2 Things To Look for When Buying Vintage

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As the saying goes, “Finders, keepers.” But when it comes to antique, vintage and pre-owned furniture, how can you tell if your find is worth keeping? Here are a few tips from experts on the little details that can be charming – and those that are deal-breakers.

The first thing to check out is what kind of climate the furniture has been stored in. “If it’s been sitting in a musty basement, the wood could be moldy,” says Phil Santoro, general manager of Blue Lamb Furnishings in the Boston area. “Some people store older furniture in a basement, and in a wet basement it soaks into the wood a little bit and it could warp.”

Warped wood is a no-go, but smaller defects can be overlooked.

“So much can be restored and repaired,” says Jennifer Sams, owner of vintage and modern furniture shop City Issue in Atlanta. “[With] shaky legs, usually legs are going to be solid wood, and maybe somebody over the years just slid the dresser and made it come loose. A lot of times it’s a matter of getting under the piece and seeing if all the screws are there.” This is especially true of items like dining room chairs, Sams says, where glue tends to dry rot over the years. Gently removing the legs and regluing will make them good as new.

Be on the lookout for dovetail joints and functioning drawers, too, which are important features of a quality piece. Original hardware in good condition will also drive up the value. The importance of the furniture’s finish depends on your preferences. Chipped paint is a bonus if you’re going for shabby chic, but beware of damaged veneer or plywood if you’re looking for a pristine piece of mid-century modern, for example.

“If you are intending on painting it, you can overlook the laminate and smaller things like chips, and even for the hardware, putting on your own hardware is a very fun thing to do,” Santoro says. 

And if the furniture was made well to begin with, a bit of care will ensure it’s well worth the investment.

“There's certain minor things like repairing legs or re-gluing them, resecuring them, but otherwise there’s no reason it shouldn’t last its lifetime once again,” Sams says.

Tags: vintage, warped wood, buying tips