The Do’s and Don’ts of Buying Antique & Vintage Furniture for Beginners

This short guide is a culmination of all of my years of experience buying, selling, and refinishing vintage and antique furniture. I made all of the mistakes, but you won’t have to!

Painted and distressed antique french country sideboard sitting next to an antique chair.

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The world of antique and vintage furniture can definitely be overwhelming, especially if you don’t know which vintage or antique furniture to buy and which to avoid. But you might first be wondering why to even buy antique pieces in the first place.

The Do’s and Don’ts

These are my general rule of thumb guidelines. However, I will be the first to admit on occasion I break my own rules.

Sometimes I regret it and other times happily surprised. Sometimes it pays to challenge yourself and go outside of your comfort zone and skill set. A great example of that is this beautiful french country antique sideboard project I did recently.

The Do’s: “Feel Good About Saying Yes to These”

This is a guideline I’ve put together after over a decade of buying, refinishing, and sometimes regretting my decisions. So, just know I warned you, you’re dealing with risky business when you consciously go against your set rules.

Restored painted French sideboard after the process was complete. Stained with Early American, painted with Iron Ore by Sherwin Williams, and sealed using Polycrylic in satin.
A new piece of hardware made to look old with rub'n'buff Antique gold installed on a beautiful ornate wooden drawer of an antique French sideboard.

01 Do Inspect Furniture Before You Buy It, Scrutinize each piece, and Test it Out.

Before you purchase it, use it as it’s supposed to function. If it’s a chair, sit on it. Does it feel stable? Does it wobble? Are the legs or supporting dowels loose? Is it comfortable?

If it’s a dresser, side table, or any other piece of antique or vintage furniture with drawers, open them. And then close them. How do they slide? Take the drawers out and look at the supports on either side. Look at the track for the drawers.

A few more questions to ask yourself about furniture

  • Is it missing hardware?
  • Does it have a bad paint job that you will need to remove?
  • Will it be safe for guests in your home to use? (Like chairs that might not hold up to larger friends or family members. Yes, I’ve had chairs that broke with use. Which is embarrassing for both you and your guest!)

Be aware of the flaws of each piece so that you’re making an informed decision.

02 Do Buy Pieces in Good, Solid, Usable Condition.

I would also add to this, don’t be afraid to walk away. Even if you went out of your way to meet someone to purchase this piece. Sometimes flaws are absent in the advertisement. Or the flaws mentioned are completely different than reality.

The biggest point to take from this is to be aware of what you’re purchasing. It’s important to weigh the skill level, the tools needed, the supply cost, and the time it will take to fix anything.

Again, use it as its intended purpose will be in your home. Move it around. Pick it up, wobble it, or sit on it and if it doesn’t even hint at instability you probably have a winner!

03 Do Shop with Dimensions in Hand.

We all have those weird wonky spaces in our home that literally can only take a piece this big (whatever size that is). It is wise to measure that space and know exactly what your limitations are, write that measurement down, and stick it in your wallet.

I would also advise you to keep a small measuring tape in your purse (or foldable sewing tape in your wallet). This way when you’re out and about and perchance happen upon the absolute perfect piece you will know it’s going to fit before you purchase it, haul it home, and then find out you were 1 or 2 inches off.

Ask me how I know this happens.

04 Do Know What a Piece is Worth.

This can only be beneficial. But to start you may need to first know exactly what you want. If you love victorian furniture, then do research in your area for victorian furniture. Be aware of what things are selling for in your area.

This will help you have bargaining power! You’ll also be aware of how often this particular piece can be found. Is it rare? You may want to not haggle, maybe just hand them the money and quickly guarantee the sale.

This helps you not overspend on a piece of antique and vintage furniture even when your emotions try to control you. And by that same logic, you will know when a good deal actually comes your way.

The Don’ts: “You Might Get Yourself Into Trouble With These”

You’re bound to mess up at some point. Especially if you plan on filling your home with antique and vintage furniture. However, if you heed this advice at least you can avoid a few pitfalls along your journey!

Water damage to veneer on the side panel of an antique French sideboard restoration project.
Damaged side door on an antique French sideboard uninstalled sitting on the floor.

01 Don’t Buy Pieces with Damages Beyond Your Skill Level.

There are definitely different levels of skills for refinishing vintage and antique furniture.

Be aware of your skill level when you find yourself falling in love with a piece of antique or vintage furniture. You might allow this love to influence you. Especially if it’s an affordable price (aka cheap).

But keep in mind, if you purchase a piece of furniture that is beyond your skill level or tools you actually own and have on hand, it will likely become a thorn in your side. And then gather dust in your garage.

Instead, be realistic with yourself and ask “Is this truly a piece that I can fix myself, have the tools to fix, and actually will follow through and fix?”

02 Don’t Purchase Upholstered Pieces That Smell Funky.

Definitely do a smell test with any upholstered furniture you’re planning on purchasing. There are all kinds of bad things you can bring home in upholstered furniture, much of which can be gotten rid of with a good cleaning.

However, there are certain types of furniture that you will never be able to clean well enough like couches, mattresses, or literally cushions of any type. So, get your face right down in it and make sure there aren’t lingering pet or cigarette odors.

And if you’re considering reupholstering that chair or couch you fell in love with but hate the upholstery, consider your skill level as mentioned above!

03 Don’t Buy Vintage Furniture with Laminate or Pressed Wood.

The only furniture worth investing in is solid wood furniture. Even furniture with veneer has solid wood under it which is a sign of a high-quality piece of furniture.

Laminate and pressed wood are inferior materials that are prone to easily break down. New pieces of furniture these days are often made out of these two materials. So, you will pay a higher price for an inferior product that is not built to last.

Instead, purchase solid wood antique, and vintage furniture that was built with forever in mind.

04 Don’t Purchase Furniture that Has Recalls for Safety Concerns.

This is actually ok if you plan on repurposing the item or using it for alternate use. But if you want to use it for its original intended purpose like a baby crib, it’s wise to be aware of safety concerns before purchasing.

It’s actually illegal to sell or purchase vintage drop-down baby cribs as they’re actually considered unsafe.

Instead, do your homework ahead of time and be aware of certain items that may warrant additional consideration before investing in them.

Beautifully refinished French antique sideboard painted, stained, and distressed.

Why Buy Antique and Vintage Furniture Items?

As an advocate for literally everything old, I feel like it’s my duty to let you in on all my best secrets for decorating your home with old charm. And a wonderful way to get a headstart is by filling your home with antique and vintage items.

But there are more reasons than just charm and character. And I’m sure you’ve got questions. I’ve done extensive research on everything antique and vintage over the last decade and a half of refinishing furniture.

Purchasing Old Furniture vs New Furniture

There are so many benefits to buying antique furniture I don’t think I can name them all in this post. And though it may not be for everyone I always feel the need to try to sell you on it.

Here are just four of the reasons why I will always choose vintage pieces and antique pieces for my home. But there are far more advantages to buying antique and vintage furniture.

Beautiful carved ornate antique sideboard feet painted and distressed with iron ore a dark grey paint.
Front hardware original and new hardware made to match using rub'n'buff antique gold.

01 The Value of an Antique
Antiques hold their value for many reasons like good quality, better materials, as well as how they were made. This makes them a great investment. And for the furniture’s value, you can typically purchase a vintage or antique piece in a more affordable price range than newer junk.

02 Higher Quality
As a general rule, antique furniture is made with better materials, aka good bones. From certain time periods pieces were lovingly made by skilled hands. And the designs are timeless. The good quality means they stand up better to households with children, which is ironic considering people avoid them for the same reason.

03 The Thrill of the Hunt
Because antique and vintage furniture are pieces of the past they are in limited supply. That makes them harder to find, and rare, especially when you’re looking for different styles like Mid-Century Modern. That means it’s a hunt and a challenge.

04 The Versatility of Each Piece
Contrary to what you may think a dresser does not have to be used for clothing. An Antique sideboard, buffet, or server, need not be used in a dining room. And a desk can be used as a vanity or vice versa! These furniture pieces are extremely versatile. Think outside the box.

Antique French sideboard painted with a dark grey paint called Iron Ore by sherwin williams, distressed, and stained Early american with original and new hardware mixed.

Best Places to Look for Antique and Vintage Furniture

You can literally find vintage furnishings everywhere if you pay close attention. But when you’re actively on the hunt and not just stumbling onto a curb piece, these places are the easiest way to find a piece of antique furniture.

Where Should You Shop for Antique and Vintage Furniture?

The correct answer is everywhere. Curbs, dumpsters, freebies someone is willing to give you, there is no wrong answer. But if you have to narrow it down these are the best choices.

  • Antique Shops. Go to an antique store or visiting antique malls is a great choice for a piece in better condition. But expect to pay a premium price.
  • Estate Sales. This can be a great way to find an antique find for a really reasonable price. Also, the best way to find a “set” should you want matching pieces.
  • Online Marketplaces. Unlike online stores, online marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, OfferUp, Mercari, Letgo, and Craigslist almost guarantee a better price. When given the choice, buy from people. People just want to get rid of their stuff, not necessarily make a profit.
  • Flea Markets or Antique Market. You will likely pay a higher price, but you will have much more chance of choices in pristine condition.
  • Thrift Stores. Thrift shops will definitely be the best place to go to get a great deal with a larger inventory. Some even have the benefit of bargaining, coupons, and frequent shopper programs.
  • Local Auction House. These are great because you can still go and inspect the pieces physically before purchasing which can be a vital step to success.
  • Garage Sale. The place to go for the best price. Plus, you’ve always got bargaining power for the possibility of an even lower price!
The top of a beautifully stained and refinished burl walnut veneer top, edges painted a dark grey iron Ore by sherwin williams. Two coats of Polycrylic to seal the top with a satin sheen.
A recent antique French sideboard refinishing project. There was severe veneer damage to the piece which gave me no alternative but to paint parts after repairing the missing parts with Bondo. The paint color is Iron Ore by Sherwin Williams. The entire piece was sealed with two coats of Polycrylic in Satin.


The benefits of vintage and antique furniture are they have timeless styles, what looked good 50-100 years ago is still beautiful today. Antiques are also made with high-quality materials, are less expensive compared to new furniture, and will last another 50-100 years if taken care of properly.

Inspect the frame and the hardware, look for a maker’s mark (signature, label, or stamp), be aware of any damage, and assess what is easily repaired and what is an extensive project. Also, understand pieces with more extensive damage may need to be completely refinished which might ruin the value.

An antique is 100 years or older. Vintage is younger at 20 up to 100 years. The age of a piece doesn’t directly correlate to value. Antiques might be less valuable due to current trends and availability.

1. Dovetailed joints. Handcut vs. Machine Cut.
2. Different types of wood. Good Sign.
3. Solid Wood Drawer Bottoms. Not Plywood.
4. Look for a Maker’s Mark (labels, signatures, or stamps).
5. Dowels. It may not be an antique.
6. Saw Marks or Tool Marks.
7. Screw or Nail Heads.

Furniture before the 1700s furniture was mostly oak, but from the 1700s on, mahogany and walnut were prevalent. In America, pine is popular because of its cost and ease of use. However, high-quality furniture would be made of more expensive hardwoods like maple, oak, walnut, cherry, or mahogany.

Furniture that gets the most use is the furniture you should invest in high-quality furniture like antique and vintage furniture pieces. Solid wood, well built, classic styles that will stand up to regular use.

Thank you so much for stopping by! I hope I have given you the wisdom and inspiration to start gathering and curating those gorgeous antique or vintage pieces. They truly are worth the effort.



Meet the Author

Hi, I’m Julie! Mother to five beautiful kids, Homeschool Educator, Writer, Handicraft & DIY Enthusiast, Photographer, Thrifter, and Furniture Restorer. Follow along for fun DIY projects creating a handmade home on a budget! Read more about me here→


    1. I understand! Even now after doing it for years, I can still feel like that lol…but at least tell yourself that whatever you do will be better than what it is right now! And that’s something.

    1. Thank you so much! I truly hope they are valuable and help people make fewer mistakes. They can sure be costly and time-consuming to fix lol.

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