No Bad Buys: Expert Advice for Vintage Shopping Like a Pro

published Aug 1, 2017
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(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

The web is brimming with user-friendly vintage decor sellers that make scoring a one-of-a-kind piece easier than ever. However, with all those online options, knowing what to look for, and more importantly, how to separate the good stuff from the bad, isn’t always easy.

To help guide you through, we called on four experts for their must-know tips: Anna Brockway, Chairish Co-Founder and CMO; Anthony Barzilay Freund, editor-in-chief of Introspective (1stdibs’ weekly online magazine); Andrea Stanford, Senior VP of Brand Marketing at Everything but the House (EBTH); and Jason Stein, Chief West Coast Curator of Viyet. Read ahead for everything you need to know to shop for vintage furniture online like a pro.

(Image credit: Samara Vise)

1. Look for reputable sites:

Above all else, our experts agreed on one thing: the first (and most important) step when shopping for vintage furniture online is finding a reputable seller to buy from. “Make sure you’re buying from somebody who truly understands vintage furniture and is able to provide you with full details about condition and provenance.” Freund explains, “A vetted marketplace (i.e. one where a curator has inspected and approved all items before selling) ensures that dealers know their design history and will stand behind the objects they are selling.”

(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

2. Consider the condition:

“When I go searching online for a vintage or antique piece,” says Stein, “I closely inspect its condition, especially signs of age and wear, damages and repairs (and how that might affect the value), and of course, a natural patina.” Adds Stanford: “If you find a piece of furniture that you love, and the pictures or description don’t allow you to fully determine the condition of the piece, don’t be afraid to request more information and images from the owner.”

(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

3. Do your homework:

Once you’ve zeroed in on a particular piece, the pros suggest doing a little more research on the item before pushing the purchase button. “There are so many resources, starting with Google, that will ensure you are not overpaying for something,” Stanford explains. Freund adds, “Past auction results, also found on the web, can give you a sense of furniture’s fair market value and show you how rare or ubiquitous it is. Frequent appearances on design blogs and the pages of interiors magazines can indicate that it’s trending—or soon past its prime.”

(Image credit: Natalie Jeffcott)

4. Pull out your tape measure:

It might seem like a no-brainer, but our experts say that all too often shoppers purchase a piece they love before determining whether or not it will actually work for their home. “People tend to focus on the picture and how big something looks without checking the actual dimensions,” Stanford explains. “And don’t just measure to see if it will fit in a desired space,” she says, “you also need to make sure it can squeeze through the door when it arrives!”

(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

5. Be open-minded:

“One of the biggest obstacles to buying decor, and particularly vintage pieces, is the anxiety surrounding whether the piece will look good in person,” Brockway explains. “That’s why it’s important to remember that there are ways to upgrade a piece if it’s not in perfect condition.” Adds Stein, “Get comfortable with the idea of updating upholstery and any other replaceable details when necessary. Not only will it make shopping for vintage items online that much easier, you’ll wind up with a truly one-of-a-kind piece when it’s over.”