In my last post I talked about how to get started shopping for vintage pieces for your home, and I went into quite a bit of detail about where to go, both in-store and online. Today I’m going to focus more on what to look for once you’re in the store, how to know whether you’re paying fair value, and how to integrate your finds into your current home decor once you get home. Let’s get started!
What to buy? What to look for?
Almost anything you’d buy new for your home can be found in a vintage version. Some examples of items I look for or have bought are: home decor and housewares, entertaining and serving pieces, kitchen items, lighting, and furniture.
Buy what you love!
I can’t say this enough. Go with your gut and you will never be wrong. You may end up paying more for something you fall in love with, but if you love it and you leave the store without it, you will continue to think about it.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked something up, really liked it, and then put it down only for it to be gone within a few days. Inventory changes constantly in vintage and antique shops, so most likely it won’t be there when you go back. Did you pay too much? Maybe, but that leads me to my next point.
You found something you like. Now what?
Look for any chips, scratches or blemishes. Ideally, you want it free from all of these, but again, if you love it and are willing to look past any imperfections, buy it.
You’re looking for the quality and craftsmanship. Does it have markings on the bottom that would indicate a maker or country? As you shop more and more, you will become more familiar with the maker of items you like. For example, I love pretty much anything that is stamped “Denmark”. Those Danes are great designers and have fabulous vintage wares.
(Also, if there is no stamp or mark, it’s okay. It may mean that the piece is worth a bit more.)
How do you know if you are paying fair value?
Fair value is a tricky subject. Supply and demand dictate pricing with vintage or antiques, as do current trends. Knowing if a price is fair or not comes with experience. I’ve been at this for 10 years, and also have the knowledge of my mother behind me, and even still I am constantly researching the value of items. The more you get out in the stores, the more you browse online, the more knowledge you will gain.
Bring your smartphone with you. When you see something you like, it doesn’t hurt to pull it out and look on etsy or eBay for the item to reference the price. Recently I found a single glass vase (so I thought) that I really loved. It had a pyrex stamp on the top and I’ve been loving vintage pyrex lately. The price was right and I bought it. Later at home, I started researching through Google to find that it happens to be a vintage chemistry beaker and the value was 10 times what I paid for it! Go with your gut.
When you’re first starting out, you may pay too much for an item. You will make mistakes. But that is okay if you followed my advice above about buying what you love. (Did I say that again?)
At one of the first outdoor antique markets I went to as an adult, I saw a turquoise pitcher from far away. I must have jumped over 5 stalls to get to it, and once I picked it up and touched it, I had to have it. Of course, the dealer saw my reaction and my negotiating power quickly disappeared. When he said it was $40, I knew that was high, but I loved it and I knew I wouldn’t come across it again (and I haven’t yet), so I paid it.
Did I pay too much? Yes. Would I pay it again? Yes. It sits on a shelf in my dining room and I see it every day and love it.
If you’ve already been frequenting your local stores and you’ve been mastering eBay and etsy searches, maybe you’re ready for more of a challenge. Try an estate sale or auction! They are a fun way to find really nice items at wonderful prices, but they do take patience. Check out estatesales.net or auctionzip.com for your local ones and just show up. You will be amazed at what you can find.
If you’re heading to an estate sale, the listing usually says “numbers at 8am” or similar. This is when the organizer of the estate sale hands out numbers to those first come first serve. Another time is then posted for when the sale starts and this is when you go into the sale according to your number. You can choose this route or wait a few hours and go when they usually have a 1/2 off sale later in the day or the following day. It’s up to you. I recommend trying both. Bring a bag (to place your goods in as you walk), and keep some boxes and newspaper in the car. I love going into a home and experiencing the history.
This is a new challenge for me. I just recently started attending a few and they are fun, but you need a strategy. The items listed in an auction are usually posted online and there will be a preview a few hours before. Go preview, make some notes and then when the auction starts take a seat. Determine what is the max you may pay for the items you like and then when the item comes up “on the block”, start bidding. But don’t get carried away – knowledge is the best tool here.
How do you integrate vintage into your home decor?
Old and new can exist together. If you love the look of vintage but are intimidated to integrate it into your home, keep the following ideas in mind.
A bit of patience and trial and error is the best place to start. After you buy something you like, take it home and play around with it. Put it on your mantel, hang it on an empty wall or display it on your bookcase. Live with it for a few days and if you don’t like the way it looks or feels, move it. If it’s been a few weeks and you still don’t think it fits, you can always consign it, sell it or give it away. Nothing is set in stone. All you need is the first step, and after a few tries, you will find your style and taste more easily.
Play with opposites
If you have more of a neutral palette, use antiques and vintage items that really stand out or pop. Loud pieces of colorful artwork, vases, rugs or anything of texture are perfect. If you have a more loud aesthetic, then bring in pieces that are white, neutral, silver or gold. Vintage items can be the character you need to pull a room together.
Shop with intention
When decorating your home or changing the look of what you have, make a note of what you need. When I think of something, or when I thumb through a blog or magazine and see a great piece or picture, I write down a note on my phone or notebook so I remember to look for it when I go out hunting.
Recently I needed a piece of art or a mirror over our mantel. I wrote it down, along with a few ideas that I had seen in pictures that I liked. When I attended a summer antique market, I had my list and reviewed it before I went. I found a great black and white watercolor of a bridge. The frame was slightly broken, but it didn’t matter to me because I loved it. It went perfect over the mantel, and had I not had my little list, I may have forgotten that I was looking for it. When you throw an intention out to the Vintage Universe, sometimes it answers back.
Less is more
When I first started my hunt for decorating my home, I didn’t want it to look like the cliché grandma’s home full of OLD knick-knacks and trinkets. I knew in order to make these items look “current” and not cluttered, they had to be simple. Less is certainly more when starting to decorate with vintage. When you bring a piece into your home, let it be the star of the show. Depending on what it is, place it alone or with a few coordinating items (old or new). My vintage lowball glasses sit on my bar in a tray from West Elm, with just a few bottles of liquor. You’ll appreciate your finds more and they will start a conversation.
Want some great examples of vintage accents incorporated into current or modern decor? Try these links:
- Decorating with Handmade Cottage Charm (Better Homes & Gardens)
- Raya Carlisle (Design*Sponge)
- Alexandra Grablewski & Todd Bonne (Design*Sponge)
- Tour an Antiques-Filled California Cottage (Country Living)
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I’m Kelly, Shop Owner and Curator at the Etsy store Vintage Modernista. Living in New England, I’m a mom to two girlie girls, wife to my best friend and lover of all things vintage. Being exposed to vintage at a young age (thanks mom!) helped define my sole purpose of the store: to find really cool old things and put them in the hands of those who want to give them a new life! When I’m not perusing antique stores or shoving others at an estate sale (kidding, but not really), you can find me at home with my family cooking, playing and constantly picking up.