How to Buy Antique Furniture

Professional interior designer, Kati Curtis, shares her top tips on how to buy antique furniture! —->

We recently completed a fast-track project for a client on the Upper East side of Manhattan. The Client wanted us to rush to complete the design in time for a New Year’s Eve party they were planning, and called us just before Thanksgiving! I was going to decline the project altogether, but they were so wonderful – so I explained to them that in order to meet their deadline we would have to use only antiques and “off the shelf” items.

While we use antiques and vintage pieces on most of our projects, we are usually able to see them prior to buying. On this project we purchased items from all over the world with nothing but some photos and a promise that their condition was acceptable. How did we know we were getting what we thought we ordered? Most of the time we have great luck and everything works out, but occasionally we experience pitfalls that we’d love to share with you so you don’t experience them yourself.

Here are some things to consider when purchasing antiques and vintage furniture:

1.    Always ask for a condition report: The dealer you’re working with must provide you with a written condition report outlining anything that’s less than perfect about the piece you’re buying. Don’t settle for the old “wear consistent with age” description. Ask for specific details on any flaws in the piece and make sure this is clarified up front. When the piece is delivered, check it to make sure it’s in keeping with the condition report or refuse the delivery. Once you’ve signed off on the delivery, there’s little recourse if the piece is not what you expected.

2.    If possible, go see it in person: Things look completely different in photos than they do in person. If you can, go see the piece in person and make sure for yourself it’s what you want.


3.    How is the piece constructed? : I learned the hard way how important this is. I purchased some “designer” (names withheld to protect the innocent) chairs for a client thinking they were fail-safe as the designer was reputable and his pieces fetch a high price tag. The client called a month later, upset because the chairs actually fell apart during a dinner party. I didn’t realize that these particular chairs were mass produced and constructed with dowel joints. Over time, the glue around the dowels can crystalize and break down, causing the chair to fail. There were also old mechanisms in the chairs that were failing and could not be replaced because they’re not even made anymore. Since we couldn’t return these to the dealer, the client was stuck with useless chairs. When in doubt – ask!

Look for well constructed pieces like this Herman Miller Eames bent wood chair

4.    Does it fit?:  Make sure you have a floor plan of the room that the antique or vintage piece is going in and that your piece will fit. Once you purchase an antique, the dealer typically won’t accept any returns or could charge a high restocking fee.

5.    Buy what you love, not for investment: Yes, some furniture increases in value and demand depending on what’s hot in the market and when. Since the average person (even the average designer) probably has no idea what’s going to be hot tomorrow, the best thing to do is to buy what you love, and what you can live with for a long time. If eventually you want to sell it or hand it down to a loved one all the better;  but never think of furniture as an opportunity to make a buck.

Consult a professional interior designer familiar with antiques and furniture construction to help you make choices you can live with and enjoy for generations.

Nirmada, author of this feature, is a Interior Design firm in New York City. Kati would love to talk to you about designing a space expressly for you.

You can also find a full list of all our global mentors [ who are top professional interior designers ] on our Mentors Page.

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