Buying vintage and antique furniture is often a shortcut to creating a home that is full of personality and charm. Original pieces that are slightly time-worn, that may require a touch of upcycling and come with an interesting back story, are a creative asset when decorating.

It has never been easier to shop for antiques and vintage furniture. Marketplaces like Selency, Pamono and 1st Dibs provide a platform for antique resellers and shops to sell their wares worldwide, the newly-launched Narchie does so in a handy app format, whilst savvy vintage store owners like The Old Cinema and Louisa Grace Interiors are migrating online.

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Rachael Smith

“Shopping vintage has never been more popular, with the influx of vintage sellers on social media, almost everyone owns something vintage today,” says Lia Briamonte, founder of Anemone Interiors. “Buying vintage is an investment. They will never lose their value.”

“There’s an assumption that second-hand means second best, but this isn’t the case at all,” says Harriet Pringle, founder of Narchie, a treasure trove of vintage and antique furniture and homeware. “Remember that although they have been preloved by someone else, these pieces are still ‘new’ to you, and that doesn’t make them any less valuable or special. Plus the great thing about older furniture is that it has often been made to last, so the quality is usually a lot better than newer pieces.”

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Huntley Hedworth

There are of course plenty of benefits to buying second-hand that go beyond quality.

“Buying second-hand and vintage is the most sustainable way to shop for your home, as it gives new life to something that would otherwise be chucked away,” says Harriet. “Recycling homeware can be complicated, as many items are constructed with a mixture of materials, which makes them difficult, and sometimes even impossible to recycle. By re-using homeware we are reducing numbers ending up in landfill. Plus it means that there are fewer polluting resources being used to manufacture new items.”

Top tips for buying vintage and second-hand furniture

Tip #1 Condition is everything

If you’re shopping in person, have a thorough look at your pieces. “I’m always really careful buying wood, because of wood worm,” says Lia. “Always open the drawers, check round the back, look at the legs. Any sign, walk away.”

When buying online, always get as much information from the seller as possible. “Make sure to ask about the condition of the item and of any imperfections,” says Harriet. “Always check for any signs of irreparable damage, whether that’s rotting wood, water damage, burn marks or woodworm, as this structural damage is difficult, expensive, and usually not worthwhile to fix. If in doubt, always ask for extra pictures. It’s also always worth asking if vintage lighting has been PAT tested or needs rewiring as this can be an additional cost.”

Pair of Italian non matching lamps c.1970

Pair of Italian non matching lamps c.1970
Credit: Anemone Interiors

1980s Italian faux bamboo and cane upholstered chair

1980s Italian faux bamboo and cane upholstered chair
Credit: Anemone Interiors

Trompe L’oeil draped wicker side table

Trompe L’oeil draped wicker side table
Credit: Anemone Interiors

Tip #2 You can always reupholster

Whilst the wear and tear of wood can add to the appeal of a piece, the same can’t be said for upholstery. But if you’re buying sofas, armchairs or upholstered footstools, stains, fraying, or threadbare seats shouldn’t stop you from purchasing.

“Antique chairs and sofas have far more interesting shapes than anything you can buy off the shelf today,” says Camilla Clarke, Creative Director of Albion Nord. “Bring them to life by reupholstering in a fresh, light linen or a jewel-coloured velvet for an instant transformation. We love using antique fabrics found at antique markets or fairs. We tend to use them to upholster cushions, or we frame them as artworks to add a unique point of interest to any room. And you won’t see it anyone else’s house!”

Elm and wicker ball lamp

Elm and wicker ball lamp
Credit: Selency

Vase in ceramic floral motif 23cm

Vase in ceramic floral motif 23cm
Credit: Selency

Vintage armchair

See all Linens & soft furnishings Vintage armchair
Credit: Selency

Tip #3 Look everywhere

There are gems to be found in the most unexpected of places. “Charity shops, car boots and Facebook marketplace are great places to look and you could end up with something really unique,” says Leanne Ward (@sixtysevenbelmont.)

“I always head to eBay when I’m planning a new addition to my home and have found some really amazing and stylish pre-loved pieces – from vintage sideboards right through to flokati rugs and pearl handled cutlery,” says Lisa Dawson, interiors expert and author of Resourceful Living. “Using eBay as a first stop when adding to your space is a more sustainable move – the recycling of interiors, buying less and buying carefully is an all round winner, limiting landfill and being kinder to both the environment and, ultimately, to our pockets.”

Read more: 22 if the best online stores for antique and vintage furniture

Swedish Original Painted Chair

Swedish Original Painted Chair
Credit: 1st Dibs

Charlotte Rhead Bursley Ware Art Pottery Lamp Base

Charlotte Rhead Bursley Ware Art Pottery Lamp Base
Credit: 1stdibs

19th Century Swedish Painted Pine Tool Box

19th Century Swedish Painted Pine Tool Box
Credit: 1st Dibs

Tip #4 Be mindful of your design decades

If you want to fill your home with antique and vintage pieces, be mindful of your decades. “Sticking to 3 decades a room can ensure you avoid the space feeling confused and cluttered, rather than characterful and quirky, says Lucy Ward, Brand Director at Vinterior. “Apply this mentality to your furniture, as well as the structural parts of the room. Think statement 70s wallpaper, coupled with art-deco lamps and a grandiose 1930s chaise longue.”

Vintage Beige Boucle Loop Armchair, 1970s

Vintage Beige Boucle Loop Armchair, 1970s
Credit: Pamono

Vintage Mahogany Luggage Stands, 1940, Set of 2

Vintage Mahogany Luggage Stands, 1940, Set of 2
Credit: Pamono

French Modern Table Lamp, 1980s

French Modern Table Lamp, 1980s
Credit: Pamono

Tip #5 Know your designers

Keep an eye out for well-known makers, and get familiar with the mid-century designers that proliferate the vintage market – Arne Jacobsen, Finn Juhl, Alvar Aalto, Robin Day and Mies Van Der Rohe, Louis Poulsen and Murano for lighting, Ercol for good quality wood pieces and B&B Italia, Ligne Roset or Knoll for great designs from the 80’s.

“We regularly look for Jacques Adnet, Edward Wormley, Pierre Jeanneret, Giacometti, and Maison Jansen,” says Camilla.

Hand-carved geometric panels

Hand-carved geometric panels
Credit: Retrouvius

Ercol Rocking Chair

Ercol Rocking Chair
Credit: Retrouvius

Pair of Crystal Chandeliers

Pair of Crystal Chandeliers
Credit: Retrouvius

Tip #6 If resale is important, do your research

“When hunting for a vintage gem, try and find out who the designer is – some pieces are signed by the designer,” says Lia. “Also look at the condition, doing work to vintage items can actually decrease the value. For me condition is key. We pay a higher price but it’s worth it in the long run.

“Items are becoming harder and harder to source and the value is increasing massively. I sold a Sergio Terzani pink palm lamp 4 years ago for £1500, today that lamp is worth £5000.”

Swedish Original Painted Chair

Swedish Original Painted Chair
Credit: 1st Dibs

Charlotte Rhead Bursley Ware Art Pottery Lamp Base

Charlotte Rhead Bursley Ware Art Pottery Lamp Base
Credit: 1stdibs

19th Century Swedish Painted Pine Tool Box

19th Century Swedish Painted Pine Tool Box
Credit: 1st Dibs

Tip #7 Look for something unique

“We love quirky features that set a piece apart from other similar articles we’ve seen before,” says Camilla. “It could, for example, be an animal foot in the place of a simple bun foot, or a desk with an unusual, scalloped edge or secret drawer.”

“I love mid-century homeware and furniture because they are so well made,” says Harriet. “I also really love vintage ceramics, especially when they are one-off or handmade. Vintage glassware, french linen and art are also some of my favourite items to buy second-hand as you can get some really unique and quality pieces at a fraction of the price of buying new.

“I think some people can be apprehensive when it comes to buying preloved items. But I always say to my friends when it comes to buying second-hand; as long as you love it, it will work.”