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5 Things to look for before buying vintage furniture

You can create a space that’s uniquely you by buying vintage furniture. To help you curate a look that’s more fabulous than flop, we’re sharing tips from the pros on what to look for before you lay down the cash.

Before and after -- Thrift store furniture

Vintage shopping has many perks. From the thrill of the hunt to the high from scoring a sweet deal, hitting up your local flea market or secondhand shop can help you create a custom look for your home.

To avoid getting an item that you’ll be posting on Craigslist a week later, we’re sharing tips from interior designers and vintage shopping pros to help you deck out your digs in style.

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Before you go

“First and foremost… I never leave my house without the measurements of the spaces I’m interested in filling, and on that note, a tape measure too!” says home and “life-styling” expert Dee Murphy of Murphy Deesign.

“I’m pretty good at ‘eyeballing’ sizes and spaces, but if there is a piece I spy that is so special it might just fly out the door… I can’t afford to go home and start number crunching. Be prepared!”

What you should take

Cash for shopping is a no-brainer, but what else should you take along?

“A full stomach, an inquisitive eye, weather-appropriate shoes and an idea of what you are looking for,” recommends interior designer Catherine Fellowes.

Fellowes recommends not obsessing about where a piece will go in the space. “If you love it, you will find a home for it.”

“It also doesn’t hurt to have a trusted refinisher in your Rolodex!” Fellowes advises.

Before and after -- thrift store furniture

5 Things to look for when shopping for vintage furniture


Good bones

“Does the piece you want to buy have ‘great bones’? Is the basic structure sturdy? Was it custom made to begin with?” These are all questions Murphy asks when looking at a piece.

While Murphy says there is a point of “‘no repair” for some items, it really only applies to the structure and not decorative finishes like upholstery.


The real deal

Vintage shopping is not the time to purchase an Ikea find on the cheap.

“Look for pieces with solid wood, not veneer,” Murphy says. She recommends looking for dovetail joints in furniture for signs of quality workmanship instead of “pieces that are just nailed together with crappy hardware.”


Designer finds

We all love scoring a sweet designer piece, and nowadays it’s much easier to see if you’re snagging a piece by a known furniture manufacturer.

“Google is a godsend!” Fellowes says excitedly, wondering how she ever lived without it.

Here is her technique for researching a vintage find:

“Type in any name you see on the piece, any description and or unique characteristics. If I don’t have a name but have a unique characteristic, I type that into Google and click ‘images’ and scour the photos that come up to find a match, and then click on it to learn more.”

“It also doesn’t hurt to brush up on your history,” Fellowes advises. “Even religiously perusing the weekly 1stdibs listings can teach you a lot about furniture and the decorative arts over time.”



Flea markets can be flooded with reproduction pieces. To focus on finding the real deal, take time to carefully examine the item.

“Most vintage pieces will come with some sort of stamp or marking from the original maker,” Murphy says. “If you have the time to take a picture of the piece and sit right there in the store and Google the designer — do it (an honest owner won’t sweat it). That’s the beauty of vintage shopping in our day and age… the internet can get you the answers you need almost immediately!”


Walk on by if you see this

“Bugs!” Fellowes exclaims.

She recently heard of two separate cases where people brought home upholstery pieces that were filled with bed bugs!

“They brought the item into their house and later had to fumigate the entire place. That’s a terrifying thought.”

More decorating tips

Tips for mixing vintage & modern pieces
Lara Spencer offers tips from HGTV’s Flea Market Flip
Home makeover tips that reflect your personality

Photo credits: Dee Murphy

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