key things to look for when selecting quality vintage furniture

I have been making a little progress on our space a.k.a. home. I still have some bigger projects on my list, which will make our living space feel more like “us”. I am slowly but surely continuing to organize & purge (click to read about it). I also chose our color palette; way more fun than organizing and piling things in the donation box. The funny part about the donation boxes that we have ready to go, we are ALWAYS stopping by our favorite thrift stores and I ALWAYS forget to put those donations in the Jeep.

The space that I’m concentrating on improving is our living room / dining room area. I plan to keep all the current furniture pieces, but I’ll be updating them with a little paint to match our new palette, and a little sewing (I’m going to attempt to sew up a sofa cover – this ought to be interesting!). There is that off chance that I’ll find some furniture, or lamp between now and completion that I won’t be able to live without. No guarantees that I won’t add 1, 2, maybe even 3 “new” pieces.

Finally, to the subject. I wanted to share a few tips I’ve learned about selecting quality vintage furniture pieces. One suggestion before I get to the “how”. It’s helpful to take a list of what you are looking for and dimensions when you head out to hunt for vintage pieces. The list may or may not help you focus, but if you’re anything like me, I get very distracted by the shiny, my list stays stashed away, I get home with a truckload of goodies and not one damn thing from my list.

Okay, NOW I’ll get to the subject. Here are a few things we look for when shopping for vintage furniture we plan to rehab:

  •  Sometimes the furniture can be smushed up against other pieces. Don’t be afraid to pull the piece you spy away from the other furniture. Look at all sides, including the bottom. You may find water damage, big chunks missing, or even burn marks from an Easy Bake Oven (I always wanted one, but knowing how clumsy I am, I understand now why my sweet Mama never bought me one!).
  • Is it wood? Is it laminate? Both are good depending on what you plan to do with it. There are a lot of great blogs out there that walk you through how to paint laminate furniture. It’s simple really. A good sanding and primer will do the trick.
  • Open the drawers to see the structure quality. Drawers with dovetail construction is usually an indicator of a good piece.
Dovetail joints can be an indicator that the vintage piece you're looking at is well made.

Dovetail joints can be an indicator that the vintage piece you’re looking at is well made.

  • Often times the manufacturer name is marked somewhere; there’s a reason these companies are still in business today. There is oodles of info about vintage furniture makers available on Google, but off the top of my head Drexel, Broyhill, Ethan Allen, American by Martinsville are a few makers to look for.
  • Look at it’s bottom…tee-hee. If it’s not too heavy, turn the piece over and look for any damage.
  • Give it a wiggle; if it’s wiggly it may just need some tightening, or it could be a sign that it’s a piece of bad junk that should remain there.
  •  Look for any water damage, which leads to nasty smells, which leads to rot, which leads to bad junk that you should leave at the estate sale or thrift store.
  • Is anything broken? Leg, backing, laminate? Sometimes these are simple repairs, but if its beyond your ability, most likely it will sit collecting dust before you take it back for donation. We recently discovered the miracles of Bondo, yes, as in Bondo used to repair cars. With Bondo we’ve repaired legs,  big dings, torn away laminate. We heart Bondo.
Bondo can be used to repair minor damage to vintage furniture.

Bondo can be used to repair minor damage to vintage furniture.

  • Hardware – if you like the hardware, be sure it’s all there. If there are missing pieces of hardware, you may be able to find replacement on Etsy, or eBay, but you may end up paying more than you did for your new furniture.
  • Another thing about the hardware – if you think the placement of the pulls, there are too many pulls, or the new pulls you purchased are larger or smaller, the existing holes can be patched (with Bondo) and new holes drilled. If we are drilling new holes I usually make a pattern so they aren’t off kilter.
    • Tip – lately I’ve been finding some cute drawer pulls at HomeGoods for great prices. No, they are not vintage, but they are CUTE.
  • Not always, but sometimes you can find upholstered furniture at the Salvation Army that has been dry cleaned. I’m not sure why some are and some are not dry cleaned, haven’t asked about that yet. Look for the sticker.
  • This doesn’t have anything to do with how to select quality vintage furniture, but it’s my favorite tip of all…..50% off furniture day at Salvation Army. This sale doesn’t typically include red tag items (like seen in the picture below). I love these sales! From what I understand, it’s up to the individual store to decide on some of the 50% off sales. Ask nicely and the staff may give you the heads up.
Not always, but sometimes Salvation Army dry cleans the upholstered furniture received.

Not always, but sometimes Salvation Army dry cleans the upholstered furniture received.

Phew, that’s all I can think of right now. If you have a good tip that you use to find quality vintage furniture for restoration or restyling, please share.

Get your wish list compiled, and hit those estate sales, thrift stores, and yard sales. Enjoy!

xxoo Kris



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