6 things to know before buying vintage furniture and home décor
— Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
Shopping secondhand is a great way to live more sustainably. Instead of running to buy something new when you’re in the market for new furniture or home décor, you may be able to repurpose some unique, timeless gems for your space, and save some trash from a landfill while doing so.
Of course, shopping for vintage and antique pieces won’t necessarily be as easy as buying something brand new. However, there are plenty of tips to help you peruse and sort through vast collections of pre-loved home goods.
Before you start browsing for vintage home décor, furniture, and more, here’s what you should know.
1. Take measurements beforehand Credit: Getty Images / DGLimages
You won't want to end up with furniture that won't fit in your space—understand the size of your room and the maximum size of furniture you're willing to buy.
It’s best to be as prepared as possible before you start your shopping, as it can save you a lot of time and headaches down the road. If you’re on the hunt for a larger piece of furniture such as a couch, coffee table, or dining table, make sure your room can handle the new addition.
Lisa Cini, Ohio-based interior designer and president and CEO of Mosaic Design Studio, says “Items in thrift shops are typically out of context so it’s difficult to understand the scale. You don’t want to buy an item and bring it back home to learn that it’s too big for the space.”
Before heading to the store or shopping online, grab measurements of the space you’re looking to fill and have them on hand when shopping. Compare these measurements to those listed online or in-store—you may even want to bring a tape measure with you to do some measuring yourself.
2. Bring in a color match for reference
In a perfect world, matching furniture and décor is easy. Unfortunately, that’s not so much the case in the real world. Chances are, it’ll be difficult to find a piece in the same exact color or pattern as the rest of your items when buying secondhand—that said, it’s not impossible.
To make the color matching process a little easier, Cini recommends bringing the matching item in or grabbing a paint color sample to visually see it side-by-side with the furniture store’s collection.
Cini recommends, “You can bring a pillow without the insert to the store or get a paint deck from the local paint store for a more accurate match.”
3. Stay flexible Credit: Getty Images / JackF
Flea markets and vintage stores will always hold surprises. For that reason, it's key to have an open mind, even if you're set on one certain item or style.
Start by browsing online to see what kind of style you’re looking for: Is it mid-century modern, American colonial, cottagecore, or something else? From there, see what stores in your area stock items of that style. Once you’ve got an idea of what you want, Fendelman recommends heading straight to the stores rather than looking to buy online.
Helaine Fendelman, an antiques appraiser and certified member of the Appraisers Association of America,” says “I am very cautious about buying online, and I think that everybody should be. You can’t always see the entire piece—you’re much better off buying in person.”
Local stores may have online listings of items that you can later check out in person.
Having a set idea of what you want can be helpful, but also limiting. While it’s important to know what kind of style, color, or finish you’re looking for, try to come in with an open mind, as you never know what hidden gems you’ll find in a local store or flea market.
4. Skip items with major stains or damage
Even if you’re DIY-savvy, experts like Fendelman recommend against buying damaged or soiled pieces. Broken, aged, or stained items can be signs of significant wear and tear, but may also mean lurking bugs.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some telltale signs of bed bug-infested furniture includes, but are not limited to, rusty or reddish stains, dark spots, tiny eggs or eggshells, and pale yellow skins that nymphs shed. Bed bugs specifically may hide in the seams of chairs and couches, in drawer joints, and even in the heads of screws. Fendelman also says sawdust shavings in drawers and other nooks may be a sign of bugs making themselves at home.
If possible, be sure to give a good look at the furniture in question to ensure there are no warning signs of bed bugs or other insects, as bringing these into your home can easily become a nightmare.
It’s important to note that not all damaged antique furniture is a lost cause—some with minor marks or stains can be dealt with.
Fendelman says, “Sometimes, stains like burn stains can be polished out of wood. Sometimes, ink stains can come out quickly. A nick or a scratch can be quickly fixed, but anything else like the beginning of a split to a leg or a large gouge in the material, you shouldn’t do.”
5. Take into account the material Credit: Getty Images / FotografiaBasica
Take into account the quality of the wooden items you're shopping for—if you're not sure what it is, don't be afraid to ask.
When shopping secondhand, experts recommend looking closely at the quality and make of the product. Not only will higher quality materials most likely last longer, but they may be easier to clean.
For example, real wood will last far longer than materials like plywood or fiberboard. Fendelman says, “If it needs a quick polish, that’s easy.”. You can clean it up and further protect your material by applying a wood polish finish to your wood pieces.
Upholstery is another material to keep a close eye on.
Proceed with caution when shopping for upholstery and other fabric materials—carefully inspect the item before taking it home with you—fabric can be a breeding ground for bed bugs.
6. Use common sense
Being an informed and prepared shopper is a great start for second-hand browsing. But perhaps one of the most important tools to use is your common sense, says Fendelman.
At the end of the day, if something doesn’t look or feel right about the furniture or home décor items, skip it and move on to other items or stores.
Cini advises, “If it feels or smells bad, it may not be for you, so trust your gut.”
Related content feature The 15 best places to buy patio furniture and outdoor furniture online feature 10 vintage appliances that stood the test of time
The product experts at Reviewed have all your shopping needs covered. Follow Reviewed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest deals, product reviews, and more.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.