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How to Spot High-Quality Vintage Furniture
Make sure that vintage find is just as authentic as it looks!
Written by Torrey Kim
Photography by Bret Gum

Whether you’re shopping at a high-end antiques shop or the thrift store, if you’re buying a vintage piece of furniture, you want to make sure it’s a high-quality item. “Education is key,” says artist and The Painted House blog Angela Blehm says. If you see a piece of furniture with a label on it and you aren’t sure if that’s a good brand, research it before you buy it, she says. The following additional five tips can help you determine if a piece is worth the energy it will take to refinish, repaint or repurpose it.

1. Look for joint construction.

If you’re evaluating a wooden piece of furniture, higher-quality pieces will have joint construction that interlock the pieces together (such as tongue-in-groove or dovetailed joints). Anything that’s stapled or glued will be less sturdy and may not have as many years left. interlocking joints in many cases also point to a piece that’s been hand-made rather than factory produced. This is not only a great because it means the piece is truly older, but it also means it’s been crafted with some love.

2. Sit on a sofa or chair.

This may sound obvious, but many buyers don’t “try out” a chair or sofa before buying. Sit down and make sure the springs aren’t shot, the chair doesn’t wobble, and the back doesn’t immediately lean back too far. Listen for squeaks and creaks which could indicate weak spots or actual cracks in the framing.

3. Check the fabric, even if you are planning to reupholster.

If you’re thinking of reupholstering a piece, then the fabric color may not matter—but fabric damage might. Give the furniture a good whiff—if it smells musty, it’s possible that the furniture was wet, which could alter the quality of the cushions, wood or springs. Also, original upholstery which was done to a high quality also indicates that the rest of the furniture’s construction is likely very good quality.

4. Check drawer-slide integrity.

Have you ever tried to pull a drawer out of a table and had to ask another person to hold the table still while you worked the drawer out of its place? That’s a bad sign. Drawers should slide in and out easily and should fit well into place. Avoid warped, tilted or ill-fitting drawers. Pull drawers out if you can and check for obstructions or splits– this will be the difference between and easy or difficult fix.

5. Look for welded joints in metal pieces.

If you’re evaluating a piece of metal furniture, the sturdiest works will feature welded joints. If the joints are held together with rivets, screws or bolts, the furniture won’t be as hardy. Rust is an inevitable type of damage on metal furniture but intense rust that looks like it goes beyond the surface and has actually eaten away at the metal and created holes? Those will be beyond repair and could indicate that the furniture’s integrity is too far compromised.

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