If you have a taste for vintage or antique furniture, clothing and accessories, you may have already discovered that there's a huge marketplace for those pieces, as well as great amount of confusion for what is good vintage, what is a good price, and what is over priced and/or why it's so expensive. I've grown up with a mother who's always found amazing deals on antiques and vintage pieces, but she's also known when it's worth it to drop a few extra dollars on an item, or when to pass on the "perfect" piece and opt for a good reproduction. Momma Judes (as our family so lovingly calls her) has taught me a few tricks of the trade, on how to be a savvy vintage shopper, and against the advice of my interior design friends, I'd like to share
DEFINE YOUR STYLE + START WITH A DIRECTION
The world of vintage and antique can be daunting and many do not know where to start. I would suggest, first and foremost to start creating a collection of images that describe what personally captivates you. This can easily be done through Pinterest by creating boards. Once you start to pull together images of rooms, outfits or items that you love and look at them all together, you'll be able to see a cohesive thread. Within that thread you might start to see a particular design era or genre come to light. When you have begun to understand your own aesthetic, you can move on to my next tip.
Remember the tagline, "Knowledge is Power" from School House Rock, well its true in the case of vintage shopping, it's also valuable. The number one thing you must understand about buying vintage and antique furniture, accessories and clothing is that you have to know what you're buying. You have to spend a little extra time understanding the background of an item to really grasp the details and the typical price point for each piece.
For example, let's take the ever common, classic Bamboo Chippendale Chair. If you do a quick search for these chairs on Chairish, you'll find a ton of them at a range of price points. You'll also find new replicas from Ballard Designs, and on 1st Dibs, you'll find even more, that are going to cost you a pretty penny. With a little research into these chairs you will quickly discover, that they were originally designed by the infamous, English cabinet maker, Thomas Chippendale. His designs were all the rage in the mid-Georgian, English Rococo and Neoclassical styles of furniture. One of the closely linked designs is this bamboo-turn chair that reached height of popularity in England at the end of the 18th century. The bamboo style chair is strongly influenced by Chinese details, or better known to be within the style of Chinoiserie.
In the 1960's, these chairs resurfaced in garden rooms and outdoor spaces, thanks to such designers as Tony Duquette, Mark Hampton, and Dorothy Draper. With that sort of history, of course these chairs are covetable pieces that are going to remain classics for many years to come. Knowing this, you may then decide, paying a little extra will be worth the investment, or you may just decide a well made modern replica will suit your taste. Because these are classic, there have also been a ton of reproductions made through out the years, so it is more likely than not, that originals are harder to come by, and even vintage pieces will be reproductions from the 70s and 80s. Because of that, I would not recommend spending too much money on one of these chairs.
KNOW YOUR MARKET
(+ A Little Geography)
This is also, a little more in line with research, but has a slight twist as it doesn't exactly pertain to the specific items themselves. When buying vintage and antique, you will often find better versions of those items in geographic areas where they are a plenty. You will also, find them at lower price points.
For example, Midcentury furniture, let's take the Eames lounge chair. If you were to take a trip to either the mid-west where suburbs boomed in the post war years, or to any retiree locale, you may end up finding a lot more of these chairs than if you were to look in New England. That's because, they were designed in 1956, about 13 years after War War II ended. Now, when they hit mass market retail, wouldn't you guess that's also when many of the boomer babies were beginning to come of age to start a family. Which also means that many of the initial buyers of these chairs were living in the suburbs or now, have relocated to the retiree hubs of the US. In turn, when the market is more saturated with the real thing, prices will decrease. This is true across the board, you will find more shaker style furniture in the North East, more Rattan in Los Angeles, and more Mission Style or Arts & Craft style furniture in Northern California.
Secondly, understanding the difference between styles of stores will give you an idea as to why sometimes the same kind of items will cost more or less in different stores. If you happen upon an Eames chair in a thrift shop, most often that chair came from donation. In turn the price of the item does not include a finder's or sourcing fee. If you find the same item in an antique store, it will mostly like come at a higher price. Because not only does the value include the price of the piece, but also the time and fees that went into bringing this chair into the seller's store. Antique stores are curated collections, often each item is carefully chosen based on it's quality and the market. Additionally, sellers have to buy these items from their original sellers, pay for any delivery fees and include the value of their time that went into finding the piece. So, although you're paying a little extra for a chair from an Antique dealer than if you were to purchase it from a thrift shop, the price can also come with assurance that this item is quality and has been carefully regard before it came into your life.
SEARCH HIGH, LOW, DEEP, NEAR + FAR
Thankfully we have the internet these days to take a lot of the leg work off of us. But no matter what, if you want to find good vintage or antique pieces, you have to search everywhere, have no restrictions (don't be a snob) and don't give up! Also, you have your eyes open at flea markets, consignment shops, Goodwill Stores, Salvation Army stores, Housing Works shops, and Antique stores. I can't tell you home many vacations we've planned around flea markets and when there are 'cute little vintage stores' in the area. My favorite sites for finding pieces are: Onekingslane.com, Etsy.com, Ebay.com, Chairish.com, 1stDibs.com, Craigslist.org, Housingworks.org, Bidsquare.com (a site that pools together all current and upcoming auctions), Moveloot.com, and the latest discovery - moderndesignmarket.com. If you're always keeping your eyes open, you'll never know what you find. It may be an amazing discovery that someone else passed by.
A great example of this, my coffee table. I wanted a brass and glass coffee table for sometime. I searched everywhere and found a few on Chairish that are around the price point of $600, give or take. One day I came across one for $300 at a consignment shop, I literally called them in minutes to see if I could buy it over the phone and come the next day to pick it up! I haven't seen one at that price since... (however, I recently found out that Eddie Ross found his at a yard sale for $10?! - talk about someone who is always looking)
If you're looking for a specific item, you have done your research and know the market, now you may have make the decision between, purchasing new, or to practicing restraint. Which would entail, waiting until the right piece in the right price point comes along. Many of my great finds, have come from waiting for a very long time until I've seen the right one. I've had to pass on a few almost, but not perfects. It can be challenging to wait, but the reward is great!
I had been wanting brass turned candle sticks for a while, but never had the need to purchase them. I scoured flea markets for a over a year to find ones that were flawed, or too expensive. Recently, I saw a pair on Etsy that was under $100. After looking at these for as long as I have, I had enough knowledge to know that the typical going rate is about $125 to $200 for a pair (this is in the NY Metro or North East region), so when I saw them for $80.00, I put them in my favorites pile and waited. Finally, one day came along that I decided it was the time to purchase them, I hadn't found any for a better price, so I bought that pair.
IF IT'S TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, BUY IT
This may seem like a contradiction to Nº 4, but if you've been buying vintage long enough, you'll start to learn when to pull out the credit card (or check book) and when to put it away. I can't tell you how many of my clients have lost amazing pieces because they passed or waited on items that they loved, but thought, "Oh maybe I'll find something better at a better price," even after I begged and pleaded with them to buy it! In the end we had to spend more money on the not so great alternative or the second best option. If you see something that is especially special, or if it has something unique about it, as long as you can afford to, buy it! Just this week I saw a brass shopping bag on Charish for $85. It wasn't something I needed, but a quick search on 1st Dibs enlightened me to many others selling for $650 - $850. I mean, hot damn! I hesitated, and it's been sold!
CREATE ALERTS + REMINDERS
If you have an item that is close to the price you liked to pay, but is still a little too high, create an email alert that will notify if that item becomes lower in price. Or at least put it on your favorite's list so that you can set yourself a reminder to go back to it. Each website has a different system to allow you to do this, and if they don't put a calendar reminder on your phone. If you found the item in an antique store, take a card, ask for the item details, and also asked to be put on a call list for if the item happens to be marked down. My recent purchase of the kitchen sideboard - I wrote about it [here], was purchased in just the same fashion. I put an email alert up on the website, and when the price came down within my price range, my inbox dinged at midnight and I bought the item, just like that!
DON'T BE AFRAID TO BARGAIN
One thing that you'll learn after search high and low for items, there's never a standard set price for anything. So if at all possible, set your own price. Once you have the knowledge of the going rate for an item that you've been hunting for, you should at least asked for them to take 20% off the price. Most often, sellers will agree to 15% or 10% because they'll consider taxes and shipping. Or if you offer to pay cash, they'll remove the tax. Don't worry, you will not offend anyone, and if you know your market, you'll be confident enough to know that you're asking for a reasonable price. The only IF, if the item is unbelievable undervalued, buy it immediately, and politely walk away as quickly as possible, jumping and screaming with joy inside, because holy crap you just found the most amazing piece for the most amazing deal!
HIGHER A PRO
After reading through all of these tips you may be thinking "I can totally do this!" or you may be thinking the exact opposite. Hunting for vintage and antiques comes naturally to some of us and for others, it doesn't. In either case, that is totally fine! Did you know there is a entire industry dedicated to helping people design and furnish their homes? No, well I guess you've never heard of the industry of interior design and architecture. Like any niche market in this world, there are professionals who spend their lives on this work. I'm one of those people and this is something that I love to do! If you feel like you can't do this on your own, well then you are in luck. You can pay a professional to do it for you. They will find you the best pieces and the best price possible for such pieces. Please note however, in addition to paying for the cost of the item, the price of the designer's time will also be included. The vintage hunt is hard work and a designer's time and knowledge is valuable.
Another option, that is similar, is to build a positive relationship with an area antique dealer or vintage seller. Tell them what you're looking for and what you're willing pay. With that knowledge in the back of their mind, if they happen upon said item on a buying trip or at an auction. Remember, their time is valuable as well, the price will have to include their time and the cost of the item, also known as a finder's fee.
Once you've purchased something or haven't purchased it. Take joy in your decision and have no regrets. If you've purchased, stop looking! You'll always find something cheaper or better down the line, but that won't make you feel better. You'll only wished you had waited. If you didn't purchase it and you lost the item, brush it off and keep looking. If you're patient, you will always find something better or cheaper down the line, or you will decide that maybe not cheaper or better is right for you! If you make the mistake of buying an item that is not right for you or home, no worries, you can sell it! You may lose out on a few dollars but you will have gained a little knowledge. Perhaps learning what does or does not work in your home, or if vintage/antique items work within your space.
In the end, this is stuff and we buy it because we love it. We are not all auctioneers or living in museums, we don't need to have items that are the best specimens or the best buy. We just need to have items that we love and speak to our souls, and represent who we are as individuals! Thanks for reading!