January 2, 2022

Navigating the World of Vintage Furniture

There’s something about vintage furniture that captures the imagination. Even just one unique piece can completely transform a room.

If you have an inkling to search for antique finds, you first need to figure out how to identify vintage furniture. You want to be sure you do not buy something that is not unique or real.

You also want to learn how to ensure you find valuable pieces and avoid scams because shopping for furniture of any kind can be a challenge, but finding actual vintage pieces can be even more challenging. You don’t want to waste your money on something that is not real.

Navigating the world of vintage furniture can be tricky, but that is half of the fun. Once you find the piece that captures your eye and heart, you will be so happy you took the time to prepare and learn about shopping for this type of product.

Why Buy Vintage?

For some people, vintage furniture is something that speaks to them. They don’t like the mass-produced and sleek items available today. Older pieces have unique styles that you won’t find anymore. They also have history to them, which is valuable to some collectors.

You may want to buy pieces for your own home or to resell. In either case, you want to be sure it is a genuine vintage piece. You may wonder how old is vintage furniture or what is considered to be vintage furniture. According to Urban Americana, the basic answer is that vintage furniture is anything that is at least three decades old. If you find something more modern, it is used furniture and doesn’t get the vintage label.

You may wonder why it is worth your time to shop for these older pieces. Custom Home Group explains these pieces can help you save money, are environmentally friendly, and have a style you won’t find in more modern furniture.

Plus, many older pieces will be better made. Manufacturers likely used artisans to make them. Mass-produced items don’t last, so you won’t usually run across them. You can expect most surviving older pieces are still around because they have such quality craftsmanship.

How To Identify Vintage Furniture


It is essential to understand what makes vintage pieces valuable. You want to know the little details that give away that the piece is old enough to be vintage. It all starts with research.

You must know what you want before you start to shop. Window shopping or browsing is not advisable if your goal is to get a deal on an authentic piece. If you go into it without doing any research, you can expect to either pay too much or end up with a piece that isn’t vintage.

If you have your eye on a specific material or brand, you must understand which details identify and prove that the piece is verifiably vintage.

For example, if you want to buy wicker pieces, you must first learn how to identify vintage wicker furniture. To start with, you’ll have to understand what wicker is. It is easy to confuse with other types of weaves.

Wicker is a woven material. It is rigid and very sturdy. Other woven materials are ratan, which is not wicker and often less durable than actual wicker. Genuine wicker is heavy with a sturdy frame. It will always have a smooth texture to the reeds.

As you shop, look for the designs used for wicker traditionally in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when wicker had a boom in popularity. You may also want to look at the designs from the 1980s when it also saw a surge in production.

Shopping based on a particular brand may be more straightforward. For example, you can learn how to identify vintage Woodard patio furniture because this brand has some distinctive features for which you can look.

The company has many lovely vintage pieces from its earlier years. It’s produced furniture for over 150 years.

No matter what type of piece you want, Woodard products have incredibly high quality. You will notice that if you look carefully at the details. The brand also has unique markings, including paper labels, embossed labels, metal labels.

You want to know what you want so you can learn the tricks to identify authentic pieces. For example, suppose you want to learn how to identify vintage cast iron furniture or how to identify vintage wrought iron furniture. In that case, you need to do your research on early cast iron or wrought iron manufacturing.

How To Shop


Before you shop, you must familiarize yourself with the top brands. Know what quality craftsmanship looks like. Ensure that you know what signs to look for that point to an authentic vintage item. You also need to know the basics of buying vintage.

Shopping for a used piece is much different from shopping for something new. You can’t take anything for granted. Always make sure the piece has good bones and check every inch of it.

You want gently used and not battered. You can usually fix minor issues quickly enough without damaging the value too much. However, if a piece is in rough shape, then it is usually more junk than treasure. You should know when to walk away.

While you may have your heart set on specific brands, do not limit yourself so much. The less popular brands can be just as amazing. So, don’t turn your nose up at a brand you don’t know.

Architectural Digest suggests looking for rare pieces. This is especially important if you want to resell the furniture. They are also a good investment for your personal collection.

Finally, trust your gut feeling when shopping. If you are completely drawn to something, then buy it. Even if that item is not what you set out to buy, you will likely be happy with your purchase.  

Where To Shop


After doing your research and preparing yourself with the tools you need to know how to identify vintage furniture, the next step is figuring out where to buy items. There exists a range of retailers, but some offer better chances of nabbing vintage deals.

The obvious first place you may look is in vintage or antique stores. They will often have great finds, but you may also run into higher prices. The retailer has a lot of overhead costs that you will pay a part of when you buy a piece.

However, retailers make it easy to buy, and they usually have done all the research for you. You can learn a lot from buying from retailers, and they can even help you find specific pieces you want. So, don’t count them out.

You can also hit up auctions. When the estate of an older person or a family estate goes on the block, you can find amazing things.

Flea markets are another great place to shop. Some antique dealers use flea markets as their main sales space, so you can find some nice things. Plus, flea markets allow for negotiation, so you can get some great deals.

Secondhand stores may also have some finds, but you really should be careful about the quality in these stores. Many people only donate after they have made full use of an item, so they may not be in the greatest shape.

The more modern option is to shop online. There are plenty of vendors on the internet where you can find amazing pieces.

Of course, there are a few things about online shopping that may be problematic. First, you don’t get to see the piece in person. Second, you have to figure out how to get it to you, which can be an issue if you buy something like wrought iron patio furniture. Expect to pay a fortune in shipping.

Ideally, though, to bypass any issues, you should buy from dealers in areas in which you can drive. You need to check out the piece in person and save yourself costly shipping charges.

The bottom line with shopping and figuring out where to shop is to find good sources and stay loyal to them. Once you find a good course, keep going back. When you develop that relationship, it can really help you to cultivate a relationship that can benefit you in the future.

Vintage Furniture Buying Tips

There is so much you need to know to be successful with buying vintage furniture. The following cover tips on how to identify vintage furniture, shopping hints, and other advice to ensure you get the best deals and make exceptional finds.

Tips For Choosing Pieces

Whether you are buying for yourself or reselling, you must ensure you have enough space for whatever you buy. You cannot leave vintage pieces in unprotected areas without suffering damage.

You need to be sure it will fit where you want it to go. Always measure your space and the piece before making the purchase.

Do not let issues push you away. You cannot expect perfection in a vintage piece. Unless you buy completely refurbished pieces, which will be expensive, expect to put some work into it.

With that said, make sure it is work you can do. Do not buy something that will require extensive work with which you have no experience or feel you cannot do. Unless it is an incredibly rare piece, it often isn’t worth it to buy a piece in bad condition.

However, don’t be afraid if something is visually unappealing. You may be able to make some minor changes to make it work. A good example is unattractive upholstery that you can easily change.

You also may want to consider alternative uses for a piece. You may find the dresser doesn’t suit you as a dresser, but using it in a different way may work. You want to think outside the box about pieces that may not fit your needs exactly.

Keeping an open mind as you shop will be highly beneficial. You may not find the exact item you are looking for, but if you can just think beyond the obvious, you may run across something else that will work.

On the other hand, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. It is far too easy to go into a store or market and feel stress over the many options. It is best to have a list of specific items you want and stick to it if you can.

Tips For Getting the Best Deal

You will probably overpay for an item at some point, which is fine if it isn’t happening all the time. You really need to hunt out the best deals when shopping.

You should never expect items to be in ideal condition because a vintage piece that is usable from the start will cost a pretty penny. Be ready to put some work into it to get the best deals.

Be ready to bargain. You should never take the price tag as the last word. Check over the piece and use any defects or flaws to negotiate a better price. If you see alterations, use those, too.

Know the actual value. You can’t negotiate well if you have no idea of the real value of the piece. You could offend a seller who is offering you a great price by asking for a lower one. For example, if something is rare, you can expect to pay a top price for it, regardless of the condition.

Cultivate good relationships. When you are loyal to sellers, they are more willing to offer you a discount because they know you will return. They may even let you have early access to new hauls or make you aware of sales before the general public.

Tips For Avoiding Buyer’s Remorse

You are bound to make a purchase that you regret at some point in your vintage furniture shopping journey, but you shouldn’t feel like this too often. The key to avoiding buyer’s remorse is to make intelligent buying decisions and go into the process with the knowledge of how to identify vintage furniture.

The biggest tip to avoid overpaying or ending up with something you regret buying is to educate yourself about knockoffs. Most of the time, when a buyer feels they made a mistake, it is because they bought something they thought was authentic only to find out the seller scammed them.

Knockoffs can sometimes be very convincing, which means you have to be highly aware of what you are buying. You should also have the ability to sniff out minor signs for when something is not right. In some cases, the seller may not even be aware the item is a knockoff, which means you need to be even more alert.

You will also run into pieces done in the style of genuine original work. Know how to distinguish between these copies and the real thing. You should also understand what makes something original or a reproduction.

It is imperative to be aware of all the vintage items that are not vintage. You will need to take time to research and do your homework.

Some clues that something is not original is to look at the joints. Older pieces didn’t use machines to join parts, so there is often irregularity. Machine pieces are too neat. An old piece will have wear and tear, so look for authentic wear and tear and not just work that makes it look old.

You should also check for labels. Reproductions won’t have the original labels. Artisans may have hidden labels inside drawers or along the back or bottom of a piece. You may even spot an area where there used to be a label that can help you out.

Beyond that, ask a lot of questions. The seller should be able to provide you with good information about where it came from and how they got it. They may be able to tell you about the previous owner or give you some insight into its history.

Some sellers will not be truthful, though, so do not rely on the seller as your only way to check the authenticity of a piece.

Another common reason for buyer’s remorse is buying something that is just garbage. You need to pay attention to signs of a piece that is too far gone for you to save. If it stinks or has stains on the upholstery, it may be best to walk away.

Smoke damage of any kind is impossible to remove. You cannot air it out or even fix it. Musty smells also may be too far gone to get rid of and will linger behind even if you refurnish. Animal urine is another smell you will find almost impossible to remove.

Any signs of pests should be a clue to leave it. First of all, it will make repairing the piece too hard because there is probably structural damage. Second, you don’t want to risk bringing pests back to your home or shop where they will infest other items you have.

Tips For Making the Purchase

These final two tips focus on making the final decision to buy something. You want to be sure that you do not make a mistake when making that end agreement.

The first tip is never to buy something just because the price seems reasonable. If you don’t need it or want it, don’t buy it. If you are not feeling a connection with the piece, don’t buy it just because it isn’t expensive.

It is perfectly fine to walk away without buying anything. You need to make sure you know this and remember it.

The second tip is never to hesitate when making a decision. If you are unsure, gather more information to help you make that final decision. If you feel drawn to the piece, identify what is holding you back.

The thing with vintage furniture is you don’t usually get a second chance. If you walk away from something you want, you probably can kiss it goodbye forever. When it comes to something you really want, buy it.

Wrapping Up

Learning how to identify vintage furniture is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to buying old stuff. You need to ensure you go into the process backed with knowledge and skills to find the best deals to help you purchase unique and incredible pieces you can be proud of.

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An interior design professional with a Master's degree in Architecture and 14 years of practical experience.
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