Secondhand furniture has finally lost the stigma they had in less-enlightened times. Experts agree: Vintage pieces often higher quality, made with better materials and often more attention to detail than mass-produced modern pieces. "You're already making a smart choice by looking at a vintage piece; it will be unique and give you more value for your money," says Emily Everhart, the chief curator for luxury . She has a job many of us dream about, assessing vintage and designer pieces from private owners. Here's what she says to always do before you hit the flea market.
Rule #1: Make a list before you go.
Whether you plan on going to antique stores, estate sales, or a market, there's one thing that's for sure: You're probably going to walk into a chaotic scene. When you're staring down a disorganized jumble of stuff, it's a recipe for either impulse purchases or getting quickly overwhelmed and giving up. Instead, assess your own interior and think broadly about the pieces you need. (And if it's a '50s pineapple ice bucket, so be it.)
Rule #2: Research.
If you're on the hunt for something specific, Everhart has a little bit of homework for you. "Try to find similar items and see how they are priced or have sold," she says. This is especially useful for mid-century pieces, where reproductions abound.
Rule #3: Look for an I.D.
"Items made after 1940 often have maker's marks, which can help you authenticate the piece," Everhart says. "If there aren't any marks, ask the sellers where they purchased it. Even if they can't or won't name the exact source, a general answer about the region or type of sale (such as at an auction or a yard sale in town) will indicate if it is authentically vintage." Provenance is important for both identifying a reproduction and giving you leverage when negotiating. Speaking of...
Rule #4: Don't be afraid to negotiate.
The simple, polite question of "Is this your best price?" can yield great results. Worst case scenario: It is the seller's best price. Best case: You score a healthy discount. Buying additional pieces from the same seller often leads to a few dollars off your total.
Rule #5. Know if you can fix it.
Ugly paint? Scratches? A lot of dust? No big deal, says Everhart. But if the piece wobbles, walk away, because structural damage is much more difficult to overcome. While you're examining your potential purchase, look for original details, like original hardware or paint, which add character as well as value.