5 Insider Tips for Buying Vintage Home Goods

published Jul 16, 2018
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(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

While we like shiny, new objects as much as the next design lover, we also have a soft spot for all things vintage. Mixing the old with new—be it a sofa from the sixties, art deco drinkware, or linens from the 19th century—can add a cool, one-of-a-kind flair to your home.

“Designers love to mix vintage and modern decor, as more and more people are focused on sustainability and shifting their shopping habits to include consignment goods,” says Elizabeth Brown, CEO of luxury consignment marketplace Viyet.

But that doesn’t mean vintage shopping is easy. Truth is, it’s far from it. Not only do you have to find a reputable vintage store or website, you have to comb through hundreds (if not, thousands) of pieces to determine whether that 1940’s armoire is worth its high price tag.

Brown knows a thing or two about finding great vintage pieces at justifiable prices, and she’s sharing her insider tips here:

1. Plan in Advance

Don’t get us wrong: Aimlessly wandering around vintage stores is a ton of fun, but it’s not always productive. If you’re determined to buy something, it always helps to plan ahead.

“Think through the items you’re looking for,” Brown says. “What’s your dream couch made of? Are you looking for a specific style, aesthetic, brand, size, or material? By zeroing in on what you want, you’ll be able to focus your hunt.”

Bringing paint chips, fabric swatches, or pictures of your space doesn’t hurt, either.

2. Know Your Measurements

Speaking of planning ahead, it’s important to take measurements before starting your search.

“All too often people buy a piece they love before figuring out where [it’ll actually work in their space],” she explains.

Not only is falling in love with a piece that’s too big for your home a total bummer, it’s a waste of time.

3. Always Ask About Condition

You wouldn’t buy a car before asking about its condition, so why should vintage furniture be any different?

“Whether you’re buying a vintage piece online or in person, always ask the seller about the condition,” she says. “Closely inspect signs of wear, damage, and repair.”

If you buy something online and can’t inspect it in person, Brown recommends asking the seller for more information or pictures.

That being said, vintage pieces are decades-old, so the occasional scuff or chip shouldn’t be a complete deal-breaker.

4. Embrace Your Inner History Buff

Vintage furniture and decor can be expensive, but if you want to get a great price—or simply justify the high price tag—ask the seller about its history.

“Getting a good deal is all about understanding the condition and history of a piece,” she says. “Be sure to shop at reputable sites or stores to receive all the details on the pieces you’re looking at.”

Not only will understanding your piece’s history make you a smarter shopper, it’ll be a great conversation starter during your next dinner party.

5. Know the Best Buys

When it comes to vintage shopping, no two pieces are alike. Though prices will vary based on material, condition, and history, Brown says you can typically get a great deal on light fixtures.

“You can often find standout fixtures that no one else will have,” she says. “Unlike combing high-end flea markets, you can trust that the chandeliers, floor, and table lamps will actually work.”

Consignment couches, Brown adds, can offer great bang for your buck too.