What’s Your Approach to Shopping for Vintage Decor?
Do you like to search for the perfect vintage piece? Or do you prefer the thrill of the unexpected find? I’ll walk you through different approaches to shopping for vintage decor, and provide you with useful tips no matter which approach you follow!
Different Approaches to Shopping for Vintage Decor
If you love incorporating vintage finds into your decorating like I do, then you probably enjoy regularly shopping or searching for items you love. While you’re hunting, you’ve probably always got one eye out for something that’s just perfect for *insert location in your home here*.
There are a few different approaches to finding those perfect vintage treasures. Some people prefer the thrill of the find and unexpected treasures. Others know what they want and will search until they find it. Let’s dig a little deeper with some tips and examples.
The Dedicated Search
Some people have a very clear vision for vintage pieces they are looking for. They would prefer to be patient and do a dedicated search for an item until they find it. Or, perhaps they choose to search for a few keys pieces to build a room around or fill a gap, before starting to add in other unexpected finds.
Early on when we began collecting vintage and antique pieces, I would often purposely search for specific things. I made several orders from Etsy or Ebay. As time went by however, it became more meaningful to discover pieces unexpectedly, and since then, we have mostly shifted away from dedicated online searches.
However, now that we are in our first house with more thoughtfully collected furniture and decor, there are fewer spaces remaining for impulse purchases. The same restriction applies to space for art on the walls. But I do still have a very specific list of furniture pieces I’m looking for. For example, I want to replace our wingback chairs with smaller-scale vintage armchairs. For the items on my list, I’m constantly doing dedicated online searches to see if the perfect thing pops up.
Having the ability to have things delivered to your home is one of the benefits of a dedicated search, especially in rural locations or during times when it is difficult to browse for unexpected finds. Pandemic restrictions and shutdowns over the past year have made vintage shopping more difficult in our province. As well, our favourite outdoor flea markets and used book sales were cancelled for the year. Therefore, in order to safely get my vintage shopping fix, I did do a couple of dedicated searches and online orders during the past year.
Here are a few of our favourite items that we have found by doing a dedicated search:
Vintage School Chart
This piece is an old school chart from the Netherlands that we ordered off Etsy. I knew I wanted something large to hang above our bed, but without a bulky frame. I have always liked the more traditional educational school charts – ie) parts of a flower, etc. But when I saw all the colours in this one, I knew it was exactly what we needed. It makes me think of spring and sunshine, especially when morning sunlight floods the room.
Set of Bentwood Chairs
I have plans for a tiny bistro table and two chairs in an eat-in part of our kitchen. I had been searching for bentwood chairs regularly online (and everywhere we went) for quite some time. Finally, the continuous searching paid off. I found an ad on Facebook Marketplace for a set of 8 chairs for a bargain. We had a wonderful drive to go get them out in the country and the sellers were so lovely and gave us a tour of their house. Then we did some complicated chair Tetris to get them all to fit into the car at the same time.
Some of the bent wood is broken on a few of them, and I’m not sure whether we’ll keep all eight chairs forever. But until the dedicated searching for the right bistro table works out, the chairs work great tucked in corners of rooms with plants on them!
Tips for a Dedicated Search of a Particular Vintage Item:
- Decide what parameters are non-negotiable. Search regularly online for combinations of those specific terms.
- Item: (ie. A dining table)
- The style: (ie. Mid Century)
- The size: (ie. Not more than 60” long)
- Shape: (ie. Oval)
- Color: (if applicable)
- Material: (ie. Teak)
- Price: (Your maximum budget)
- Alternatively, leave your search more broad. (ie. Search only for dining table if you’re open to a variety of things, and then you’ll know the right one when you see it.)
- Check local second-hand, vintage and antiques stores in your area. Search often.
- Strike up a relationship with the owners/dealers of independent stores and ask them to keep an eye out for the kind of item you’re looking for. Leave your contact info.
- Check the inventory of local stores online on social media or posted photo albums of new arrivals.
- Hunt at local garage sales, estate sales, or flea markets.
- Search online marketplaces such as Facebook Marketplace. Sometimes it’s possible to save searches and be notified by alerts when something you’re searching for pops up. Be prepared to act quickly as great items sell fast. Search often.
- Try using a variety of search terms to include alternate ways things can be described. (ie. Buffet, hutch, sideboard, credenza)
- You could also try posting a “Looking for” ad in online Marketplaces with a photo example of what you’re wanting to find.
- You can search non-local vintage sellers such as Etsy and Ebay. In my opinion, ordering online tends to be more suited to smaller items rather than large furniture. Also, don’t forget to factor in shipping.
- Be patient. This is a big part of doing dedicated searches. It may take some time for the perfect item to come along, but it will be worth the wait when it does!
- However, on the flip side – be a little bit flexible, and open-minded. Sometimes something even better than what you thought you wanted might come along.
The Thrill of the Find – or Unexpected Treasure!
In contrast to dedicated searching, many people prefer to shop for vintage with no particular plan in mind and find great joy in the thrill of the find. Stumbling across the perfect item for your space always feels quite serendipitous.
In fact, our first vintage purchase as a couple definitely counts as a surprise find. We were walking home from errands one Saturday and about to get dressed up to attend our friends’ wedding. We passed a garage sale where a man was selling drop-leaf dining tables and chairs. On a whim, we decided to purchase a set and had to race to carry it home and not be late for the wedding.
We no longer use that table as our dining room table because I don’t find drop leaf tables very sturdy. But that first “thrill of the find” purchase was likely the initial catalyst for all subsequent vintage and antique shopping thereafter. It was also our first non-Ikea furniture purchase and it made us feel so grown-up to be buying something “made to last”.
However, as our space for decorative objects is becoming more limited, we need to be more choosy about what we bring home with us. We like to focus on really unique things we haven’t seen before, items that are functional in some way, or items that provide a bigger impact. We need to make a conscious effort to avoid a lot of little items that just get lost on a shelf. But regardless, we definitely feel elated when we stumble across something unexpected.
Here are a just a couple of our favourite unexpected vintage finds:
During the summer when we were getting ready to move into our house, we took a trip to our favourite outdoor antique market. I knew I wanted some big statement pieces of art for the house, but we hadn’t really got around to looking yet. We saw this painting, half blocked by vintage signs in a display. The seller uncovered it for us to look at and I knew I loved the colours and the frame. But I questioned whether the subject of a boy fishing spoke to me and was something I could relate to.
We very nearly passed up this painting because I was uncertain, but we decided to go for it. And I’m so glad we did. The colours tie together our whole living room colour scheme, the scale is right, and I love looking at in the morning light. It’s now one of my favourite pieces in our house.
It has a fascinating label on the back of it, with the name of the store it came from in Drummondville, Quebec, and a three digit phone number. I’ve tried researching that store, and the artist, but I haven’t had any luck yet. But it’s something I’d really like to find out more about.
I know ceiling fans have their purposes, but I don’t love them aesthetically. And nearly every room in our house had one when we took possession. We quickly set about replacing them with cheap temporary fixtures since we were having our ceiling stipple removed before we moved in. We made multiple trips to the local Habitat for Humanity Re-stores to search for fixtures that would work.
On one particular trip, we stumbled upon this vintage chandelier. It was priced at considerably more than most purchases at the Re-store, and we were initially uncertain. But in comparison to new light fixtures it was a great bargain and I’m so happy we brought it home. It’s the perfect scale for our master bedroom and just the right amount of sparkle. Since we’ve never found anything there that is as nice since then, we sometimes joke that we managed to score the best light fixture they’ve ever had.
To read more about the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store and other great places to buy vintage and give back to the community, check out Vintage Shopping for a Cause.
To read more about another favourite unexpected vintage find, check out the post about our vintage school lockers.
Tips for Vintage Shopping for the Thrill of the Find:
- Be open to anything you see that you might fall in love with.
- Train your eye to notice colours, materials, or styles you like. As you begin to notice them more, they will jump out to you on crowded shelves or in crowded booths.
- Always take a second tour through a shop – You may have overlooked some great things on the first go round.
- Know the places in your house where there are gaps of furniture and décor and the places where you couldn’t possibly fit another item if you tried.
- Visualize at least one great place for the item in your home (if not more – options are good!) before you purchase. It’s going to need a good home if it’s not going to be clutter.
- Having a general idea of the sizes of spaces where you can accommodate new furniture will better allow you to purchase furniture on a whim. You can keep a list of measurements in your bag or on your phone.
- Know the sizes of the openings of your trunk/car hatch so you know when you will need to rent/borrow a vehicle or have something delivered.
- Carry a small tape measure with you, as well as relevant paint chips or fabric samples so you can decide on a whim if a treasure will fit or match your decorating style.
- Scroll through online marketplaces. Search broadly rather than specifically to find an unexpected treasure. Search within categories such as Furniture, or Antiques and Collectibles, or search broad terms such as vintage brass. You will need to act quickly as unique items go fast.
- Shop vintage, second-hand and antique stores when you travel. If you find a vintage treasure on a trip, it will mean even more to you as it will remind you of your travels. Just be sure that you have room to bring it back safely, or pay to have it shipped.
- Keep your eyes peeled at all times! Look for items left at the curb for garbage pick-up, used book sales at your local library, or at Habitat for Humanity Re-stores. You never know when someone else’s trash or donated items might become your next treasure!
For more about collecting vintage items while travelling, check out Meaningful Souvenirs – My Top 5 Things to Collect While Travelling.
Collecting often involves a combination of dedicated searching and the thrill of the unexpected find. Here’s an example of something we are collecting:
Vintage Penguin and Pelican Books
There is a ledge in our stairwell, and we have been collecting vintage Penguin and Pelican paperbacks to fill it and coordinate with some graphic art we have. We are collecting specific eras of covers that either have a horizontal or vertical white stripe visible from the spine. Our collection has grown slowly, a few at a time from shopping at used bookstores and used book sales at our local libraries.
I’m always on the lookout for the orange and turquoise books with white stripes on shelves of vintage books everywhere we go. In that respect I’m a dedicated searcher. I know that we could build our collection more quickly if I ordered some online. But by doing so, I’d likely pay a premium for shipping and it feels a bit like cheating to buy them in bulk that way. It’s more economical to pay $1-3/book, locally. And nothing beats the thrill of the find when we spot one squeezed in between all sorts of other books on long shelves.
Tips for Collecting:
Many of the tips from Dedicated Searching and The Thrill of the Find sections apply here too.
- Keep a record of your collection on your phone/in your bag – either in list/spreadsheet format, or a photo. You think you’ll remember what you have, but as your collection grows, trust me – you might find your memory is fuzzy!
- If you’re looking to fill gaps of years, editions, or sizes, keep notes on those.
- Be patient. You don’t need to complete your collection quickly. It will likely be more meaningful to acquire a great collection over years of stumbling across pieces, than within a few weeks by simply ordering everything online.
- Tell your family/friends about your favourite collections so they can keep an eye out for you. But be clear about whether you’d like them to grab something for you, or wait for your approval.
There is another method of acquiring vintage that you often don’t have as much control over. You may inherit or be gifted heirloom items from your relatives. In some families, you may offend your relatives if you express interest in a particular piece of furniture or that set of China you love while they are still alive and well. Other families actively discuss such matters well in advance, often downsizing a few times as they age. They might prefer that their beloved possessions will pass on to a family member who will also love and take care of them.
Be tactful if you decide to bring up the issue with a family member, and make sure your loved one knows that you appreciate the item for sentimental reasons, appreciate its heirloom qualities, and are not out to sell it to the highest bidder.
Family is important to me, and I love the extra meaning and history of items that have been passed down within our family. Since we live across the country from all of our family, it would be very costly to have furniture shipped to us. But we have inherited or been gifted a few small objects that have great meaning to us. Here are just a couple of examples:
Blue and White Teacups and Saucers
It seems that many females from both sides of our family collected some version of blue and white china. Some had whole sets, and others had single pieces. I’ve been fortunate enough to inherit cups and saucers from several relatives, and they are very special to me. I’m still planning out the perfect way to display them and give them the place of pride they deserve.
Teacher Education Book
As an educator myself, it was very meaningful to receive one of my great-grandmother’s teacher education books from when she attended Normal School (Teacher’s College). My aunt has another one.
The thrill of the find or a dedicated search – what’s your favourite approach to vintage finds?
In my opinion, there’s no right or wrong way to acquire your vintage pieces. Search purposely for them, stumble across them, collect them over time, or inherit them!
You might also like The 7 Best Reasons to Buy Vintage Decor.
I want to hear from you! What’s your favourite approach to shopping for vintage? Do you do dedicated searches for the perfect item you have in mind? Or do you prefer the thrill of the find? Or does it depend? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
All the best,