Guide to Buying and Decorating With Vintage Furniture

January 28, 2021

They say that style is a cycle and that everything old will inevitably become new again. So, it’s no surprise that retro design continues to be a popular choice. The odds are good that the next time you’re browsing the selection at your favorite store, you’ll spot plenty of trendy, old-school-inspired pieces. Buying and decorating with vintage furniture can be a great way to get this look in your home. Here’s what you need to know about buying and decorating with vintage furniture:

What Are the Pros and Cons of Buying Vintage?

Before you dive into the world of thrift stores and antique shopping, there are some important factors to take into consideration. You should weigh the pros and cons of buying vintage and exploring used furniture stores and resale shops so that you know what you’re getting yourself into:

4 Pros of Buying Vintage Furniture

There are many benefits to opting for vintage. Here are a few pros of buying vintage furniture:

1. Buying Vintage Furniture Often Saves Money

Cutting costs is always a motivating factor when decorating your home. Pre-owned pieces are often an affordable alternative to buying new. Plus, they are often one-of-a-kind and add a unique flair to your home decor.

2. It’s Sustainable

Recycling, reusing, and repurposing furniture is a great way to help the environment while also getting stylish and unique pieces for your home. You can give items a second life and help cut back on the manufacturing and waste associated with new products.

3. Vintage Craftsmanship is Often High-Quality

Good vintage items tend to be better in quality, craftsmanship, and durability. You’re more likely to find natural fibers and solid wood construction with older pieces. After all, for furniture or clothing to remain in good condition after 30 or 40 years, it must be well-made.

4. It’s Fashionable

One of the coolest things about the vintage aesthetic is that it never goes out of fashion. Iconic, timeless, or even quirky, these styles are here to stay and can make your home decor stand out. Plus, vintage decor fits in with several different interior design styles; it’s even one of the industrial farmhouse design ideas.

4 Cons of Buying Vintage Furniture

As with anything, there are drawbacks to buying vintage as well. Here are a few cons of buying vintage furniture:

1. The Sizing Standards Could be Different

Vintage furniture tends to go by different rules than modern sizing. You’ll need to carefully measure before you buy larger pieces like sofas or tables. And, it may be hard to find the furniture size you’re looking for. Due to the one-of-a-kind nature of these items, you may have a hard time finding the right fit at all.

2. You’ll Need to Inspect Carefully and do Some Clean-Up

You never really know where secondhand items have been or who’s touched them. Before taking the plunge, it’s important to carefully assess every piece. Check carefully for rips, tears, scratches, and stains. You should also inspect all fabric and textiles for bed bugs.

3. You May Need to Repair or Restore Vintage Items

Pre-owned items often require some amount of repair. Mending can include small-scale fixes like sewing on a button or closing a seam. On the other hand, sometimes larger, more intensive restoration may be necessary, such as stripping and refinishing woodwork or reupholstering a chair.

But, the good news is that there are several ways to bring old furniture and antiques back to life. Not only are there plenty of supplies and even crafters available to help, but it can also be a rewarding project that results in a true one-of-a-kind item.

4. Buying Vintage Can Have Hidden Costs

While you may get a great deal on your vintage or antique finds, the costs of cleaning and refurbishment can pile up quickly. If you’re not careful, sometimes “free” or low-cost items can end up costing more than purchasing new ones.

Where to Shop for Vintage Items

There are plenty of places where you can find deals on retro designs. Here are a few of the best spots for budget-friendly thrift shopping where you can find unique vintage items for your home:

1. Resale and Vintage Boutiques

Specializing in authentic vintage goods, these stores generally offer curated collections of era-specific furniture, decor, or sometimes both.

2. Charity Stores

Places like Goodwill or Salvation Army can be a mixed bag in terms of selection and quality. While you’re less likely to find just what you’re looking for, checking into your local donation center can yield the occasional diamond in the rough. You never know what you might find!

3. Online Vendors

The digital age has given us far more accessibility to vintage furniture through various sites. Online stores remove much of the legwork involved in thrift shopping, but you may find it difficult to judge quality when you can’t see the items in-person.

4. Flea Markets and Rummage Sales

If you enjoy the thrill of hunting down great deals, you’ll love spending your Saturday mornings combing through the rows of local vendors and private collectors. While this route can be hit or miss, there’s always a chance that you’ll find a hidden gem.

How to Choose the Best Vintage Furniture

Once you’re ready to shop, consider these dos and don’ts to help you have a successful shopping experience and choose the best vintage furniture

1. Do go in With an Open Mind

Odds are you won’t find the exact item you saved on Pinterest, but you might find something similar or even better. Keep an open mind, so you don’t overlook the perfect addition to the look you’re going for,

2. Don’t Overwhelm Yourself

Style expert Tan France recommends setting a time limit on your shopping excursions to avoid becoming fatigued or frustrated. You’re better off making frequent trips to reliable shops rather than overdoing it all at once. Although this advice is originally for clothes, it works for buying vintage furniture too.

3. Do Inspect Everything Closely

The thrill of finding the perfect piece can be exhilarating, but take a moment to examine vintage furniture for damage, insects, stains, and wear. You don’t want your excitement to cause you to miss something important at purchase time and then get a nasty surprise once you get your furniture home.

4. Don’t Buy Before Measuring

If you’re shopping for bigger pieces like seating and tables, make sure to jot down your space’s dimensions before heading to the shops and measure before buying. Even if you’re shopping for smaller pieces, it’s still a good idea to have full measurements of your space so you can mix and match the right pieces and know that it will all fit.

5. Do Your Research

Part of the cool-factor of retro design is authenticity. Before you invest in an Art Deco armchair, take a beat to do a quick internet search and make sure you don’t overpay or end up with a knockoff.

6. Don’t Be Afraid to Haggle

Many sellers, and even some antique dealers, are eager to clear out their stock, so they may be willing to strike a deal if you make a fair offer. Be prepared to compromise so that both parties are comfortable. And, keep in mind that, if the item still seems overpriced after some bargaining, it’s okay to walk away.

7. Do Look for Quality

Learn to recognize the markers of quality, including strong materials and superior craftsmanship. If there is damage, assess how much time, effort, and money will go into making the necessary repairs. Conducting a quick cost-benefit analysis can help you make your final decision if you’re on the fence.

8. Don’t Forget to Trust Your Gut

Vintage furniture is usually a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If an item truly speaks to you, go ahead and buy it while you can, especially if the price is right.

How to Clean Vintage Items

Cleaning vintage or antique furniture can be tricky. Modern cleansers and detergents aren’t always safe for older materials, and they can strip color or damage fabrics. Moreover, age and use can add layers of grime to wood surfaces, which requires special care and a little extra elbow grease to remove.

Cleaning Textiles

Before you use any chemicals or tools on your vintage finds, conduct a visual inspection. On upholstery and textiles, look for labels indicating material type, washing instructions, and dry cleaning requirements. If in doubt, it never hurts to consult a professional cleaner. Martha Stewart’s website recommends using the mildest detergents available for washable items.

Cleaning Wood Furniture

When it comes to cleaning wood furniture, it’s best to work in graduated stages, starting with gentle dish soap and warm water before working toward more extreme measures if necessary. Always test products on an inconspicuous portion of the piece, just in case it causes warping or discoloration. When working with wood, make sure to dry thoroughly to avoid water damage.

How to Incorporate Vintage Finds into Your Design

Now that you have your new (to you) retro designs, it’s time to work them into your home. One of the best parts of embracing thrift shopping is that you can save cash and curate a look in your home that’s uniquely yours. Here are some ideas for decorating with vintage furniture:

1. All Vintage, All the Time

If you love the look, go all-in when you’re decorating with vintage furniture! You can create a cool, personalized home decor style and save a ton of money if you’re able to dedicate the time and energy into cultivating a totally vintage aesthetic. Those who choose this route tend to prefer a specific era and style, such as a vintage farmhouse-inspired kitchen.

2. Ageless Accents

When decorating with vintage furniture, some pieces are so special that they have to take center stage. For instance, a stunning antique vanity makes a statement in an otherwise simple and streamlined bathroom design. A vintage chaise lounge could become a statement piece in a bedroom or living room.

3. Merging Old and New

Why choose just one when you can have it all? Create a stunning look by pairing affordable home furnishings featuring modern elements with cool finds from the used furniture store. This can be a great way to achieve a modern farmhouse look or a full transitional interior design.

Why Buy Vintage?

Choosing to decorate with vintage furniture and items opens up a whole world of possibilities. Not only can you enjoy one-of-a-kind, timeless style, but you’ll save money, too. With this guide to buying and decorating with vintage furniture, you can weigh the pros and cons, learn what to look for, and have fun incorporating your thrifty finds into your interior design.