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Hunting for Hidden Gems: The Ultimate Guide to Scoring Vintage Furniture Secondhand

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March 18, 2024

As of recently, I’ve been growing more and more obsessed with incorporating vintage finds into my designs. Not only does it add a layer of unique character, but it’s also way more sustainable than buying brand new. While looking for antique trinkets is one thing, hunting for hidden gems such as vintage furniture secondhand is an entirely different league and can be a bit daunting. That dusty thrift store chair might be a mid-century masterpiece, or it could just be…dusty.

A vintage wingback chair I recently scored at a local antique shop!

To be most helpful, I’ve put together this ultimate guide to help you unearth those hidden vintage gems, whether you’re a seasoned thrifter or a curious newbie. Lets break it down!

The Treasure Trove: Where to Look for Vintage Furniture Secondhand

  • In-Person Adventures:
    • Thrift Stores & Consignment Shops: These are your classic hunting grounds! Goodwill, Salvation Army, local charity shops – they all offer a treasure trove of possibilities at fantastic prices. Be prepared to dig, but the thrill of the find is unbeatable.
    • Estate Sales: Calling all early birds! Estate sales often have hidden gems from a bygone era. Ask the seller about the history of the piece – you might just score a conversation starter with a fascinating backstory.
    • Antique Stores: For the curated experience, head to antique stores. Expect higher prices, but you’ll find well-maintained pieces with a higher chance of authenticity.
  • Lets Get Online:
    • Facebook Marketplace & Craigslist: The online world is teeming with pre-loved furniture! Set search filters for your desired style and location to narrow things down. Be cautious of deals that seem too good to be true, and always arrange to see the furniture in person before buying.
    • Etsy: Think Etsy is just for crafts? Think again! Many shops specialize in beautifully restored vintage furniture like this Victorian sofa. The benefit here is the detailed descriptions and high-quality photos, but prices can be on the higher end and be prepared to pay shipping.
    • Ebay: An oldie but a goodie! Ebay offers a vast selection of vintage furniture, but be prepared to sift through a lot of…well, stuff. If you know what you’re looking for and exactly what it’s called, you can narrow down results quickly (For example this vintage writers chair by Ralph Lauren). Read descriptions carefully, check seller reviews, and never hesitate to ask questions.

Become an Inspector Gadget: Questions to Ask

  • Before You Go: is this from a pet free home? A non-smoking home?
  • What’s the history of the piece? Knowing the age and origin can help you determine value and authenticity.
  • Are there any structural issues? Check for loose joints, wobbly legs, or cracks in the wood.
  • Is the upholstery ripped or stained? Reupholstering can be expensive, so factor that into the price if necessary.
  • Can I see the furniture in natural light? True colors and imperfections are often masked by artificial lighting.
  • What’s hiding underneath?: Don’t be afraid to flip furniture over and look underneath. You want to make sure the bottom isn’t falling out. This goes for cushions too. Lift those up and check for stains!
I found this vintage sofa in St. Louis and am having a friend go check it out before I commit to purchasing. Stay tuned!

Caution! Danger Zones to Avoid

  • Water damage: Warping, bubbling, or peeling veneer are all signs of water damage, which is a major no-go.
  • Upholstery with strong odors: Pet smells, cigarette smoke, or mildew are difficult (and sometimes impossible) to remove.
  • Missing parts or hardware: Replacing missing parts or drawers can be a real hassle. Hardware is easier to replace and is usually fun to update.
  • Poor pictures: this is a double edged sword. Sometimes bad pictures might be the sign of a technology challenged person that just wants to get rid of something and is in a rush. Other times it can be hiding imperfections. Once you’ve engaged in a conversation with the seller, don’t be afraid to ask for more photos if the original listing is unclear.
Real life example: the listing photo (left – blurry) vs photos I requested (look at that oil spot!!!). This was nearly a disaster for me.

Secondhand Vintage Furniture Takeaways

Remember: When buying vintage, perfect isn’t always the goal. Embrace the character of a well-worn piece, but always be mindful of structural integrity.

Bonus Tip: Haggling is totally acceptable (and sometimes expected) at flea markets, estate sales, and even some thrift stores. Don’t be afraid to politely negotiate a better price!

I hope this guide equips you to confidently navigate the world of secondhand furniture. Remember, the hunt is half the fun, so happy treasure hunting! And if you ever find a mind-blowing vintage score, don’t forget to tag me on social media – I love seeing your finds!

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