Whether you're on the hunt for mid-century modern, Baroque and Rococo, or pieces of the Tibetan variety, Homepolish designer Ariel Okin knows how to help you navigate the wild world of antiquing.
Have you ever walked into your coolest friend’s place and wondered where they collected all that stuff? You know— the vintage Tibetan singing bowls arranged neatly in a perfect vignette, or the gorgeously worn ‘50s secretary desk with nary a scratch? Family heirloom it (most likely) is not: enter the beauty of antiquing.
Some people in the interior design world make their entire living on the vintage business, traveling from fairs in antique hubs like Round Top, Texas, to flea markets and estate sales across the globe. But you don’t have to be a picking professional to score something special. Here are our tips for aspiring treasure hunters.
SHOP WITH A PURPOSE
As a first-time antique shopper, “it is helpful to understand how you want to incorporate antique or vintage pieces into your home before you embark on the process,” says Andrea Stanford, Senior VP of Brand Marketing and Partnerships at EVERYTHING BUT THE HOUSE (EBTH), an online estate sale marketplace where every item starts at $1 ($1, people!).
“I think that there are some pieces that should never be brand new,” Stanford says. “Antique and vintage rugs, lighting, ceramics, and mirrors are some great pieces that will add the perfect texture and patina to your living space. And I mean, why would one ever purchase a brand new leather club chair?”
Once you determine what you’re looking for, do your homework. You never want to fall so deeply in love with something that you end up overpaying (plus there too many resources to let that be the case). “I would suggest checking auction sites like EBTH.com and Live Auctioneers, as well as some vintage sites to establish a base of what pricing you should consider for items you are interested in purchasing,” Stanford suggests.
If you’re shopping online for vintage furniture and rugs, the more pictures the better.
“The photos should be high quality so that you can see details,” Stanford suggests “For offline or online, when purchasing furniture and rugs, focus on craftsmanship, materials, and hardware. Carved wood, tapered legs, cantilevered armrests, hand-forged nails, dovetailed joints, and materials like walnut and teak are all indications that you are looking at a handcrafted piece. Remember that patina–beautiful signs of aging–and the normal cracking and warping of wood from shrinkage are good signs of an original piece. For antique pieces (items more than 100 years old) this is especially important. For rugs, avoid those with heavy traffic patterns and too much wear, especially if the rug is hand-woven.”
Once you’ve nailed the basics, it’s time to have fun. If shopping in-person, take advantage of your chance to chat one-on-one with vintage and antique dealers.
“Dealers possess a wealth of information, and everyone you meet will have varied areas of expertise–a great opportunity for you to learn about the industry,” Stanford says. “And if shopping online, Google will be your best friend!”
ESTATE SALES VS. ANTIQUE STORES – WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
In the world of “vintage”, this can get confusing. The main difference between the two is that when you shop an estate sale, you are most often finding items that are new to the market. “When we say ‘new to the market,’ it means items that have been hidden away are coming out for the first time; they’ve typically only had a single owner. With vintage and antique shopping, you are seeing things that have already been sourced by the dealers,” Stanford explains.
KEEP IT CLASSIC, BUT FEEL FREE TO EXPLORE
There are a few design elements that are always classic, flexible, and ubiquitous in the antique world. Among them: needlepoint items, and pieces with a handmade feel. “Needlepoint is back! At EBTH, we are also excited about fiber art wall hangings, Japanese wood blocks, West German pottery and anything Brutalist,” says Stanford.
Designed by Lauren Caron.
QUICK TAKEAWAYS (Yes, We Made You a Study Guide)
We’ve drummed up a little cheat sheet for your first time venturing out into the wild. Behold, the top three things a first-time estate sale shopper should know:
Don’t buy anything without measuring it. This rule goes for all interior design decisions, not just antiquing, but even more so when dealing with items that don’t have dimensions straight from the manufacturer. Even in person, think hard, bring a tape measurer, and make sure it is going to fit your space. And if online–check measurements carefully. Don’t just eyeball it!
Be open minded. There are so many simple ways to improve pieces that you find. “For furniture, I always say, ‘fall in love with the silhouette, not the upholstery,’” says Stanford. If you love the shape of a chair, you can always swap the fabric with something new and fresh (make friends with your local upholsterer!). A new lampshades can change a vintage lamp for the better.
Patience is a virtue. “Don’t worry if things get away, you will find other things that you love,” says Stanford. “On the other hand, do trust your instincts. When you find something truly unique that speaks to you, and the price seems fair, snap it up!”
Designed by Marissa Bero.
WHERE TO SHOP
EBTH.com – we said it before, we’ll say it again: every item starts at $1 – yes, $1. EBTH is the world’s premier online estate sale marketplace.
Round Top Antiques Fair – This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Round Top Antiques Fair, an biannual event in Round Top, Texas. Spread out over 30,000 square feet of the famed “Red Barn,” this event is a fun field trip for beginners.
1stDibs – A luxe frontrunner in the online antique space, dealers from all over the world offer one-of-a-kind items including gorgeous Miid-Century Modern furniture and Art Deco gems, among other eras and genres.
Brimfield Antique Show – Situated in the quaint rural New England town of Brimfield, the Brimfield Antique Show began in the 1950s and has become one of the largest and best-known outdoor antique shows in the country. Offerings run the gamut from high-end furniture to junkyard treasures.
Chairish – The funkier, spunkier sister to 1stDibs’ elevated take on antiques is a pleasure to navigate.
Upstate New York – A mecca for interior design and antique lovers alike, the charming tiny towns offer more than just leaf peeping and apple picking. Beacon, Hyde Park, Hudson, Kingston, Rhinebeck, and so on are loaded with well-stocked flea markets, warehouses, and chic furniture shops.