Your Ultimate Guide to Buying Vintage Furniture
For those who love coolly curated vintage interiors but wouldn’t attempt one without the Brooklynite equivalent of Cinderella’s fairy godmother, let us reassure you: mastering the vintage furniture mix is really a cinch. The key lies in knowing your personal style and striking a meticulous balance between old and new. And while an editorialist eye is helpful, it’s certainly not a must. In fact, once you're armed with a few helpful hints, decorating with used furniture begins to take on the fluidity of a visual language—one with plenty of brass and no annoying verbs to conjugate.
Finding Your Personal Style
For those who are just starting out, consider this your guiltless pass: let yourself fall down an Insta-rabbit hole. Yep, that’s right, dedicate a few hours to nothing but unabashed room-gazing. Pin what you like, skip what you don’t, and watch as your personal style begins to surface magic eight ball-style.
When you’re done, assess the findings. Did you fall for every last interior with a sparse, Scandinavian vibe? Or was it a crocheted, boho feel you gravitated towards? What we mean is, try dissecting those photos you dog-eared. What are the elements you really love? Is it the egg white walls? The roughly tumbled bedding? That moody, dark oil portrait over the bed? Identify all of the things you can’t get enough of, and ask yourself if you can see these vintage furniture pieces in your own abode. Hopefully the answer is yes, but if not, go back to your saved files and try to locate that blissed-out medium.
As you browse, also take note of the style combos that professional designers use. Mid-Century Modern and boho chic is a common formula, as is Art Deco and Chinoiserie. Likewise, focus on how the pros mix secondhand furniture with new furniture. Do they use only vintage art to punctuate a room full of new finds, or is everything antique but the pillows? By being vigilant and bookmarking images of the antique furniture you love, you’ll create a guide book that’s easy to refer back to once you begin designing your own spaces.
Once you’re in full huntress mode, the trickiest part of vintage furniture buying is knowing your general style without being married to it. What does this mean? Well, ever see a room with a truly unanticipated item, like say, a grand, Neoclassical concrete bust on a bar cart? While it’s not impossible the designer went looking specifically for it, they more likely stumbled across at a vintage shop or antique mart and reinterpreted it to make it work in their intended space. In interiors, it’s these surprise elements that propel a room into the realm of extraordinary.
Also, remember that upholstery, paint color, and photo framing can all be changed. If you’re in love with the bones of a piece, it might well be worth the cost to do a little revamp. Likewise, think of unexpected ways to use objects you might not have been in the market for. This is especially true when it comes to vessels. A petite Victorian brass boot vase might seem as silly as it is pretty, but what if you filled it with cocktail picks and set it on your bar? The same for a vintage match striker. Or a champagne bucket filled with cooking utensils? Bullseye—we’re in love.
In addition to maintaining an open mind, vintage and used furniture buying requires a tightly edited list of non-negotiables. The number one item that should be on this list? Your measurements. No matter how fabulous that deep-seat Chesterfield is, if it won’t fit up the stairs, just leave it. Trust us, bidding it adieu in the antique shop will be far easier than watching it sit in your lobby for weeks until you find a new buyer.
Additionally, be on the lookout for quality designers when you shop. Equipping yourself with a few basics on your era of interest can be a godsend. If you’re into more contemporary furnishings, this can be knowing brands, while hunting for Mid-Century Modern furniture is infinitely aided by knowing specific designers.
And lastly, know your price range. If you’re looking for a specific designer, know what their works go for. In addition to preventing you from parting from your bills unnecessarily, knowing your worth can be fabulous negotiating power.