Vintage Furniture Shopping Tips and Tricks

Phoenix is just about the best place to live between the months of November and April. The weather here right now is gorgeous. But beside the perfect winters, the vintage furniture shopping is pretty great and affordable.

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This pair of vintage Henredon sofas was my most recent purchase. $80 for the pair! The coral Brunschwig and Fils fabric is in almost perfect condition too. I've got just the right spot for these after they get a good deep cleaning with my favorite upholstery cleaner and my steamer (and after I pull off the skirts!).

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Here are a few other recents finds and some of my tips for scoring the good stuff:

Being a successful vintage shopper has a lot to do with frequency - if I have two free minutes when I'm passing a thrift store, I'll always pop in and make a beeline for the furniture section.

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After a couple of years of hardcore thrifting I can usually speed read a store and I'll only need a few seconds to see if there's anything good. And really, is there anything better than spotting something really, really great from the front of the store? I've been known to break into a full sprint on occasion. :)

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This one is no secret, but if you know a part of your city where a lot of senior citizens live, you'll probably find some of the best vintage shopping around.

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(a good sign I was shopping in the right neighborhood!) :)

If you're lucky enough to live in Florida (as any search for anything vintage on eBay will quickly tell you), you're going to be swimming in midcentury beauties.

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Arizona has a great retirement-age population, so the vintage shopping here is not lacking, but I've been able to find these pockets of older-generation communities in every city we've lived in over the past ten years. There are so many great deals to be had everywhere!

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Some of my very best vintage furniture deals were found in rural Delaware and Pennsylvania. As it turns out, people lived and furnished their homes in the 50s, 60s and 70s there too! ;)

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The BEST trick I have up my sleeve though is to search for "used furniture stores" or "furniture consignment" plus your zip code on Google or Bing maps.

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Thrift stores are great, but the vast majority of the stuff you'll find there now will be from the 90s and early 2000s. Antique stores can be amazing, but you'll pay for the dealer's eye which usually means a big mark up.

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I love eBay and Chairish and Craigslist for the times that I'm looking for something very specific that's in great condition. Estate sales are also really awesome, but they can be a lot of work and sort of time consuming. I don't do yard sales at all any more because they waste too much time and gas.

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Used furniture and consignment stores are where it's at, friends. Don't get me wrong. You'll still see all sorts of junk at these places, but there will almost always be vintage treasures to be had at ridiculously low prices!

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One of my friends, who bought this great iron chair on a recent shopping trip together, is so smart and likes to say hello to whomever is working near the front or at the register of the store and then just sort of shoots the breeze for a minute with them. And then she asks in the nicest way if there are any special sales happening that day. She's not being fake, she's just being friendly. And friendly people get treated, well, like friends! I've been using her approach since then and, I kid you not, nine times out of ten the salesperson will give me a little price break when I'm checking out without me even asking for it, just to be nice. It's amazing. Especially when you do as much thrifting and vintage shopping as I do - every 5 or 10% off really adds up! :)

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What are your tips and tricks for finding the best vintage furniture? Have you found any amazing deals lately?

67 comments:

Allison said...

Thanks for the great tips- it's so fun to see photos of all your finds! I second your recommendation for used furniture stores, especially if you live somewhere like the Bay Area, where there's too much competition from people that have the same hip mid-century taste. The only way I find anything good at reasonable prices is to explore the less cool surrounding suburbs- especially in affluent areas where people don't like to buy "used".

dotsforbreakfast said...

Dear Jenny, which shade would fit to "lady lamp" from penultimate photo? I have similar one and I would like to make it more funny, modern. Could you give me some tips?

megan said...

Any specific awesome store finds in NYC you are willing to share?

Elizabeth said...

Jenny,
I live outside Atlanta and they have St.Vincent DePaul thrift stores here. They are the best shopping ever.
My best find was at one of their rural locations and found a vintage Greek key acrylic waterfall coffee table for $15.00.
It's gorgeous and I'll probably never part with it!
Betsy Gordon
West of the Square Designs

,

Michelle Panting said...

Ooh, great tips Jenny! I will keep these in mind the next time I'm out!

http://www.fullbellywornsoles.com

Angela Santaniello said...

Great tips and finds! It has been seriously hit or miss (really almost entirely miss) here lately. Jealous of the stores you have gone to!

Angela @ Number Fifty-Three

Shelly said...

Hi jenny,
WHat are your favorite places in Delaware for vintage furniture
Thanks

Shelly said...

Hi Jenny,
What are your favorite places in Delaware for vintage furniture
Thanks
Shelly

Courtney said...

I live in Delaware and have no idea where the best shops are... Suggestions? I frequent Goodwill and The Salvation Army but never seem to have any luck. Thanks!

Heather + Ben said...

PA, represent! I've been on the hunt for a wing back leather chair for months and haven't been able to find anything yet. Thanks for the tips!

Julia Konya said...

Oh my gosh so much good stuff. Since you mentioned the senior citizens and good finds. It's so true and sad in it's own way. I have a friend who works in a senior living facility and they can buy some of the most amazing things when people downsize to come and live in a home. So sad though too :(

Donna Benedetto said...

You scored with the sofas, I purchased the exact same sofa from an auction house in the area paying $600 for one and then had a second one made. $80- doesn't cover the delivery fee I paid. The items you showed all had great lines with so many possibilities for finishing!
Donna
thebeneblog.com

Anonymous said...

Hi Jenny - what places do you go to in Phoenix/Scottsdale? It's where I live. Thanks!

Karen - Retro Wanderlust said...

What a fun post. If this one was one days worth of photos I need to get down to Phoenix with a large moving truck soon.

kate@willowinteriors said...

Love all your tips! Do you have any specific recs for in and around NYC? I live right by Granny's Attic in HHK (that I think you've been too) but he can be pricey. Thanks!

Rachel Baumann said...

I love, love, love that you are such a proponent of vintage furniture, Jenny! We live in the Midwest where lots of fabulous stuff can be found at dirt cheap prices (but I'm running out of room!). My most recent find is a SA-WEET MCM desk with brass legs and a matching bentwood chair for $45! I also found a great Jenny Lind bed for my son at a Salvage Yard for $35, just needs a coat of paint.

Ginger Bell said...

I am drooling over here. I am a thrift store junky (like I my husband thinks I need therapy). This post makes me want to spend all day hopping around thrift stores...while dragging along my poor children.

Ginger Bell said...

I am drooling over here. I am a thrift store junky (like I my husband thinks I need therapy). This post makes me want to spend all day hopping around thrift stores...while dragging along my poor children.

Kayla said...

I came so close to buying that pair of tufted mid century chairs that you photographed with the skirt pulled up. I even came on half off Saturday around 10 and found that a hold had been out on them until 11 by someone named Jenny:) when I came back later they were still available but I decided it was a no go because the foam was as hard as rock and disintegrating into powder beneath the upholstery and I didn't want to deal with that mess. I was so sad though:( seeing the picture reminds me of the promise that they had! I also agonized over that serpentine desk that you eventually bought from Craigslist a couple months ago. I loved it so much but it wasn't the right price for me. I always kick myself when I see that I liked the same thing you did but didn't buy it. You have great taste!

Sam @ The Junk House said...

Which stores in Phoenix are your favorite? I live there too (specifically Mesa) and would love some new places to shop at. I'm getting bored with my usual Goodwill and Saver stops.

Janice Fehlberg said...

HOW DID YOU NOT BUY EVERYTHING?

Emmie {Blue 11 Interiors} said...

Great post! I troll Craigslist a lot and I've found a few great pieces there but not as many as I'd like. Kansas City has a really cool group of vintage stores in a neighborhood called the West Bottoms that are only open the first Friday weekend of the month, I've found some really nice things there too. My favorite find is this faux bamboo mirror I got for only $29! http://blue11interiors.blogspot.com/2013/02/first-friday-shopping-in-west-bottoms.html

Emmie {Blue 11 Interiors} said...

I'm also dying to go thrift shopping in West Palm Beach, Florida when I visit my brother and sister-in-law there, but I know the shipping costs would negate the great prices.

Emma (Glitter and Gold) said...

honestly those sofa are insanely PERFECT . . . I mean O M G !!!!!!!

Molly said...

Jenny, thanks for these amazing tips!

Now that you've left NYC, maybe you wouldn't mind sharing some of your favorite spots in the area to look. I know you mentioned the Chelsea Flea and Housing Works in the past, but any other recommendations?

xx Molly

Anonymous said...

I am pretty new to this blog and am obsessed! We recently moved into a new home and are on a major budget to furnish - you've given me a ton of great ideas - thank you!

Carrie @ Cosy Carolina Interiors said...

Thanks for these tips. My favorite is the one about Googling by zip code. I don't know why I never thought of it!

Anonymous said...

Agreed with above -- please share the names of some Phoenix locations for your Valley of the Sun readers!! =)

Lesley | Artsy Forager said...

Fantastic tips, Jenny! And those Henredon sofas are the deal of the century! Can't wait to see what you do with them.

My sister-in-law lives in Florida and runs a small antique business on the side specializing in Mid-Century furniture and accessories. She has the best luck with Craigslist ( she receives alerts on her phones for keywords like mid-century, Heywood Wakefield--her fave, etc ). Another tip she as a dealer would give is to get to know dealers in your area personally and follow them on Facebook/Instagram, etc. She'll post item listings on social media before things go on consignment in the antique shops and give you a deal when you buy from her directly. Once they go into a shop, you can only buy there, so getting a shot at them early saves you $$ and gives her more room in her space for other inventory. Win, Win!

She's also been known to post "project items"-- pieces that need more work than she wants to deal with at them moment for a steal on social media.

Lesley Sachs said...

Impressive finds! Can you do a post on how to de-skirt a vintage chair or sofa?

Anonymous said...

I love all your thrifty finds! You have the best eye--can't wait to see what you'll do with those sofas!

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe you found two Henrendon sofas for $80. That is amazing. My chairs in my kitchen are Henrendon, and I paid $25 each for them at a ReStore; however, I rarely find good items like this when thrifting. Thanks for the tips!!!!

Clarissa

Countian said...

Can you suggest any shops to check out in Delaware?

Michelle said...

Third-generation Phoenician and avid vintage-furniture shopper here :) I can tell from your photos that some your go-to vintage furniture places here have been my favorite hidden gems - please don't share with everyone else in AZ!

I've followed your blog since before you made the move out here - I've always loved seeing your projects!

Liz Camelia said...

I would love to hear of any locations in south FL from you or commenters. I attempt to thrift all over broward county (ft lauderdale) and all I find is wal-mart junk! In clothes and furniture! Same with craigslist. Honestly, most of the listings there are from furniture warehouses selling overstock.

There is one "antique store" that had some great midcentury filing cabinets and desks, $400 per piece. I visited a year later, they were still there, same price.

I hear that once upon a time there was amazing clothes thrifting here, but maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places.

The rest of my husband's family lives in Massachusetts and the way thrifting and antiquing thrives in the North Shore area... well, I get why they roll their eyes at the thrift shops and swap meets here. So many gorgeous, affordable items.

Obviously, the only answer is to move to Phoenix! (Another land of warm winters)

echoamy said...

Amazing stuff you found. In Cincinnati we are so picked over though I admit I don't have a chance to frequent places much. I love that sofa you found.

Taylor de Sa said...

Great post, Jenny! You're right that being nice and friendly pays off! Here are some of my tricks: http://www.freshcoatofpaint.ca/2013/03/craigslist-score-part-3.html

Christina said...

My husband and I will sometimes do thrifting "drive-bys". We map out which stores to hit, then he stays in the car while I run in and check things out. If there's something good, I text him. If not, it's onto the next! All within a period of two minutes. :)

pillingfamily said...

ok, so I love the thrill of the hunt too, but sometimes am disappointed when i detect a slight scent of smoke to some of my best finds. what do you do about that?? do you pass, or just let the items air out? Wood takes forever to air. I've even dumped baking soda in dresser drawers and let it sit for weeks, but is there actually a product for this problem? Amazing finds, and SUCH great tips. Thanks!!

Lauren Tien said...

Jenny, your blog was one of the first I ever read, and is still my favorite--and how you shop for vintage and style items otherwise overlooked into your home is by far something I just love about you. I loooove this post and just want to share it with everyone I know who thinks thrifting is just yuck. Because, obviously, they are missing out. (But then again, if they don't thrift, more for us thirsters to find!) I recently went to NY for the first time ever, and hopped over to the Williamsburg flea because of how often you'd write about it. It was amazing, and I am so happy I finally got to go, and see what you had been talking about! so THANK YOU for sharing your love of the thrift. :)

Alicia Reisinger said...

If you have an secret spots in Pennsylvania, please share! I can find a few good things every now and then, but not like you! You certainly have a knack!

Heather@Tatter and Fray said...

You nailed it! For me, the absolute key is frequency. People always tell me I'm lucky or "in the know" about where to shop, but probably 75% of it is checking the shops frequently, and the other 25% is knowing which neighborhoods/secondhand shops have high populations of older people.

colonygal said...

Ahh! I am suffering from withdrawal from Thrifting because my time is being spent snow-blowing and shoveling right now in Chicagoland! Thanks for the tips, and the vicarious window shopping with your pix. I am a frequent drop-in thrifter of a few of my local GWs, and I agree with you that Estate Sales are a huge amount of time/work. I like auctions, walking distance garage sales, and craigslist. I had not heard of Chairish so will follow up on that.

fiorella said...

Eastern Connecticut is a thrifter's paradise! I have been able to get beautiful mid century pieces for $25 and under because people don't seem to like that style here. I'm always wary of upholstered pieces - how do you make sure they don't have bedbugs?

Preparing for Peanut said...

I'm jealous not only of your amazing thrifting options, but also of your incredible weather. It's 7 in St. Louis. 7!!!! Will winter ever end?

I'm still working hard to discover the hidden gems of thrift shops I just know are in our quirky city. St. Vincent is always highly rated but I rarely find anything there.

Amy in StL said...

I have the same question as fiorella: bedbugs. I've seen some great pieces but I'm always worried about bringing pests into the house. Bedbugs, roach eggs, fleas, brown recluse spiders. How do you guard against that?

fusselman's rabbit said...

Jenny could you share what steamer you use to clean your furniture? Looking to purchase one. Thanks!!

Melissa@TheChicDream said...

Thank you so much for tips! I love to see all of your fabulous finds. I always say that I'm going to hit the consignment stores but I just end up looking at Craigslist in my PJs and complaining that there's no good stuff!

Marin Smith said...

Hello very lovely post you have posted. Furniture is looking so beautiful and luxurious that can attract anyone’s attention. Now-a day’s people are very crazy for decorate their homes with modern home Bars furniture . I also want to decorate my home with these types of furniture.

Clare said...

Hi Jenny! Such a great post (but that goes without saying). My question: How do you store all of these things--or do you only buy with a project in mind? Do you use a storage center?
Thanks for being a daily inspiration!
Clare
(Lucy Clare Designs)

Gwen, The Makerista said...

So many amazing pieces! The hunt is one of my favorite things, but with little kids I don't have much room for it in this stage of my life. I look forward to the day when I can pop in and out of somewhere easily. :)

I can't wait to see which of these pieces came home with you and what you did with them! Those couches are just beautiful and what a steal!

Pink Overalls @DIY Home Staging said...

Very interesting post.

I'd add only that it takes a certain mentality to thrift well. People accustomed to regular retail shopping often don't know how to isolate in their mind each item in a second hand store, to judge it for itself minus the distracting surroundings. It's a combination of focus and imagination.

I'm curious, as are others, about the bedbug, etc. infestations.

kh said...

Thanks for the great tips!

Kelli @ Life at 818 said...

i love thrifting - been doing it since i was a child. my mom would drag us with her to the salvation army and st. vincent de paul stores in flint, mi.. it is in my blood and i love it so much! my best latest find was my brass(ish) lamp for $6. popped a "returned" $7 nate burkus shade from target on in and bam! it was gorg :) thanks for the tips!

JoEllen said...

Loved this post! I also live in the phoenix area and love love mid century furniture. I just moved into a larger home and am slowly putting my rooms together. Is there any chance that you would be willing to share a list of your specific favorite places to hit up? =)

Melissa Bee said...

Hello! I hear so many bloggers wary of used furniture due to bed bugs. Have you had any furniture with bed bugs??
Melissa
Phoenix, AZ

Rakib Hasan said...

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Natalie A said...

I'm in FL & the best thrifting in my city is the hospice thrift store. The prices are sometimes a tad higher than they could be (but as each few weeks go by, they drop the price by a certain percentage).

abbie said...

Hi Jenny! Question for you about all the furniture you buy... Do you ever worry about possible bugs or other yucky things you could bring into your home unknowingly on the furniture? Like what if the previous owner had a pet with fleas?? Or bed bugs? Maybe I just really hate bugs but I just wonder if you've ever had any problems.

nina | itsazooatthezoo.blogspot.com said...

This is such a wonderful way to show how you find things to work with. It does take a special eye and I think you've shown us how you recognize that special something. Thank you!

Jess said...

Love this! I'm inspired to go shopping now :)

Liz Dowling said...

I love finding treasures like these when you are shopping. Thanks for the tip on how to search online for vintage furniture!

Head said...

I live in ft lauderdale and I keep looking for good places to find mid century modern furniture and it's really hard. Even Good Will is a tip off. Not a lot of good deals, at least in my area.

Head said...

*rip off (not tip off;))

dervla said...

you make me want to escape the east coast snowstorm and go flea market shopping pronto!!

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Deadhead9 said...

Since the OP is out probably enjoying the sunshine I will comment--I have been thrifting and selling things both at auction and on line for 50 years or more. I have NEVER had a problem with bugs. I have not heard of anyone who HAS either and I am friends with a lot of people like me who do this for a living.

IF you think there might be an issue tho I would suggest that you use common sense---you will have to treat these things with something and altho the BORAX and other natural insect repellants are good sometimes you do need a stronger chemical. Just TEST a hidden spot to make sure it does not affect the color or fabric or finish. You can also FREEZE or HEAT TREAT smaller items.

Good Will is sadly a joke--leftovers and returns (broken) from Target priced HIGHER than Target. I live in Upstate NY and find the best places are the smaller places like your church stores---some have special places to hold furniture--if you don't see items--ask!--and local charity run thrifts. One near me in VT has a barn for furniture and over stock clothing---bulky stuff. Very reasonable. Their main building houses regular clothing ; books and household. Also consignment stores--altho the seller loses you gain.

Forget places like Hudson---interesting but--too hipster with prices to match. I have seen--and bought---some good stuff at HABITAT REstore. 2 Broyhill lighted matching shelving units for $120 the pair. Now I do have a TRAILER and strong guys if needed so I can haul this stuff but---in almost any place LOWES rents trucks for a very reasonable fee. I think you can even reserve on line! If you decide to go into this stuff as a business invest in a Harbor Freight trailer---they fold to store!!!---and a hitch can be put on most cars. You are not hauling semi loads--yet! You can also rent storage places to work on this stuff and or rent a garage. Most just needs deep cleaning anyways. If you find that steal and don't have room---buy it clean it and re-sell it! Amazing what a few GOOD photos can do for you--most Craigslist pics are terrible if they bother to do a pic at all. On eBay the BUYER pays the freight charge and almost every place has some form of FOB (Freight On Board) carrier--Google is your friend here too. FedEx and UPS---can be used but mostly for smaller things. And generally more expensive too.

For the smokey or icky smell in furniture--use COFFEE GROUNDS--place loose (Unused!!!) in the drawers for a few days. Or use straight real vanilla extract wiped all over. Or stuff the drawers or a trunk etc with black and white newspaper for a few days. I have tried Febreeze but--nope.

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