At the Annie Selke Companies, we believe the most beautiful rooms are always a mix of high and low, old and new, and modern and traditional. There’s no better way to get that perfect blend than to weave vintage and antique furnishings into your home. “I have a ton of vintage furniture,” says our founder Annie Selke, who combines her mother’s Swedish antiques with mid-century pieces, like the etagere in her living room (above). “They bring a room to life—it’s like having old friends around.” Whether you’re new to vintage shopping or a longtime collector, here are ten reasons to give secondhand a second chance.
They call it “vintage charm” for a reason. Antique pieces have more personality than anything you can pick up in a big box store. Not only do vintage finds lend your home or your wardrobe character, but oftentimes, you’ll find something that no one else has.
Unless you’ve scored a piece in mint condition, your vintage find is likely to come with some signs of its previous life—and that’s a good thing. The natural imperfections in real hardwood and the nicks and grooves of time give a room texture and interest. Even just one piece with a bit of patina can warm up the slick surfaces of new-bought pieces.
“I prefer to buy older stuff because it’s better made,” says Annie. Today’s furniture is often of much lower quality than pieces made by previous generations—and not only in construction: the quality of wood is lower today than it was a generation ago.
Buying second hand isn’t always cheap, but it’s almost always a great value. You can find hardwood dressers with dovetail joints that will last for another hundred years for less than the price of a new particle board dresser from one of the popular mid-range retailers. If you find yourself thinking that a secondhand find is “expensive,” ask yourself compared to what.
Anything you buy that was previously owned is automatically better for the earth on several counts: You’re keeping something out of the landfill after its original owner has finished with it, you’re using fewer resources to build new things, and the transportation miles on a secondhand find are usually minimal, while many new pieces are being shipped from across the ocean and then trucked to wherever you live.
Even just one antique or vintage piece can give a whole room a feeling of history. The appearance of age on a dining table quietly tells the story of another family’s meals long past. Likewise, a tag stitched into a vintage dress reminds us of a time when people bought their clothes from the local dressmaker or regional department store. Old-school furniture may even spark specific memories from your own past, like a formica-topped table that reminds you of grandma’s house.
When you buy from a vintage dealer, you are buying from a small business owner, not a corporation with offices in some far-off state. Supporting small businesses near our homes keeps our dollars in our communities, but even buying from a far-off vintage dealer or eBay seller means that you’re putting money into an individual’s pocket. Plus, when you’re dealing with an individual, he or she is likely passionate about what they are selling, so you may learn something about the piece’s history, how to care for it, or how to find more of what you’ve newly discovered.
Because vintage finds are usually affordable and made from high-quality materials they tend to take well to refinishing. You can make your secondhand score over with paint, fabric, and other customizations. “People don’t want brown furniture, but you can paint it!” says Annie. “That’s what I did with my Chippendale chairs. Structurally, they’re much better than anything you can get new.”
Have you ever bought a new piece or furniture or a rug only to have it fill your home with a toxic smell when you got it home? That factory-made odor is the volatile organic compounds (aka VOCs) being released into your home, polluting the air you breath. Older furniture was both made with fewer chemicals, and if there were VOCs in the finishes, they have long since dissipated.
Once you start shopping for vintage furniture, we bet you won’t want to stop. The rush you feel walking into a consignment or antique store is the delicious feeling of discoveries about to be made–even if you don’t take anything home.
Click here to read what interior designers collect – from milk class to cocktail napkins – and Bunny Williams’s advice for mixing old and new for a timeless interior.
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