The Ultimate Checklist for Buying Used Furniture

Are you looking to start collecting vintage and antique furniture but don’t know where to start? Stepping into unknown territory can feel scary and a bit overwhelming. But this checklist will help guide you in the process of buying used furniture. And finding the perfect pieces for your space!

Antique dresser refinished with black paint and stain. Secondhand furniture pieces often need work.

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my full disclosure policy and privacy policy.

Whether you’re furnishing a new home or just looking to replace a few pieces buying used furniture can be a great way to save money. However, the trick is knowing how to also get the pieces you need and love for your home. But where do you start?

From thrift stores to estate sales, there are tons of options for finding used furniture. So, to help you navigate, I have created the ultimate checklist for buying used furniture.

This guide covers everything from important questions to ask before making a purchase to tips for finding the best deals.

What to Look for When Buying Vintage and Antique Furniture: A Guide

Buying used furniture can be a great way to save money and find unique pieces for your new home or apartment. But it’s important to be mindful and try to make the right decisions when shopping for used furniture. Especially when this furniture can be close to or even over 100 years old.

Before of a used dining table set at a garage sale. Love at first site.
The before of my dining room table set at a garage sale. It was in fairly good condition and had all 6 matching chairs.
Vintage dining room set after being refinished. The chairs got reupholstered, the brace under the table was removed, and the base painted and distressed.
After. The process required fixing the top, upholstering the chairs, removing the leg bracing under the table, and painting the base.

A Checklist for Buying Vintage and Antique Furniture

Here’s a checklist to help you navigate the world of secondhand furniture shopping:

1. Research the Style and Pieces of Interest.

Before you can look for good deals you have to know what you’re looking for. So, take a moment to look at your favorite Pinterest boards, Magazines, Books, or even Instagram for inspiration.

Take note of the styles that appeal to you. Also, it could be a great idea to design a vision board on Canva. Another great idea would be to create a design journal to clip and paste your favorites and carry with you.

The before, a secondhand antique washstand that someone had decoupaged magazine cut outs all over and painted brown.
The before of an Antique Oak washstand with decoupage and tons of brown paint.
Antique washstand after the entire process of stripping, scraping, and sanding. Hours of sweat equity to get a beautiful natural oak wood finish.
The after of the same Antique Oak washstand. After hours of sweat equity stripping, scraping, scrubbing, and sanding.

I researched and searched for this second washstand for months. I knew exactly how much they typically sold for so I was prepared when this one popped up to grab it. Even knowing the amount of work I’d have to put into it, it was worth the savings.

2. Know the Value of a Piece, Then Set a Budget.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of finding a great deal. But it’s important to remember how much money you can afford to spend on old furniture.

Also, the right pieces may be worth a bit more to you if you find them in better condition. Whereas if you’re going to have to invest time refinishing it, the price should reflect that.

Keep in mind that in some metro areas, the used furniture market can be competitive. So, this is where a little research is definitely good judgment.

  1. Know how much a piece is worth.
  2. Know how much it typically goes for.
  3. Then create a realistic budget for that piece.

Knowing how much you’ll pay helps you not be vulnerable to impulsive buys. Ask me how I know this.

3. Consider the Size and Space of Your Home.

Before you start shopping, think about how much space you have. Then think about what pieces of furniture will fit comfortably in your home.

What room in your home are you looking to fill first? For instance, a living room will have more space but might have an awkward layout.

Broken used grandfather clock, handmade piece that was either never finished or stripped of all it's parts.
The before of a handmade grandfather clock. This piece either was never finished or was stripped of all the clock elements.
A secondhand handmade grandfather clock refinished and repurposed into a bookshelf.
After the process of putting this piece together and repurposing it into a bookshelf. Pieces like this work great in small or awkward spaces in your home to add charm and function.

To be prepared when you do find the perfect piece follow these best tips:

  1. Measure your space and do a rough draft drawing of the layout.
  2. Include the measurements on it and keep it with you.
  3. Also, carry a small measuring tape with you.

4. Assess the Condition of the Furniture.

When you’re looking to buy used furniture, especially really old furniture, inspecting the condition is important.

Secondhand antique french server that was falling apart and needed a lot of work.
French Antique Server Before. It’s a great plan to purchase furniture in rough shape for budgetary reasons. But only if you have the skills and desire to invest the time into restoration.

When inspecting vintage or antique furniture before buying, look for the following:

  • Condition. Check for signs of wear, damage, or repairs
  • Authenticity. Look for makers marks, labels, or hallmarks that indicate the age and origin of the piece
  • Craftsmanship. Examine the quality of the construction, joinery, and materials used
  • Rarity. Research the style and era of the piece, and consider its uniqueness and historical significance
  • Functionality. Ensure that it is still functional and can be used as intended
  • Restoration. Check if the piece requires any repairs or restoration work and factor in the cost of that.

5. Inspect and Clean Each Piece Before Bringing it Inside.

Before you bring any used furniture into your home, make sure to check for bugs. Especially if you’re buying from thrift stores, yard sales, Facebook Marketplace, or estate sales.

You don’t know where these pieces were being stored and what might be hitchhiking on them. Do a thorough inspection and clean it well before bringing it in. Also, there are a few types of pieces I would definitely avoid altogether like a used mattress.

Consider steam cleaning upholstered furniture as well.

6. Consider the Style of Your Home.

Think about how the furniture will fit into your existing style, color scheme, and decor. If you’re looking to completely change the style the sky is the limit.

However, if you’re wanting to maintain a cohesive look consider what you already have before bringing something else in.

Here are some tips for mixing antique furniture with newer elements:

  1. Choose a neutral color palette. Use a neutral color scheme to create a cohesive look and allow the antique pieces to stand out.
  2. Mix and match different styles. Combine different styles of furniture, such as a vintage armchair with a modern sofa, to create an eclectic look.
  3. Add modern accents. Use modern accents such as lighting fixtures, artwork, or decor to add a contemporary touch to the space.
  4. Balance vintage and modern pieces. Incorporate a balance of vintage and modern pieces to create a harmonious look.
  5. Consider the function. Think about the function of the room and how the antique piece will fit into the overall design and flow.
  6. Keep it simple. Avoid overcrowding the space with too many antiques, keep it simple for a cohesive look.
  7. Experiment with different materials. Mix and match different materials such as natural wood, metal, and glass to create an interesting contrast and visual interest.

7. Look for Solid Wood Furniture.

If you’re looking for high-quality furniture that will last a long time, solid wood is always a good choice. If you need good reasons to make your standard solid wood furniture I’ve got you covered!

Vintage dresser from a thrift store that had been badly painted and left for dead.
The before. Sad vintage dresser, solid wood, left for dead in a thrift store.
Vintage dresser after having all the old white paint stripped and refinished with stain and new knobs.
The after. Completely stripped and refinished with my favorite stain, Early American. Also, new drawer pulls.

There are several benefits to using solid wood furniture:

  • Durability. Solid wood furniture is known for its durability and ability to withstand the test of time. It can last for many years with proper care and maintenance.
  • Versatility. Solid wood furniture can be stained or painted to match any decor style. It can also be sanded and refinished to renew its appearance.
  • Natural beauty. Each piece of solid wood furniture has its own unique grain pattern and natural variations. This gives it a warmth and beauty that cannot be replicated.
  • Eco-friendly. Solid wood is a renewable resource, making it an environmentally friendly choice.
  • Value. Solid wood furniture is often considered a worthwhile investment as it increases in value over time.
  • Comfort. Solid wood furniture is often very comfortable and durable, which is perfect for everyday use.
  • Long-lasting. Solid wood furniture can last for generations, unlike cheaper alternatives which may need to be replaced after a few years.

8. Research the brand or style of a Piece.

If you’re considering buying a piece of furniture that will get hard and regular use, like a dining table or sofa, it’s a good idea to consider brands or types that are known for their quality.

An eastlake washstand with it's original finish.
The before. Eastlake furniture is known for its quality. This piece needed complete refinishing.
Eastlake washstand after a bleaching process.
Mid process. Stripped, sanded, and bleached. I actually wish I’d just stained it from here.

Here are some of the most famous brands of antique furniture:

  1. Sheraton. A late 18th-century furniture maker known for his neoclassical designs and delicate inlays.
  2. Stickley. A 20th-century furniture maker known for his mission-style furniture, using high-quality materials and craftsmanship.
  3. Gustav Stickley. A furniture maker who popularized the Arts and Crafts movement in the early 20th century.
  4. Thomas Chippendale. A furniture maker and designer who was active during the late 18th century. His style is best known for its elaborate and ornate designs.
  5. Duncan Phyfe. An American furniture maker who was active during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Also, is known for his neoclassical designs.
  6. George Hepplewhite. An 18th-century furniture maker who was known for his elegant and delicate designs, using lightweight construction techniques.

Be aware, however, when you’re going for particular brands like this unless the seller isn’t aware of their value you may be looking at a higher price tag.

9. Check for Lead Paint.

If you’re buying antique furniture, be sure to check for lead paint, which can be harmful to your health.

Checking furniture for lead paint is important for several reasons:

  1. Lead poisoning. Lead paint can cause serious health problems, especially in young children and pregnant women.
  2. Environmental impact. Lead paint can also harm the environment and pollute soil and water.

To check the furniture for lead paint, follow these steps:

  1. Use a lead paint test kit to determine if the paint on the furniture contains lead.
  2. Check for paint that may contain lead. Especially in older furniture manufactured before 1978 when lead paint was still commonly used.
  3. Take a small sample of the paint and send it to a laboratory for analysis.
  4. Professional inspection: Consider having a professional inspect the furniture if you suspect it contains lead paint.

If the furniture tests positive for lead paint, consider having it professionally removed or coated with lead-safe paint. Do not sand, scrape, or burn the paint as this can release harmful lead dust into the air.

10. Think About the Environmental Impact of Your Purchase.

Consider the impact of buying new furniture, and how buying used furniture can reduce the environmental impact.

Antique and vintage furniture is often considered better for the environment for several reasons:

  • Reuse. Antique and vintage furniture is already in existence, reducing the need for new furniture to be manufactured.
  • Durability. Antique and vintage furniture is often well-made and durable. This means it can last for many years and does not need to be replaced frequently.
  • Renewable Materials. Many antique and vintage furniture pieces are made of solid wood, which is a renewable resource.
  • Reduction in Waste. Buying and using antique and vintage furniture keeps them out of landfills, therein reducing waste.
  • Reduced carbon footprint. The manufacturer of new furniture can contribute to a large carbon footprint. However, using existing antique and vintage furniture reduces this impact.

By using antique and vintage furniture, you can reduce your environmental impact and support sustainable practices.

11. Consider Your Furniture Needs.

Think about how much use the piece of furniture will get and how it will fit into your lifestyle. When choosing a piece of furniture consider how you will use it.

Think about efficiency, organization aspects, and possible uses for the piece. I like to consider the versatility of each piece.

Sometimes I work backward and realize a need and then try to be creative to fill it. Many times I use a piece that wasn’t intended for that specific purpose. Is there a need in your household, like organization, that a piece of furniture could help you fill?

12. Be Open to DIY Projects.

If you find a piece of furniture that you love but needs a little work, be open to the idea of doing some DIY projects to bring it up to your standards.

In fact, you will get the best deals when you choose items based on a fault. Either it needs some work, or it’s been a victim of a failed project. Some repairs are really easy to make, or the damage is strictly cosmetic.

Some of the best furniture I have purchased required sweat equity. But that made it all the more mine in the end.

13. Know Where to Look for Vintage and Antique Furniture

By following this checklist, you’ll be able to make the best decisions and find the best deals when shopping for used furniture.

Anywhere and everywhere is really the correct answer. I have found vintage and antique furniture in all sorts of places. But here are some of my favorite second hand shops to give you ideas.

  • Thrift Stores
  • Flea Markets
  • Vintage and Antique Boutiques
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Craigslist
  • Consignment Shops
  • Used Furniture Store
  • Garage Sale
  • Antique Shops

Don’t forget to also check your online marketplace of choice for great deals on unique pieces.

14. Search with Vague Terms Online

Don’t search for a specific brand. People who know the specific brand name of a piece will likely be asking for fair market value or more.

Instead search for vague terms like cabinet, hutch, dresser, drawers, trunk, table, etc. You will have to sift through all of it. But the next time you do it you can search for recently added.

You’re looking for someone who doesn’t know what they have. Or doesn’t care and just wants to get rid of it.

15. Always Browse the “Free” Section

You’d be surprised how many people will give things away to you if you pick them up quickly. There are many people cleaning out their garages, moving last minute, or selling family pieces they just want gone.

If you can be ready to drop what you’re doing and pick it up you have a pretty good chance.

In the same way, driving around on “curb” days in local communities can be very successful as well.

16. Search for Your Price Range Only

When shopping on an online marketplace like Facebook, narrow your searches to your maximum budget. This eliminates the higher-priced items altogether. In this way, you will not be tempted by something out of your price range.

Adding Charm and Character to Your Home: Why Buy Old?

I love old furniture. New furniture just cannot compare to the craftsmanship, design, and quality that love antiques and vintage pieces offer me. Here are several great benefits to buying vintage and antique furniture, including:

Thrifted mustard colored velvet sitting chair, imperfect, staged with a pretty white pillow and grey blanket.
A set of mustard velvet chairs I purchased off of Facebook marketplace for $20. They’re imperfect, but beautiful all the same.
Vintage upholstered mustard chair styled with a repurposed linen pillow case and grey throw.
Pieces don’t need to be perfect. In fact, I think those worn spots actually make it look comfortable.
  1. Unique style and character. Vintage and antique furniture often have a unique style and character that can add charm and personality to your home.
  2. Quality construction. Many vintage and antique pieces of furniture were made with high-quality materials and craftsmanship. This makes them more durable and long-lasting than new furniture.
  3. Investment potential. Some vintage and antique furniture can appreciate in value over time, making it a potential investment for the future.
  4. Environmental benefits. Buying vintage and antique furniture is often considered an environmentally friendly choice. Because it keeps older pieces out of landfills and reduces the demand for new furniture to be produced.
  5. History and storytelling. Vintage and antique pieces often come with a rich history and tell a story about a certain era or culture. This adds an educational and interesting aspect to your home.
  6. Uniqueness. You can be sure that you will not find another furniture piece like the one you bought in a vintage or antique store.
  7. Durability. Many vintage and antique pieces are built to last, which is why they have been around for so long.
  8. Cost-effective. Vintage and antique furniture can be a more cost-effective option than new furniture. This is because they often come with a lower price tag.

There are some real DOs and DON’Ts when purchasing vintage and antique furniture. And when you follow those rules, you’re sure to have a great buying experience!

FAQ

General Questions About Buying

What Should You Consider When Buying Furniture?

When buying furniture, consider the size and layout of the room, the style and aesthetic of the piece, the quality and durability of the materials, the comfort and functionality of the item, and the price and value of your budget. It is also important to measure the space where the furniture will go and check the dimensions of the piece before buying.

What to Look for When Shopping for Antiques?

When shopping for antiques, look for pieces that are in good condition, with minimal damage or repairs. Check for signs of authenticity, such as maker’s marks, hallmarks, or labels. Research the era and style of the piece, and consider its rarity, uniqueness, and historical significance. Also, consider how the antique piece will blend in with your current home decor and aesthetic before making your purchase.

Is it Worth Buying Vintage Furniture?

Buying vintage furniture can be worth it for several reasons, such as its unique style, craftsmanship, and durability. Vintage pieces can add character and personality to a room. Additionally, vintage furniture is often made with higher-quality materials and construction methods, making it more durable than many modern pieces.

Finding the History & Value of a Piece

How Can You Tell if Furniture is Antique or Vintage?

If furniture is antique or vintage, it will have signs of age, such as wear and patina on the wood. Check for maker’s marks, labels, or hallmarks that indicate the age and origin of the piece. Research the style and era of the piece, as antique furniture is generally at least 100 years old, while vintage furniture is usually between 50-100 years old.

How Do I Know if My Antique Furniture is Valuable?

To determine the value of antique furniture, consider its age, condition, rarity, and historical significance. Research similar pieces and check their prices in auctions and antique markets. Look for signs of authenticity, such as maker’s marks or hallmarks, which can indicate the age and origin of the piece. Also, consider its uniqueness and craftsmanship. A professional appraiser can also provide an accurate estimate of its value.

Uncovering Hidden Gems: Furniture Archeology

Overall, buying used furniture can be a great way to save money and find high-quality, unique pieces for your home. Just make sure to take your time and pay close attention to the condition and quality of the furniture.

And remember that buying used furniture is not only good for your budget but also for the environment. Also, have fun! Every old piece you uncover could very well be a hidden treasure. That is the beauty of purchasing a piece of history.

Thanks for stopping by!

Julie

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→

22 Comments

  1. I wish I would have had this guide a few years ago lol! I bought an antique piece that I love but probably overpaid for it! Now I know what to look for next time.

  2. Good timing! I’m considering buying an antique bed frame to refinish for my girls’ bedroom and this was all super helpful in deciding. Thanks!

  3. This is a great checklist! I don’t go shopping enough but now I’ll be prepared. I can’t wait to find some special pieces with history!

    1. Oh yes! My favorite! You can just feel the life they’ve led walking through flea markets, at least I do. Looking at all these old pieces that have been alive for a hundred years or more. I imagine all the things they’ve witnessed.

  4. This is SO helpful! I love thrifting and could have saved myself some headache buying some not so great pieces if I’d read this sooner!

  5. Wow! That is an extremely comprehensive look at buying used furniture. I am the worst Hagler, so I almost never buy used because I hate the purchasing process. Thankfully, my husband is much better at it. Great post.

  6. Wow you did an incredible job with all of your pieces you refurbished, they look stunning!! I’ve been wanting to learn how to properly restore and buy old furniture thanks for sharing 🙂

  7. I am LOVING that you are giving these pieces new life! It’s seriously my favorite part about buying second hand. Not to mention the stories that each old piece tells. I will definitely keep these things in mind. I feel like I have a lot of furniture buying in my near future!

  8. These are such great tips! My hubby is the one who normally looks into this and always corrects me when I think something is vintage or antique. It’s a skill to develop the knack for figuring this out, but so worth it with time and practice! 💕 We’ll have to keep your valuable info in mind as we continue to hunt for these wonderful gems out there! 🥰

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *