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5 tips for buying vintage furniture

5 tips for buying vintage furniture

Whether you absolutely adore antiques or usually prefer modern designs, the chances are that on at least one occasion, you’ve found yourself tempted to buy a piece of vintage furniture. Perhaps you’ve spotted a beautiful mid-century sofa going for an absolute steal at a flea market, or the sturdy construction of an old dining room table has you muttering that “they don’t make 'em like this anymore”. Or maybe you just spot an old chair that chimes perfectly with your shabby chic aesthetic.

So what marks of quality should you look for in vintage furniture? Equally importantly, what bad things should you check for? Here are five tips to guide you on your way…


1.   Does it feel right? 

Give the item a feel. Go ahead, touch it. Is it study? Are there any loose or weak joints that move or creak? It can be difficult to walk away if you really like the look of an item but if it’s damaged or needs extensive restoration, it might be best to give it a miss unless you’re confident that you could fix it up yourself, or get a professional to do so for a reasonable price. Remember, there’s no point in buying a fragile piece of furniture you can’t use.

 Image Credit:  Sean MacEntee .  CC

Image Credit: Sean MacEntee. CC

2.   Does it fit? 

 This might sound a little obsessive but if you’re looking for furniture, it can be a good idea to measure up areas of your home and save them on the ‘notes’ section of your smartphone. This way, if you stumble upon an old table, armchair or sofa in a second-hand shop, you’ll instantly know if it will fit and won’t have to run home to measure up while panicking that it’s going to be snapped up by someone else!

But don’t just measure the spaces where furniture might fit. You’ll also need to know the dimensions of any doorways, halls and stairwells that an item might pass though. Otherwise, how will you know you can get it into the room to begin with?


 Image credit:  alljengi .  CC

Image credit: alljengi. CC

3. Is it healthy? 

Check for woodworm when you look at any piece of second-hand wooden furniture. The tell-tale holes are easy to spot on close inspection but be sure to look everywhere, even on the undersides of a table or chair. Also, use the old trick of tapping the holes… if dust falls out, that means that the infestation is alive and well. Happily, there are treatments available that can kill woodworm relatively easily, so as long as the structure hasn’t been compromised by too much woodworm, don’t be put off by a few signs of it. They can actually add a lot of character.

4. Do you really want it?

Here’s the killer question — do you actually want this item of furniture? Sure, it may be a bargain but do you have a place and a use for it? Unless you’ve found something at a truly low-low price and you know that you can flip it on eBay if you don’t use it, maybe you should just walk away. and leave it for someone else?

All too often, homeowners with an eye for vintage items find themselves loading up their house with more and more charity shop finds. Then, once every few years, they ‘wake up’ and realise they’re living in an over-cluttered house and made a load of work for themselves clearing it all out. Where does it all go? Right back to the charity shop, of course!

 Image Credit:  M C Morgan .  CC

Image Credit: M C Morgan. CC

5. Have you remembered the buyer’s premium?  

If you’re new to auctions, make sure you’re aware of the ‘buyer’s premium’. As the name suggests, this is an additional charge levied by the auction house on every buyer. Whatever you intend to spend, make sure that you factor this in.

For example, if the most you want to spend on an item is £100 and the buyer’s premium is 10%, a winning bid of £100 would actually place you £10 over budget. Of course, remembering this is easier said than done once you get caught up in the frenzy of a bidding war!

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