How to Buy Quality Used Furniture
I am a used-furniture-buying convert.
I used to scoff at the idea of buying used furniture and would’ve never dreamed of purchasing more than 50% of the furniture in my house secondhand! Why? The idea of used furniture was kind of icky – who knows where that piece had been?
However, when searching for mid-century modern and french provincial pieces, I found out that used is better when it comes to wood quality. So many of the modern pieces I saw in stores were made of particleboard with a veneer “wood” coat slapped on top. When I searched for secondhand pieces in person and was able to inspect them, I never had to return a regrettable purchase again. Knowing how to buy quality used furniture took me a while to learn, but hopefully my tips & findings will help you in your search!
1. Look for the maker’s mark.
If you’re searching for furniture by a particular designer (this applies mostly to the Danish furniture I was looking at), pull open its drawers or look underneath it for the maker’s seal/stamp. This indicates that it’s an authentic piece from that maker. Here are some examples of stamps that I found:
Knowing who the maker is helps you look up the item and evaluate whether you’re getting a fair price. I always, always do my research before buying a piece now.
2. Knock on the wood.
This one’s kind of obvious, but solid wood also has a solid feel/sound when you knock on it. I also learned that though some people may advertise their furniture as solid teak, a lot of the times it’s a different kind of wood underneath teak veneers. I still haven’t quite figured out how heavy should solid teak be – anyone know? Share in the comments below!
3. Inspect the furniture from all sides.
I’ll admit, I made the mistake of only looking at a pair of pretty nightstands from the front. But when we loaded it into the car and I saw that underneath was all particleboard, my heart sank. After a night of restless sleep (yes I’m crazy), I went back the next day to exchange them. This time, I inspected a different set of nightstands from all sides – and left much happier knowing that I bought higher quality pieces.
4. Open all drawers, turn all knobs, etc.
When we were looking for dressers, I found a number of beautiful-looking dressers in a secondhand shop. However, when we pulled out the drawers, we found that they were difficult to slide out. It’s important that you open all drawers, turn all knobs, or sit on the pieces that you intend to buy.
Pro tip: if you want quality drawers, look for dovetail joints:
This is a way of joining corners that increases the strength, performance, and longevity of drawers versus gluing 2 ends together.
Where to buy?
Honestly, Craigslist and Facebook marketplace have been my best sources. Here’s also a little known fact: you can set up alerts for search terms so that you get emailed when new listings are posted! Here’s how to do it on Craigslist:
You can also scout around in your local vintage/antique stores.
When to buy?
I know that people’s opinions are divided over when you should buy vintage furniture. Should you snatch it up immediately, lest someone else does? Or should you think on it before purchasing?
Hongbo and I have concluded that it’s better to see now, buy later. When we started furniture shopping, we bought a number of items after our first trip to the store. Then I’d go home, research, and find something better. Laden with buyer’s remorse, I’d then return our purchases or exchange them! Now, Hongbo and I have a rule that we are not allowed to buy something upon first seeing it. If we really love it, we’ll come back for it again.
But what if it’s gone by the time I come back for it?!
At the end of the day, it’s just stuff. There will always be stuff. Be patient, and wait for another chance. The only exception to this “see now, buy later” rule is when you know that there are other people also interested in the same item. Knowing you have competition adds a little bit of pressure to make up your mind soon!
Keep the cost of refinishing or reupholstering in mind.
Hongbo and I snatched up a gorgeous mid-century dining set for an incredible price. However, the chair fabric was u-g-l-y. We figured we’d just replace them ourselves. If you, too, believe in DIY makeovers, keep the additional costs in mind. For us, it was worth it because it put our purchase right at market price AND I got to choose the fabric color of my chairs. Win!
Though I enjoy the “hunt” for secondhand furniture, sometimes you might not have the time or energy to do that. That’s when the internet pulls through! Here are some mid-century furniture dupes on Amazon that you may want to consider:
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Where do you buy your furniture? Are you also a vintage-thrifting junkie? 😛
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Other furniture sources: