Buying vintage and antique furniture is a great way to add character to your home while ensuring, in many cases uniqueness. It can also represent value for money since even though the initial cost might be higher than a mass produced alternative (though not always) there is the two fold advantage of its potential re-sale value as well as quality of materials and workmanship if chosen wisely. There are many different types of materials to choose from when buying antique and vintage furniture from upholstered, brass and iron to the more recent glass, steel and plastic. In this post I am going to concentrate on wood.
Why relevant now?
– Economics; In the current economic climate spending money wisely is of paramount importance. Vintage and antiques may not always be the cheapest option but can represent good value for money since it is possible to find really well made pieces which will last well into the future. Another advantage is that generally speaking they often contain a higher re-sale value than a modern equivalent.
– Sustainability is of top importance to many people and companies these days. A report carried out by Carbon Clear revealed that an antique chest of drawers has a carbon footprint 16 times lower than that of its modern high-street equivalent, even allowing for it to have been sold, moved and restored twice in its lifetime.
Quality – What to look for?
If you like the overall look of the piece and think it would work well in your house then the next thing to do is to have a closer look at materials and construction. (I will cover ideas on the style and look of furniture in a separate post).
– Overall quality of the wood; It may not be possible to spot what type of wood it is though you can always ask the dealer/ seller/ salesperson if they know. I will not go into detail on the different types of wood in this post but as an overall it should look the same or matching on all sides. The finish on the wood should be consistent and free from chips (if it is varnish). In most cases it is possible to sand and re-finish but this should be taken into consideration when looking at the cost.
– Solid or Veneer?; You can work out whether it is solid or veneered wood even if you are not sure what type of wood it is. One is not necessarily better than the other but generally solid furniture is easier to repair if it is badly damaged. To read a post on why this is as well as spotting the difference click here.
– Generally the fewer knots and cracks the better. Knots reduce the strength of wood and large cracks and splits suggests that the furniture has either not been made from good quality wood or has not been constructed properly. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes knots are exploited as a beautiful element of the furniture and small cracks often look fine on more rustic pieces where these and other imperfections add to the charm.
– Joints should be sturdy and strong. If they are not then you should try to determine if it is possible for either you or somebody else to fix it. You might even be able to negotiate a discount if this is not already accounted for. With solid wood, dovetail and mortise and tenon joints can look stunning and are mostly strong. Re-inforced corner blocks, dowels and screws are okay. Glue, nails and staples should be avoided if you are on the lookout for quality.
– Doors and drawers should open and close easily and fit in place when closed. Again, it does depend on the look you are going for and on heavier, more rustic pieces this might not be as important as on a more refined elegant piece. Knobs and handles should also be strong, firm and free from rust if they are metal.
Where to look:
There are many auctions, furniture fairs, specialist shops and websites where you can find vintage and antique furniture. Auctions and fairs can be fun if you have the time. Specialist shops save the hassle if you do not have the time for these, as well as the advantage of easier returns if you change your mind/ find a fault after buying. See the end of this post for a list of additional links of company websites from each of the following:
– Furniture fairs are held regularly up and down the country especially coming into spring and summer (going in January is not much fun – I know, Iv done it!). A great resource is the iacf website where some of the biggest fairs are listed with timetables and other information. You have to be prepared to sort though the piles so it can be time consuming. If you buy at a fair you can haggle the price and good times to pick up a bargain are right at the end, especially when people are packing up and wanting to get home.
– Auctions are another great place to look and worth it even if just for the thrill of bidding live (though dont bid on an item unless you really want it!) At most auctions there will be a guide price on the item or listed next to the item number so you can decide before you start bidding what you are willing to pay. Bids are made at specific times, you can go along on the day or place a bid with the auctioneer who will do it for you if you can not be there. In many larger auction houses it is also possible these days to bid and watch it live via the internet.
– Specialist shops can be found up and down the country. These can vary from general shops selling furniture of all ages to more specialised shops concentrating on one particular type of furniture. The staff in these shops are normally very knowledgeable and if you have a particular item in mind that they do not stock you can always ask them to see if they can source it for you. Almost every town has an antiques dealer and vintage furniture shops are also very popular. See the list at the bottom for a few examples.
– The internet; You do not have the advantage of actually being able to study the item. However, the advantage is that you can do it from home and there may also be savings to make since the seller will not need to pay for display space. Look out for well described pieces with close ups of elements such as joints and any decorative details. You can always send an e-mail asking for additional information before making a decision. Many shops have an internet site as well so you can check out their items before going along.
If you decide that your item is no longer for you then you should be able to re-sell it. Easy on-line options include e-bay and gumtree. If you have the time and have a good collection of pieces then you could also try a site like Etsy, though this is more time consuming and you should have at least 15 to 20 items up and only really for the serious furniture boffin!. If the internet is not for you then you could try advertising it privately though the easiest way would be to take it to an auction house. They will charge commission but might get a higher price than selling it privately and you might get a sale quicker.
Shopping for antique and vintage furniture can be a really fun things to do and gives you a chance to find something unique which represents value for money. If you have the time and you enjoy it you can go to fairs and auctions. If you are strapped for time but would like to furnish your house with a few pieces then look for specialist shops and websites. Good quality wood is hard wearing and relatively knot free. Joints should be stiff and surfaces well finished, if this is not the case it should be reflected in the price. If you are prepared to do some repairing you can really grab yourself a bargain and get the satisfaction of breathing new life into something old.
There is so much to write on this subject and I will be writing another post on ideas about the type of style and look to go for in another post.. though in most cases if you follow your instincts about this then you should not go too far wrong!.
Fairs and markets:
http://www.iacf.co.uk/: Collection of antiques fairs in the UK.
http://vintageandantiques.co.uk/: Once monthly market in Bath
http://sunburyantiques.com/: Twice monthly fair in at Kempton Park in London.
http://www.driscollsantiques.co.uk/: Stunning collection of high quality British antique furniture in Clitheroe, Lancashire.
http://www.artemisgallery.co.uk/: Lovely selection of antique and vintage items in Bradford-on-Avon
http://www.elemental.uk.com: Spitalfields (London) antiques and vintage shop.
http://www.criterionauctioneers.com/: Auction house in Islington and Wandsworth
https://www.etsy.com/: Great selection of vintage furniture can be found here from small businesses around the world.
http://www.hollyjohnsonantiques.com: Showroom open by appointment.
http://www.wintersmoon.bigcartel.com/ Online vintage.
Other useful Sites