A simple stroll into an antiques mall, around a flea market or into a thrift store to buy vintage furniture could have you spending more than you intended unless you follow a few simple rules. Here's how to make your next purchase an educated one.
First rule: Always go for what you’re drawn to, whether it looks like it’s old or made by a slick designer. You can suss out craftsmanship and markings later. Here are some pointers for buying, however, so you don’t lug home any lemons. Turn the piece over.
Make sure all the original wood, plastic, screws, nails and everything else is there, and that the wood matches. Differences in color usually signify repairs. Expect some wear and tear on older items. Sometimes, older pieces with repairs, especially professional-grade fixes, aren’t even devalued. Look for quality joinery techniques such as dovetailing
, corner blocks
(tongue-and-groove) joints — all great signs you’ve landed a gem. Open doors and drawers. Wiggle knobs. Sit down.
Armoires, buffets and dressers should be treated as such. If something’s amiss, you’ll know right away. Chairs, stools, benches and sofas shouldn’t give. Move along if the seller won't let you test. Check the upholstery.
Other than obvious signs of damage, do foam cushions seem hard? Is fabric torn along seams or slightly stained? If you’ll have to reupholster a piece, that should be reflected in its price; try to negotiate cost. Inspect the finish.
Wood furniture is generally painted, stained, lacquered and oiled. If you’re open minded about a few dings and chips, then the world is your oyster. Keep in mind: If you’re investing in something really, really old, its original finish should be intact, no matter how decrepit. Otherwise, it’s not worth as much — maybe not even half. Antiques or reproductions? Both can be pricey, and there are benefits to buying either. Some people are sticklers for the real thing, while antiques just aren’t practical for others. Repros have come a long way, with improved finishes and solid construction. Baker (colonial revival) and White on White (midcentury modern) are two popular dealers.