Sunday, August 22, 2010

Vintage Furniture Finds & Shopping Tips

When we're not working on our house, my husband and I have been hunting for fixtures and furniture at secondhand shops, antique stores and at local estate & garage sales as well as searching Craigslist and eBay for bargains. A lot of the things we currently own were handed down to us from family members or bought to fit into our old apartment and they just don't work in our new place. We knew we were going to have to spend some money on these things so we planned for the extra expense and worked it into our budget when we were preparing to buy our home.

My husband is 6 ft. 5 in. and he has a lot of trouble fitting comfortably into the low sofas and chairs that were popular in the '50s and '60s. Over the course of the last few months it's been a real challenge finding pieces that we not only both like and can afford, but also pieces that are comfortable and look good in our house.

One of our biggest disappointments was discovering that some colorful molded plastic Eames chairs we wanted to get for our dining room were just too tiny to accommodate my husbands tall lanky frame. We also had our eyes on a beautiful Case Study style daybed only to discover that when my husband sat on it his knees were almost hitting his chin. This has made us really cautious about buying anything online.

Thankfully my guy seems to fit really well into Danish modern furniture, which is not only beautiful and affordable, but it's also really comfortable. Danes tend to be tall and since my husband's family happens to be from the Baltic area (Latvia to be exact) it probably shouldn't be too much of a surprise that he's comfortable in Danish furniture and in the last few months we've found some beautiful Danish modern and Swedish pieces for our home.

Our first find was this incredible Dux sofa. Unfortunately it was badly stained and damaged. It also had a nasty musty odor that may have been cat urine so we're getting it reupholstered. Thankfully we were able to find some beautiful vintage Danish fabric in a color that we both really like so the sofa should still maintain its vintage appeal once it's reupholstered. I also like the idea of recycling all these vintage materials (sofa and fabric) to make a piece that will really be our own and reflect our personal taste. In the process we're learning that reupholstering anything can be really expensive so now we're taking this into consideration before we buy any vintage pieces.

New old sofa!

Our next find was these two lovely chairs. They have no obvious markings but we believe they're Danish modern. They were in wonderful condition and just needed a good cleaning.

New Old Chairs

Our most recent find is this beautiful Swedish credenza with a matching hutch. It's also in terrific shape and looks amazing considering its age.

Mid-Century Modern Hutch

All of these pictures were taken at the places where we purchased the items. We always bring our camera as well as some measuring tape along with us whenever we go out looking for vintage furniture so we can be sure that we're making smart purchases. In the past our excitement has occasionally overcome good sense. We once bought a sofa that was too big to get into our apartment so now we're extra cautious.

Here's some of my tips for buying vintage furniture:

1. Size Matters: Before buying any piece of furniture make sure you measure the area where you plan to place it twice. Occasionally your good sense might become blinded by a beautiful piece of vintage furniture that looks great where it is but won't fit into your home.

2. Comfort Matters: No matter how beautiful a vintage piece of furniture is, you should also make sure you can fit into it or use it comfortably before purchasing anything. Returning furniture can be complicated and expensive unless you happen to own your own moving van. Sellers on Craigslist and eBay rarely take returns and many second-hand shops don't offer them either.

3. Bring Your Camera & Some Measuring Tape: Whenever you go shopping for home furniture make sure you bring a camera and don't be afraid to snap a few pictures of the items you're thinking about purchasing. You can use these photos for personal reference and if you don't purchase an item right away you'll have the photos to take home with you so you can make decisions later. Also make sure you measure any item twice that you intend to purchase before buying it. Even if you think you know the size of something after reading a description on Craigslist or talking to a seller, their own measurements could be wrong so it's better to take your own measurements so you won't have any regrets later on.

4. Reupholstering Can Be Expensive: Before you buy a vintage piece really take the time to consider if you can live with the condition it's in. If a chair or sofa needs to be reupholstered it can be an expensive process so make sure you consider those extra costs before buying an old piece that needs some work.

5. Delivery: If you don't own a vehicle that's large enough to haul your own furniture purchases and don't have a friend or family member that can help, you may have to rely on the seller or yourself to get your furniture purchases home. Make sure you ask about delivery costs before purchasing anything so you can factor that into the cost. If you have to take care of delivery yourself you should also research local rental places to find the best deals on car rentals or moving vans and trucks. Also make sure you have someone to help you move heavy items if the seller won't lend a hand.

I hope some of these tips are helpful. Most of them are just common sense suggestions that you've undoubtedly heard before but I figured I'd share them anyway since I have to remind myself of them all the time. My own common sense tends to disappear when I come across a beautiful vintage piece that I want for my own home. Before I measure anything or ask important questions I find myself pulling out my wallet, which has gotten me into trouble in the past. Hopefully someone can learn from my mistakes.


  1. Great post, thank you. I am furnishing our place with mostly vintage pieces too (lots of Danish modern, some of it handed down to us from my grandparents and parents). I was very interested in your comment about the Eames chairs--I love these, but my husband and I are both tall and I'm afraid I'll have to cross them off my list of potential dining chairs.

  2. Thank you! I'm glad someone found this post useful. Of course you might not find the chairs as uncomfortable as my husband did (I'm about 5'6 and I was comfortable in them) but I would recommend trying them out first before you purchase them. We visited a local Design Within Reach store so he could sit in some. We had planned to try and look for similar chairs on Craigslist but obviously that didn't happen. We currently own some Gilbert chairs from Ikea that we've had for 5 years and they're just a tiny bit taller than the Eames chairs but an inch or two off the ground seemed to make a lot of difference to my husband.

  3. I love the Dux sofa. Absolutely beautiful. I'm looking forward to the finished product. I recently posted on a group of Dux pieces that were given to us. We had been eying them for nearly a year before we actually got them. You have found some gorgeous pieces.

  4. I like your blog !!!
    merci bonne continuation.

  5. about how expensive was it to have that couch reupholstered, if you dont mind me asking? I also have a couch that i need done and was wondering about how much it would be. thanks. love the site.

  6. It cost us about $900 but keep in mind that I'm in CA (every thing's pricey in CA) and we also used vintage fabric which wasn't cheap. We won't be getting anything else reupholstered anytime soon but we recently got the couch returned to us and it's absolutely stunning. The workmen ship was topnotch! I hope to share some pictures of our new/old sofa soon.

  7. I love those cool armchairs! They would look great in my retro house. (with a good cleaning)



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