Vintage & Used Furniture

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The 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 meticulously balancing antique furniture with new. And while an editorialist eye is helpful, it’s certainly not a must. In fact, 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: lose yourself 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 whitewashed interior with a sparse, Scandinavian vibe? Well, first off, style soulmate, and, second, 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 the things you can’t get enough of, and ask yourself, can you 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 is a common formula, as is Art Deco and modern geometrics. 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.

Eyeful Curation

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 fabulously reinterpreted it. In interiors, it’s these surprise elements that catapult a room into the realm of extraordinary.

In fact, whether you’re browsing a Parisian antique market or a flea market in your old high school parking lot, vintage design requires us to embrace the unexpected (yes, vintage furniture is therapy!). Maybe you’re on the hunt for a Mid-Century Modern credenza, but instead run into a West German lava vase. Do you think about it? Hardly. Or try this: rather than thinking of decorating with vintage furniture as a story with a destination, thinks of it as a running narrative with fabulous detours.

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 of 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.

The Non-Negotiables

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.

Also, 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 in keeping with this, 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.