Wednesday, August 31, 2022

How To Buy Quality Furniture

This post was originally published in May 2020. It is one of the most popular posts I have written and it has gotten a lot of interest as of late so I am updating it with more photos and information! I moved some of the original photos to the bottom and put new photos at the top of this post of similar areas. It is fun to see how my decor has slightly evolved!

This has been one of my most requested topics since I've been adding new pieces to our home over the past several years and sharing here and there on instastories. This post took me ages to write so I hope you enjoy it as much as I did writing it! As many of you noticed, most of them are antiques/older pieces. I grew up in a very old home and my mom typically decorated in a traditional way. 

We live in a new construction home and because of that, I really wanted to lean into antiques and older items as I find they are an easy way to add character to a home that started out as pretty darn bland!

I've always liked my parent's home style as well as my Grammie's interior style and subconsciously, I think that's where my home decor taste comes from. It's a style that isn't really popular within my age group, but I'm OK with that. Although with the term 'Grandmillenial' recently coined, I do feel seen!! I've never wanted my home to look trendy or look a certain way for Instagram likes. I decorate for myself and to my taste... luckily my fiancĂ© likes it!! 

I swear every single time I go to purchase a brown wood antique, the person selling it to me comments on my 'young' age and says that no one seems to want to buy these things anymore. Well, that's good news to me as I'll have more selection, ha!! 

My parents always hammered into me that I should not be 'cheaping out' on furniture but rather living without until I can afford quality pieces that I will truly have forever. If you are replacing that $200 Ikea piece every few years or every other move, that $200 eventually adds up and you might as well have purchased a high-quality piece in the first place. So I've always lived by this. It's definitely not for everyone but it's how I think in terms of purchasing furniture.

It's like that saying 'buy the best and you only cry once.'

Everyone is on different budgets when it comes to furnishing their spaces but what I love about shopping for antiques and older pieces of furniture is that you can truly often find incredible high-quality antique pieces of furniture for under $500. So you don't have to spend crazy amounts to still get a much higher quality piece than a big box store would offer. It's honestly insane to me how popular brand-name furniture stores can sell their pieces for the prices that they do and more often than not, the furniture is so poorly made. That's not to say that all new furniture is terrible. I've scored beautiful things from places like Ballard Designs and Serena and Lily! And there are just some things that are hard to find as antiques- like a big wine rack- buying new is necessary because it doesn't really exist as an older piece. 

The thing about really scoring is that you have to know what you are looking for or at least know enough to know that the price for what you're buying is decent. A pretty-looking piece of furniture could be on sale at a consignment store for $200 and it could be an amazing score or it could truly be junk. The same thing goes for a $5k++ antique- you could be getting a terrible deal or it could be an incredible buy. 

Another thing about buying antiques, consignment, etc. is that you must have patience. I shared that I just recently scored my dream dining room table. I literally waited 3 years to find this table. Patience is absolutely necessary and will pay off in the end!

Another great thing about buying on consignment or from antique dealers is that it's a great way to reuse rather than buying a new piece of furniture that is likely not good for the environment and will eventually end up in a landfill. A lot of new, cheaply made furniture (and I say cheaply made in terms of crappy quality and not really in terms of the selling price. Prices on new furniture are usually not indicative of quality) is actually made with a lot of chemicals! So buying used has a lot of really positive qualities. Buying at a consignment store or antique store is also a wonderful way to support small businesses. I love the Resplendent Crow. She takes older high-quality pieces and lacquers them or slightly modifies them for a more modern look and you can shop online! Her prices are incredibly reasonable. 

I am no expert, but I have been buying pieces for years now and have picked up a lot of good tips and tricks. 

Brands I look for:
Pennsylvania House
Dixie Furniture 
Hickory Chair
Ethan Allen (the older the better with this brand)
Henkel Harris
Duncan Phyfe

**This doesn't mean that I stick to only these brands, but typically, these are name brands that have produced quality pieces of furniture and fit within my own personal decor style. To find out the brand, look for it stamped somewhere on the piece. It is usually underneath or in one of the drawers. A lot of these brands don't even exist anymore. It's such a shame, people just don't make furniture like they used to. If you are questioning a brand, just google it and you'll likely be able to find out enough to decide whether or not it's a quality brand. 

Keywords for Searches:
Blue and White
Williamsburg Reproduction
Burl Wood
Inlay Mahogany 
Flame Mahogany
Faux Bamboo 
Hand Carved
Queen Anne
Solid Wood

I mostly shop for furniture at places like consignment stores and antique stores, but if I'm searching online, these are just some of the keywords I search on places like Etsy, Google, Facebook Marketplace, and eBay. They're decor words or words that describe a style or type of furniture. You can sometimes put a brand and a keyword together and it can help narrow your search. 

As you learn more over time, you'll start to recognize the 'collections' that some of these furniture brands had. For example, I have a chest from the Henredon Natchez collection (it's a stunning collection) so if I ever wanted to hunt for a matching second chest, I'd know what collection to search for. 

I hear a lot of people say that brown furniture looks dated and I completely understand why people say that. It's not everyone's cup of tea! BUT! I do think brown wood furniture gets confused with being 'dated' because not too long ago, before you could order furniture on the internet, you could walk into a furniture store and buy an entire 'set' of furniture. I mean, you still can do this today, but it was much more popular years ago. For example, a bedroom set would consist of nightstands, a dresser, a bed, armoire, etc. and it would all match. When things come as a set, that is typically what people are referring to when something looks dated. Now, there are pieces that do look dated and different wood stains that are unpopular and that kind of thing, but my biggest decorating tip when you are decorating with antiques is that everything should be siblings, not twins. That will give you a collected look. There are, of course, exceptions to this! I think furniture sets can look good in a few instances... like if you have a very formal dining room. But if you have a set and want to freshen things up, you can break it up throughout your space. For example, put the dresser in one bedroom, two nightstands in another bedroom, and the armoire in the upstairs hall for linen storage. 

I have an inlaid mahogany wood dining table that I just got. It came with 8 chairs, which is amazing, but I felt that the beautiful, intricate wood chairs made the table feel a little outdated. So I put the chairs in our basement storage so we can use them when we need more chairs, but day-to-day I have light linen upholstered dining chairs from Serena and Lily to make things a little more casual and feel more updated and fresh. I also think it's important to break up all of that brown! 

Types of furniture keywords:
Bachelor's Chest
Highboy (the piece you see in the photo above)
Demilune Console
Bowfront Chest
Serpentine Chest
Cocktail Table
Butler's Tray Table
Drop-Leaf Table

These are just some terms I could think of off the top of my head that is used to describe furniture but this is a big comprehensive list. You don't see these words often on big-box brand name furniture websites... these are kind of like the 'vintage' descriptors. For example, a Bachelor's chest is a small chest- often used as a nightstand or as a dresser in small spaces. Rarely are they called Bachelor's chests anymore, but traditionally that is what they are called. It helps to know this because you can search 'Bachelor's chest' on sites like eBay and get better results than just searching for nightstands. 

I typically look for signs of high quality. The process looks a little like this:
- Find the brand... if you see a higher-end brand stamp, you can usually assume this will be a well-made and high-quality piece of furniture. No brand makes it a little trickier and requires more investigation. 

- Check for signs of quality craftmanship like Dovetail drawers. Dovetail is a term that means that the pieces of wood are put together kind of like a puzzle. You can see what that looks like in the images above... Every single piece of furniture in my house with drawers except for one has dovetailed joints. This doesn't necessarily guarantee anything, but it is a good sign.  

- I make sure there is no particleboard/MDF- it's that material that gives something a cheap look/feel and is used in a lot of furniture today. Here's an example of something that looks cute online, but when you read the details, it is made of MDF. You see this a lot with painted furniture.

- Figure out what the wood is made of. Cheap wood is typically painted and even though they can say it's 'solid wood' it's really cheap wood that will ding and scratch easily. Cheaper wood is usually softer and you can tell! My favorite hardwoods are mahogany and walnut. 
- Easy open/close drawers/cabinets/etc. Usually, a sign of quality is that no matter how old the piece is, as long as nothing has been damaged, the drawers, cabinet doors, etc. should be easy to open and close and the drawers should guide easily. 

- Feel the weight of something. This doesn't go for everything but typically, if it's lightweight it's probably not made of real wood. 

- Watch out for reproductions that look like the antiques but are of poorer quality. Reproductions are not always bad but oftentimes they are mass-produced to look exactly like an antique but are made of extremely cheap materials. My best example of this is my eagle convex mirror. I searched for years to find one that wasn't Syrroco. I think back in the 1960s, they reproduced the originals of the mirrors into a plastic mold called Syrroco. Syrroco mirrors are a dime a dozen and while yes, it's a nice way to get the look for less, it's literally just plastic. So I held out for years until I found a true, quality eagle regency mirror that fit within my budget. Mine is hand-carved wood and that is actually a reproduction of the true original which is made of real brass. The true original brass ones typically go for $10k+. Syrroco goes for about $50-$100 on resale sites and hand-carved wood is around $500-$1000. 

- Beware of fakes. These are similar to reproductions, but again, with reproductions, you can often find a lot of high-quality options. For example, Williamsburg reproductions are often really nice. But it is the downright fake things that you want to watch out for. I see this a lot with furniture from places like Target where they reproduce a popular piece of furniture and it's actually made of cheap materials. I see this a lot with popular (and expensive china). There is a pattern called Chinese Rose Medallion and it's incredibly beautiful, hard to find, and expensive. There are about a million and one knockoffs and you might not even be able to tell what the knockoff is until you see the original. I actually have no problem with people buying the fakes from antique stores because it's a nice way to be able to achieve a similar look for less, but the problem comes when the consignment store or antique dealer doesn't know their stuff and they are selling the fake Chinese Rose Medallion at the 'real' price. This is a good example of how you just need to learn over time to get to know prices and all of that! You see that often on eBay where people just google what they are selling and they find the 'real' thing and then charge that price when they actually have the cheaper knock-off. They're not trying to scam you, they just truly don't know. 
- Check the condition. I personally think there's something charming about a few dings here and there, but if a piece is totally trashed, it's sometimes just not worth it. You see the most wear on the feet, corners, and tabletop of the piece. If you are in love with a piece and it is high quality but badly dinged up, you can always have someone refinish it or have it lacquered. 

Where to buy older furniture:
Estate Sales
Consignment Shops
Antique Shops
Facebook Marketplace 

Buying online is WAY harder than seeing something in person. I recommend buying in person when you can! But, different furniture styles can be very regional. So, for example, I love the look of faux bamboo furniture. It's a popular furniture style right now but it's also pretty classic and there are a lot of higher-end brands that used to produce high-quality faux bamboo furniture. However, people in Pittsburgh don't typically have that decor style. It is much more common in warmer climates like Florida. So it's easier for me to hunt down faux bamboo online just because it's literally not here in Pittsburgh. 

There are so many more tips and so much I don't even know. It just takes years of 'practice' and even after a few trips to your local consignment and antique stores, you'll start to get an idea. My number one biggest tip is patience. You'll more often than not walk into antique and consignment stores and leave without purchasing. It's a waiting game and if you can wait until you find the gem, you'll be so happy you did. A lot of the pieces in my home are pieces I truly waited years for. Again, this is not for everyone but I wanted to share these tips in case you have a similar style!

How To Buy Quality Furniture

How To Buy Quality Furniture

How To Buy Quality Furniture

How To Buy Quality Furniture


Kelly C said...

Wow! Such great information! Thanks Sydney for writing this out. It really helps as a novice and someone wanting to start a great collection of quality pieces of furniture.

Anonymous said...

Auctions are another way to purchase the kind of furniture you are looking for. Per friends I have in the auction business, here in MD the bottom dropped out of the market in 2008 and hasn't recovered. For example the Chinese rose medallion style of china you spoke of can be found at auction here starting at $20. I just sold my solid cherry dining room table and 8 chairs at auction and it was purchased for $5!!!!! Took a bath on that one. Usually there is a preview the day before the actual auction and you can see the inventory to be sold. You can sign up to be on the auction house email list to get alerts for upcoming ales and look t inventory online prior to preview. Auctions are fun but just be careful not to get caught up in bidding fever. Know your budget limit and stick to it.

Hayden said...

AMAZING post! Loved it and your style!

Unknown said...

Such a fun post! Thank you for sharing your tips! I'd love to read your opinions on lighting/lamps. You shared some about the kitchen & I'd love to read more.

Andra said...

This was an awesome post and I really appreciate the time and effort it took to write it. I personally love your style. It's what I grew up with and it's what is comfortable for me as well.

Melissa M said...

Such a great post! I have a very similar style to yours and love the tips and tricks you've shared for finding quality furniture. I agree, it can be challenging to find the right piece, that aren't knock offs, but it is so worth the time and investment to do so.


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