A short guide to buying vintage and second-hand furniture *

Sustainable Interior Design

This blog post explores the art of buying vintage and second-hand furniture – a sustainable and creative approach to interior design.

I may have just missed Oxfam’s second hand September – which mainly focusses on fashion, but I don’t think we should be concentrating solely on fashion, or even buying second hand at certain times of the year, instead, we should be building it into our lives and homes whenever we can. Homes are more than just spaces; they each tell a unique story, and so do the items we fill them with. By integrating vintage furniture into modern homes, you are adding to your unique home story.

“I don’t want to buy a new dining room table every five years; I want one that has lived through hundreds of family dinners and inebriated evenings with friends”

Quote from Modern Family Homes by Anna Cor.

There is definitely a thrill when you spot a unique second hand find. My mum was an avid jumble sale and car-booter when I was growing up – Sunday mornings were dedicated to a weekly trip the local car boot sale. I used to love that if there was something you really needed or were looking for one week, you could be almost certain that it would be there waiting for you. I don’t believe in manifesting and I’m certainly not a spiritual thinker – but there was definitely something about saying it out loud that meant when you got there, what you were looking for was waiting for you!

No longer one for early mornings, or rummaging around in someone else’s car boot, however I do still get that same sense of excitement at the anticipation when vintage and second-hand furniture shopping. Those unique second-hand finds that already have a story. The ones that have a patina of life and are ready for another layer to be added.

Old and new

Styling old and new is one of my favourite ways to build a layered interior, it adds personality, texture and contrast, as well as making it a sustainable choice for your home. There are not many pieces of furniture in my own home that aren’t either second hand or vintage – and although I live in a seventeenth century farmhouse, mid-century furniture is a perfect, modern(ish) contrast – (more on that another time.) Vintage pieces have already proven their durability, maintaining their timeless aesthetic, unlike modern, mass-produced items and are an obvious choice for someone looking to create a unique home story .

Tips for second hand furniture shopping

Buying second hand isn’t for everyone, but it can be a satisfying experience if you’re ready to embrace the journey. Here are my top tips to consider from an interior designers perspective:

  1. Know (vaguely) what you are looking for: Keep it loose – i.e. storage, seating, display etc. Focus on purpose rather than piece. That specific piece you have in mind might never turn up, so I always recommend keeping an open mind.
  2. Consider what works for you: It is easy to get carried away. To avoid any hasty, regrettable purchases, be clear with yourself and get to know your own style boundaries. Style boundaries are totally personal – (contrasts work for me, but a lot of people will prefer items that are more in keeping with one another).
  3. Know your maximum space: Understanding the dimensions you need is crucial for making informed decisions. I suggest keeping a note of the maximum size of the space you are looking to fill. Flexibility can be key to finding the right vintage or second hand piece – by knowing the maximum size constraints, you can make considered choices on whether a piece will work in the area you have available.

I have also spoken with vintage sourcing expert and shop keeper extrodinare Laura Budds from Norfolk Retro, here are Laura’s top tips when searching for unique second hand finds:

  1. Consider proportions – Bear in mind that old houses and people used to be much smaller than we are these days and often the furniture is too. Be sure that you are happy with the proportions, if you have a large space – a small seat may look out of place.
  2. Are you willing to do any work to an item? Condition will be a big factor in price so it is worth considering how much work, if any, you are happy to do to extend your budget.
  3. Don’t forget transportation! Think about how you are going to transport items and always remember to factor in delivery costs. Moving large pieces of furniture from one side of the country to another can add up.

Always be ready!

One other thing from me – be ready! Successful second hand and vintage sellers are often known for certain styles and when a good piece comes up, they sell out fast! Being prepared in advance will give you the best chance of getting your hands on that piece when it finally shows up.

Buying second hand may not be for everyone, but If I can encourage anyone to take a ‘slower’ approach to interior design, I promise that by waiting for the right pieces to come to you, then you will love it for longer and you can gradually build your own narrative with them in your home. Imagine the stories these pieces have already lived through. If furniture could speak it would have the best kind of gossip.

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