Expert Tips for Finding Vintage Furniture

K. Randall Wilcox

Great deals on vintage furniture can be found if you know where to look.

With spring cleaning comes my usual desire to stir things up around the house. Instead of my annual pilgrimage to IKEA (which really needs to open a store here in Raleigh), I’m feeling nostalgic. I know. for some, shopping for vintage furniture is a hobby that borders on obsession, but I am a neophyte when it comes to finding my “new” sofa among the well-crafted treasures of years gone by. Fortunately, I knew just who to call.

Leigh Ann Lentz has turned her life-long passion for vintage goods into a full-time job as proprietor of Lentz and Company, a storefront in Cincinnati’s hip gaslight district, dealing in all things retro, kitsch, and vintage. Who better to advise me before I begin my quest for the perfect vintage sofa, chaise or recliner?

Charming and delightfully thorough, Leigh did not disappoint. I feel like I’m ready to hit the streets, armed with great strategies for finding exactly what I’m looking for (and perhaps some must-haves I haven’t considered) without suffering the buyer’s remorse that comes with paying too much or dragging home merchandise that isn’t right for my space-age bachelor pad.

It always pays to have an expert in your corner. Here are Leigh’s tips for shopping vintage with a minimum of buyer’s remorse.

Where to Shop

Estate sales, flea markets, thrift stores and garage sales are old standbys for finding vintage furniture, but we are living in a modern age. Leaving the house to track down gently-used treasures is no longer requisite. Craig’s List is a spectacular resource for finding local bargains and Leigh agrees that online auctions have changed the face of secondhand shopping, but suggests that nothing beats pounding the pavement when it comes to bargain hunting.

“Go see what you’re buying in person whenever possible,” warns Leigh. “There are great deals to be found online, but it is a little more difficult to know what you’re getting. You may get the price you’re after, but you get it home and discover it lived in the basement of a heavy smoker for thirty years.”

When to Shop

“The warm weather really gets things rolling. There are plenty of sites out there for finding out when garage sales, flea markets and estate sales are happening. Mark your calendar. ” Leigh reminds me that the early bird gets the worm.

“Do your research, find a routine and schedule your outings. If a sales event lasts two days, you don’t just want to get there the first day, you want to get there early on the first day. Even setting a routine for visiting thrift stores that have a high turnover can really pay off.”

What to Bring

“You want to make things as easy as possible for both you and the seller. Bring a measuring tape, especially if your space is limited. Bring your own bags or boxes if you expect to pick up smaller items and have a plan for picking up larger items. You don’t necessarily have to show up with a truck, but expect to retrieve your purchases on the same day.”

Another advantage of living in the technological age is that most of us already have a powerful research tool in our pocket. Keep your smartphone at the ready for looking up designer information, checking online prices for similar items or double-checking directions to your next bargain destination.

What to Buy

“When you’re shopping for furniture that was built in the 40s through the 70s or earlier, they’re usually built things to last. Check carefully for damage and make sure all of the pieces are there, but ‘good bones’ aren’t too hard to find.”

“You should have a wish list for those things that are important to you,” says Leigh, “but be prepared to stray. You may find a piece that can be repurposed to fit your needs or that might change your plan entirely.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment when a deal presents itself. Leigh also suggests having a budget when bargain shopping to keep things from getting out of hand.

What to Pay

“That’s another big advantage of shopping in person. Negotiation isn’t just accepted, it’s expected. Many sellers in those situations set the price with a discount and mind,” Leigh explains. “Don’t demand a crazy number and expect them to take it, but they are often willing to work with you to find a price that you can feel good about.”

“Oh, and there’s one more thing you should plan to bring with you and that’s cash,” adds Leigh, laughing. “Cash is king, even with vendors who take credit cards. They don’t want to pay the credit card fees and it can make a real difference when negotiating on expensive items like furniture.”

“There are great vintage finds out there, but you may have to do a little digging. If you’re like me, part of the fun is looking for those deals. Of course, it’s even more fun when you find them,” concludes Leigh with a chuckle.

I couldn’t agree more. See you out there!

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