Discover the fun in buying secondhand furniture - without getting ripped off!
When you are looking to add furniture to your home, especially pieces with a lot of character, it helps to know what to look for when buying old furniture at secondhand stores or online.
There is just something so special about furniture that tells a story, those old secondhand bargains that you can pick up while browsing shops or online. Older pieces have a lot of character in their lines and detail, unlike today's modern furniture. But when you are on the hunt for that perfect piece for your home, you want make sure that the piece is an original design and not a cheap knock-off.
Older pieces of furniture were designed to last, to be heirloom furniture that could be handed down over generations. That means the pieces are well made, solid and sturdy and made using hardwood or, in some cases, a veneered hardwood. One way to check for quality is to see how the piece is assembled. Since you are buying secondhand, you can expect a few wobbly bits, loose joints and such, but any sign of chipboard is a sure sign that the item is a knock-off made in more modern times and generally manufactured to look good but not last, or a vintage piece of furniture that has already been poorly restored.
Look past water stains, burns or scratches, as these are mostly cosmetic faults that can easily be repaired with some sanding. And these days it is fairly easy to clean up a piece with products you can easily buy at the hardware store.
A good indication of the quality and age of furniture is the craftsmanship. How a piece is assembled is the first key to age and quality. Hand cut dovetail joints on drawers are generally a sign of a well-made piece, as are joints that are not fastened with screws. These are jointing methods used before furniture was mass produced and are rarely done these days, unless by woodworking craftsmen and carpenters.
Check Detailing and Hardware
You may be lucky and discover a piece of old furniture that still has the makers stamp. Even browsing through secondhand shops, I have discovered more than a few pieces that have an original manufacturers mark. Furniture manufactured in the 20th century will probably have a paper label, which then became a brass plaque and even later on, stencils were used.
When you find a piece that still has it's original hardware, this should be of solid brass or wood. Any detailing on a chair, dresser or cabinet will also help you to decide on the age and style of a piece.
Whatever the age of your item, it may or may not have any value as an antique, but the style and hardware will assist in deciding what works best for the restoration project, whether you plan to restore to its original finish, or give it a more updated look.
Use of Modern Materials
Another good indicator for the age of a piece is to take a look at the backing on the cabinet and inside the drawers. Where you find solid wood as a backing material, this generally indicates that a piece is from pre-1800s, whereas a plywood or veneer backing is more likely to be from the 20th century.