor repairs and restoration work are expected in vintage furniture, but extensive or poorly executed repairs can lead to long term issues. Carefully inspect the piece for any signs of shoddy repairs or alterations.
  3. Focusing Solely on Style: While the visual appeal of vintage furniture is important, don’t forget to consider its functionality, practicality, and compatibility with your space. Double check if you can sit comfortably at that table to desk. Vintage furniture was built for different statures than today.
Vintage cabinet with dramatic veneer pattern and two columns with brass fittings

Buying vintage furniture is a marathon.  You need to be prepared to put in the time and effort to find hidden gems that will help you create a unique and personalized space. By using these 5 key considerations when shopping, you can confidently find the perfect pieces and avoid any buyer’s remorse. So, take the time, trust your instincts, and embark on a treasure hunt for timeless pieces that will be cherished for generations to come.

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Hey, I'm Sarah, the owner of Bold Wallflowers.

I'm on a self-taught journey through furniture refinishing and restoration, loving every experiment in my workshop.

Join me as I share my discoveries and gained knowledge with our vibrant community of fellow refinishers!

This post may contain amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases, if you decide to make a purchase through the provided links, at no additional cost to you.

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