There are many great reasons to buy vintage decor, including reducing furniture waste. I’ll share 7 of the best reasons to consider purchasing thrifted, antique, second-hand, or salvaged decor, as well as tips and examples from our own home.
First, what’s wrong with new and modern home decor?
Nothing. I am not against new and modern home decor at all. In fact, we still buy our fair share of modern pieces, be they furniture, curtains, rugs, plumbing fixtures, or plant pots, just to name a few. We select many new products, either for their form, function, or for their more hygienic qualities. Incorporating modern pieces with simple lines also helps to balance out the vintage and antique decor we have and prevent our style from being too stuffy. I’m all for mixing old and new pieces.
Changing and replacing furniture and decor
Over the years, we moved many times from apartment to apartment. They varied dramatically in size, and we had to change up our furniture solutions quite often. In addition, our tastes have changed and solidified over the past dozen or so years, and we no longer own many of the furniture pieces or decor that we had years ago. Any pieces that we’ve no longer needed, we’ve sold or donated. We are trying to become more conscious about choosing pieces that are less trendy, that we really love, and also that are more versatile and well made. This includes a mix of vintage and antique pieces, as well as modern items.
The pros and cons of flat-pack furniture and furniture waste
Certainly, over the years, we have bought a lot of flat-pack furniture from big box retailers. There are benefits to this kind of furniture, such as a lot of options to choose from and most are simple styles that blend well with other decor. Flat-pack furniture is usually more affordable as well, which makes it great for many people, especially those just starting out in their own apartments or homes, and for people on a budget. I LOVE a good Billy bookcase from Ikea, and we have several. You really can’t beat the price.
However, flat-pack furniture has downsides too. Many pieces are made with medium-density fibreboard with laminate or veneer on top. Those surfaces are not as durable as wood, and they are difficult to refinish as they age. It’s not usually possible to fix the laminate or veneer when it gets wet or starts peeling. Shelves warp over time. Further, pieces that are moved are at a higher risk of being damaged in ways that don’t really add character. This all means that a lot of modern and flat-pack furniture ends up in landfills because it doesn’t last. Sometimes it’s known as “fast furniture” since it’s made cheaply and is meant to be disposable.
Tackling Furniture Waste
Furniture waste, or ‘f-waste’ as it’s also called, is a growing problem. And unfortunately, municipalities can recycle very little of this waste. Here are some tips to reduce your furniture waste:
- Donate or sell items you no longer want or need
- Reuse, repurpose or refinish items to give them a second life
- Slipcover or reupholster furniture that’s stained, ripped, or tired
- When your budget allows, try to choose classic and well-made pieces that won’t go out of style or need replacing right away
- When your budget allows, consider choosing pieces made of real wood as they can be painted or stained down the road to change their look
- Consider buying vintage, antique, thrifted or second-hand decor rather than new items
Vintage, Antique, or Thrifted? What’s in a name?
Antique, vintage, thrifted, second-hand, used, salvaged, reclaimed – we use so many words to describe items that are not new. There are differences in definitions between the terms, and they can vary depending on where you look and who you ask. But generally speaking, here’s how I define each category:
- Vintage items are usually at least 40 years old and up to 100 years old.
- Antiques are usually defined as being more than 100 years old.
- Second-hand, used, and thrifted are all pretty similar in my opinion. They include items that no longer belong to the original owner, including relatively modern and inexpensive household items, but can also range all the way to older antiques that were cleared out of Grandma’s house for example. It is likely that an antique piece will be more affordable if you find it at a second-hand shop than at an antique store.
- Salvaged and reclaimed items tend to be more rustic and are most often antique architectural elements – doors, windows, trim, barn boards, etc.
However, for the purposes of this blog post, I’m generally going to use the word vintage to encompass all categories, as it’s somewhere in the middle between more modern second-hand items, and very old, precious antiques.
7 of the Best Reasons to Buy Vintage Decor:
There are so many reasons to buy vintage decor, or at least consider choosing items that are not new. Let’s explore 7 of the best reasons to buy vintage decor, with tips and examples.
1. Giving used and vintage decor a second life is more sustainable
As I discussed above with furniture waste, one of the biggest reasons to buy vintage decor is because it is a sustainable choice. Giving a new home to vintage or secondhand items is better for the environment than buying new because it prevents those pieces from ending up in landfills. Often, pieces don’t need anything done to them. But if you don’t like them exactly how they are, there are options.
You can always refinish a piece or give it a makeover with a bit of paint, new upholstery, etc. With a bit of imagination, you can also repurpose an item, like turning an old crock into a planter, or turning an old window frame into a chalkboard, as we did below.
We also love to reuse and repurpose architectural salvage pieces. We have several salvage items tucked away that we just have to put into use. And we also love finding gems at Habitat for Humanity Re-stores where people donate items that might otherwise be thrown out. Best of all, the proceeds go to charity.
Tip: There is such a wide variety of places to find decor in need of a new home. These can be your typical antique stores, vintage shops and thrift stores. Other options include flea markets, auctions, estate sales, architectural salvage, online marketplaces and local Buy Nothing groups. And don’t forget about charity shops, Habitat for Humanity Re-stores, garage/yard sales, and rescuing items from the curb. Treasures and good deals can come from anywhere, and rehoming these goods is great for the environment!
2. Pieces made in the past often had better craftsmanship
Perhaps it was because more items were made by hand or they used more natural materials, but most antique and vintage items have endured the test of time. Think hand carved details, hand painted china, dove-tailed joints, or just less plastic.
Here’s an example of ours. We bought a vintage headboard off of Facebook Marketplace for $60. It’s solid wood, and has beautiful curves. It also just happened to have panels with wood grain on an angle, repeating the angles of the veneer on our bedside tables. Ikea doesn’t even sell a queen headboard for that price, let alone one that’s solid wood. I don’t know exactly how old this headboard is, but it was made well and will last for many years to come.
Tip: Check how stable pieces are before you buy them and inspect for damage. But don’t let a few required minor repairs or some needed cosmetic updates stop you from purchasing a piece you love either!
3. Vintage items have more warmth, charm, patina and meaning
Whether it’s a beautiful antique brass candlestick, faded fabric-bound hardcover books, or an old table that’s dented and scratched, older items show their decades of love and use in a charming way. While we don’t always know their history or stories, their patina brings warmth, character and meaning to your home.
Yes, of course you can buy new items that are made in a vintage or antique style. They might be more functional or safer, such as plumbing fixtures or lighting. But it’s hard to beat the real patina of truly old items. For example, you can buy vintage-style crystal chandeliers, but this real vintage chandelier that we found at the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store has way more charm in my opinion. It also cost a fraction of what a new one would have cost.
Tip: Consider imperfect items. For example, tarnished metals, wood with signs of use, and well-loved toys. Also consider items that show personality and meaning. Some examples include books with personalized inscriptions, old photographs, postcards that were written out, artwork, or trophies.
4. You can create a one-of-a-kind home with personality
Avoid cookie-cutter design by choosing antique, vintage and thrifted decor. Select items that are more unique than those found in trendy rows of modern multiples on a store shelf. Over time, you can slowly build a collection of items that you love and showcase your personality. Your home should be a unique reflection of you and contain items that speak to you.
I’ll share an example of a unique find. We found the painting below at our favourite architectural salvage place. The owner paints, and the vintage painting had appealed to him. It appealed to me as well, and I snatched it up. My husband doesn’t quite understand what I see in it and often shakes his head at it. But I liked the frame, and the colours in the painting. I’ll readily admit that the painting isn’t great and it’s perhaps unfinished even. But the faces of the yaks are priceless to me. This is truly a one-of-a-kind piece that no one else will have in their home.
Tip: Do keep in mind that using vintage doesn’t have to automatically mean a lot of clutter. Even a few purposefully chosen items that you love can add impact and personality to a space without overdoing it.
5. You can create an eclectic mix of eras and styles
Choosing vintage, antique and thrifted pieces makes it easy to achieve an eclectic style. It is not necessary to commit to any one era or design style. In fact, too much of one particular style can become imbalanced. Or it might feel like you’re living on a period movie set. Blending in simple, modern pieces also helps to bring contrast and visual relief to the vintage and antique pieces.
In our own home, we like a mix of styles. We have many vintage or mid-century pieces. Then we mix in some older, more rustic antiques, a few industrial pieces and plenty of modern items. This creates an eclectic mix of styles that feels totally unique to us, and is not confined to any one era.
This is just one angle of our living room, but this view contains pieces from multiple periods and styles. The couch is a modern piece in a mid-century modern style, while the footstool is real vintage from the mid-century. The painting and the side table are older – actual antiques, though I’m not sure exactly how old. The lamps and books are modern pieces. And our curtains are new, handmade by me, using fabric that has a 70s vibe I think. Across the room is our green metal barrister bookcase which has a more industrial feel to it. Yet all of these items work together.
Tip: To help create a cohesive style with decorative items from different eras, use repetition. Incorporate repeating colours and materials to help relate objects of contrasting styles to each other.
6. The buying experience and hunt for treasures can be way more fun
I can remember, either specifically or vaguely, where and when we found most of our vintage, antique and thrifted treasures. I cannot say the same for many of our new, store-bought items.
The experience of searching for or stumbling across vintage treasures is often more enjoyable than owning the item itself. And those experiences are memorable, whether it’s a day spent antiquing in the country, a fun find discovered on vacation, a Facebook Marketplace item that you scored, or a piece that you rescued off the street.
Not only will you have one-of-a-kind items in your home, but you’ll have created memories along the way that you will associate with those objects. As an added bonus for the environment, these memories will also make you more likely to keep a vintage piece longer, rather than replacing it when trends change.
This large floral oil painting is an example of an object that has a great memory attached. We had arranged to buy it off Facebook Marketplace from someone who lived in the country. We made a day of it, stopping at other small town antique places nearby. Then on the way to get the painting we came across a herd of Highland cattle which we stopped to watch for ages. That was a great day that I won’t forget, and I remember it when I think about this painting.
The photo above is also another example of mixing styles and eras. The painting is from the 70s I believe, and the globe is likely from the 60s. The plant pots are new, as is the Ikea watering can. The aluminum tray with red Bakelite handles is likely from the 30s or 40s, and the ceramic tray is a handmade souvenir gift from my aunt and uncle. I don’t know how old the little leaf bowl is, but I thrifted it, as you’ll see in the next section.
Tip: To find tips for vintage shopping so you can find your own treasures and make your own memories, check out my previous blog post, The Thrill of the Find. There you can also read about some of our favourite vintage buying experiences and our love of searching for unexpected treasures.
To read more about buying vintage items while travelling, check out Meaningful Souvenirs.
7. You can get often better value
The final reason to buy vintage decor, is you can often get better value when buying used and vintage home decor. This is not always true however, because of course you can spend a fortune on priceless antiques or collectable items. Though more often than not, if you’re patient and prepared to snatch up a good find, you can get a really good deal.
We have made many mistakes in our journey of learning to appreciate and purchase vintage, thrifted and antique items. Sometimes, we have spent too much on pieces that we haven’t loved, or that are small and disappear on a shelf. That’s why we’re always working to improve our choices, especially as we’re running low on room for more.
We now try to get the most bang for our buck – or decorating impact. That means we’re willing to pay more for a larger piece, say furniture, or something that has function. We’ll also spend more for something has is incredibly unique, or that will be a focal point in a room.
But on the flip side, we’re also trying to spend less on smaller objects that are more decorative. Again, we’ve made mistakes in the past. But here’s an example of our progress in the photo below. I bought all of these items at various thrift stores or at a used book sale at our library. The most expensive item, the brass vase, was $4, and the others cost $1-2 each. And I like most of these items just as much, if not more than things that we’ve spent more money on.
Tip: Consider how to get the most “decorative bang for your buck”. Allocate more in your budget for larger pieces, functional items, focal points, or truly unique things you’ll never see again. Spend less on smaller decorative items.
What are your reasons to buy vintage decor?
I want to hear from you. When you are choosing items for your home, what are your reasons to buy vintage decor? Why do you choose used, second-hand, thrifted, antique, salvaged or reclaimed items? Is it for style and aesthetics? Because it’s good for the environment? Because it’s good for your budget, or for some other reason? Let me know in the comments below.
All the best,