A Beginner’s Guide to Vintage Furniture

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Whether your home is a perfectly preserved period piece or an eclectic hodgepodge of eras, the right antique or vintage furniture can make a statement or pull a room together. But with estate sales, consignment shops, social media marketplaces, yard sales, and everything in between, where to begin with finding the right vintage furniture for your home?

Vintage vs. Antique
First thing’s first: There is a difference, albeit slight, between vintage and antique furniture. By definition, a piece of furniture isn’t considered an antique until it is at least 100 years old. Anything else younger, but still at least 20 years old, is considered vintage. “Collectables” on the other hand, can be either vintage or antique.

Original antiques—furniture that is the first of its kind and style—tend to be rather pricey depending on where you find them. Reproductions of those pieces that pre-date the 1940s will look just as beautiful, will still have excellent craftsmanship, and can be very affordable.

Where to Search
Finding vintage and antique furniture is a veritable treasure hunt full of excitement, unique finds, and, yes, some disappointment. Because you’re looking for a diamond in the rough—whether a particular style or something that is just right for your home—be prepared to go on a few furniture hunts before you find the right piece.

Estate sales, auctions, flea markets, antique stores, and social media or internet marketplaces are all perfect for finding the right vintage or antique piece for your home. The benefit of visiting a physical store, of course, is that you can inspect the piece yourself, take the appropriate measurements, and determine if the piece is really what you’re looking for.

What to Look For
So how do you identify the real thing from a modern day look alike? Talk with the shopkeepers or sellers of the pieces and ask them questions about the piece you’re interested in. Store owners and workers especially are knowledgeable, not just about the type of furniture you’re looking for, but vintage and antique furniture in general. Ask them how to tell how old something is or what style something is made in.

If you find a piece that you genuinely love, inspect it for:
Reasonable and practical signs of wear and usage. Think about what the piece was likely originally used for. For example, a vintage washstand will show stress signs from where the heavy wash basin sat day after day. These signs can indicate that the piece is authentic.

Dovetailing on drawer joints. As a general rule of thumb, the farther apart and larger the dovetails, the older a piece is. If no dovetail joints are present, the piece is likely not vintage or antique at all.

Cracks, broken pieces, chips, handles that have been replaced. These will either need to be areas that you will need to refinish or repair, or will make use of the piece less-than-ideal.

Proof of provenance. In other words, proof of provenance is the proof of origin, history, or previous ownership. Real silver pieces will contain hallmarks, or furniture may bear a label or stamp from the maker. Occasionally, an original shipping address or maker’s location will be etched onto the back of a piece of furniture. These ultimately will help you authenticate the piece you’re interested in.

Collecting vintage or antique furniture for your home will certainly take longer than shopping for a brand new piece at a furniture store, but the hunt is half the fun. Part history lesson, part treasure hunt, you’re in for an adventure as you seek out the perfect piece for your home.

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