Buying vintage items for your home is a good idea for many reasons – originality, quality, value, sustainability, to name but a few. But how to choose good quality vintage items when you’ve never done it before?
Start in person
Unless you can afford to make mistakes, until you have some experience under your belt, I would recommend viewing an item in the flesh before you commit to purchasing it. This doesn’t mean that eBay’s out – some sellers are open to viewings before the auction ends – but I suggest you start in person until you get a feel for what you’re buying.
Consider the shape more than the finish
Good bones is everything. You can refinish and reupholster, but if you don’t like the shape, there’s not much you can do about it. So ignore finish and look at the underlying shape and construction of the item.
Look in, under, everywhere
Don’t just look at the outside. Open drawers, look underneath, inside, everywhere. This will give you a good idea of the construction of the item. Is it sturdy and well constructed?
Don’t forget renovation costs
Reupholstering an item can be surprisingly expensive (or time-consuming, if you tackle it yourself). Even just repainting will take you half a day or so. Light fittings need to be checked by a qualified electrician. So budget this in when you are considering how much to pay for an item.
Unlike for new items, there is no RRP for a vintage or secondhand item. It’s worth what someone is prepared to pay for it. See if you can find out the seller’s motivation. Whether it’s a business or personal sale, they are likely to accept less if they’ve been trying to sell it for a long time.
If you are planning on regular purchases, rather than a one-off, it is a good idea to pay regular visits to likely shops/markets, to get to know the sellers and to get an idea of their typical stock, how long it sticks around and what pieces tend to sell for.
Buy what you love
As with art, if you forget about potential profit and buy what you love, you will end up with some great pieces that you will always enjoy. If they go up in value, that’s an extra benefit.
Where to shop
Once you’ve honed your skills at your local secondhand furniture/vintage/antique shops, markets and fairs, widen your search on the following websites:
Modern Marketplace – if you like mid-century, you’re in for a treat, with plenty of sellers to choose from in this directory
Vinterior – for reasonably priced furniture from carefully selected sellers, you can apply to sell on Vinterior as well as buy.
Decorative Collective – an online portal into vintage and antique dealers, with a great search function to help you narrow down the thousands of listings to the ones relevant to you
Layer – a relative newcomer, with carefully chosen stock, you can apply to sell on Layer as well as buy
Pamono – based in Berlin but used to supplying the British market, there are some good value pieces here, and plenty of stories and information
1stdibs – international portal at the high end of the market
I hope the above tips and potential sources have given you some ideas on how to choose good quality vintage items for your home.