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How to Shop for Antique and Vintage Furnishings

If you want to make your home unique and modern, try mixing antique and vintage items with your contemporary furnishings. Antiques add elegance and character to your surroundings, while vintage adds personality and a sense of fun. Antique and vintage items can represent an era, but they don’t have to stay relegated to the past. They can expand your décor with an eclectic vibe that makes your home more visually interesting, and they can be great conversation starters for visitors.

To be called antique, an item must be 100 years old or older, while any item over 20 years old can be considered vintage if it’s iconic of an identifiable style like Mid-century or Craftsman. If you’re not sure where to start collecting, take some time to train your eye to quality by visiting a variety of outlets for specific furniture or accessories. Shop frequently because estate sales, antique stores and online stores sell items quickly. Plus, you’ll learn more about what you’re interested in buying if you shop multiple places for similar items like lamps or a coffee table.

Wood furniture – Look for craftsmanship like dovetail joints on tables and dresser drawers. The wood should have a rich patina and not appear dry, cracked or stained. Check for wobbliness, especially in chairs and tables.

Tableware – Sets of china, crystal, and silver should be as complete as possible with the number of pieces that you need – at least service for six or eight. You can round out a set by visiting Replacements.com or Classicreplacements.com.

Lighting and lamps - Antiquelampsupply.com recommends slightly scratching the base to determine if it’s real metal or painted to look like metal. Lighting should be as close to original condition as possible, with manufacturing labels if possible. Finials such as bone, cinnabar, ivory, jade, or other rare materials can be more valuable than the lamp itself.

Linens – Antique and vintage linens can be beautiful as they’re made from much finer cottons, embroidery, lace and linen than what’s being sold today. Visit Frenchgardenhouse.com for ideas. Linens were often monogrammed, but don’t let someone else’s initials bother you.  

Some great places to look online for furniture and collectibles are Chairish.com, 1stdibs.com, Estatesales.net, and Liveauctioneers.com, among others. These are curated collections that will help you learn what you like faster and more effectively than going to ebay.com or Craigslist. Sellers expect to answer questions and provide multiple photos online, so don’t hesitate to ask.

Plumdeluxe.com advises that any piece with provenance, or a verifiable history, will be worth more than similar items from the same era. Antiques and vintage furniture can grow in value if they’re built to last and in good condition. You can get good deals on pieces that need work, but keep in mind that restoration is expensive and some updates like painting wood furniture may actually make your piece less valuable. Professional restoration experts and upholsterers can be expensive with repairs costing more than the original piece. But it shouldn’t just be about money unless you’re in the resale business. If you buy a piece because you love it, you’ll have years of enjoyment from it.