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Tips for Buying Secondhand Furniture

I love a good deal! I also love antique, one-of-a-kind pieces that add a uniqueness to a space. That is why I love buying USED furniture! Yes, you read correctly! I have a strange passion for old and unusual pieces that are often found in the depths of craigslist or a small-town flea market or side of the road antique sale. I have discovered many hidden gems (and some of my favorite pieces) from these sources. So, I want to share my tips for purchasing secondhand furniture so you can utilize them in your own home.

1. Measure and measure and measure again! Make sure the piece you love will not only fit in your home, but through your door and tight hallways.

To ensure your new [to-you] piece will fit in your home, measure the following:

  • length and width of the space it is intended for (measure from the floor to account for any floorspace taken up by baseboards)

  • height from floor to windowsill (if it sits against a window wall) to make sure the window is not blocked much.

  • width and height of doorways

  • width of and any tight corners in hallways

  • width, height, length and arm height (if applicable) of new piece

  • height of furniture leg (if applicable) and take notice if it is removable

2. Case pieces and non-upholstered items are usually a great buy! Understand that upholstered items will need a good cleaning and possibly new fabric.

I have a rule, and of course every rule has an exception. My rule is that any non-upholstered piece is usually a great secondhand buy! Furniture with fabric – such as sofas, upholstered chairs, ottomans – are sometimes okay to buy secondhand, but, be prepared to replace the fabric on these pieces. Upholstered furniture can gather and absorb dust, allergens, smoke, animal shedding, odors, mold, mildew and more.

If you do fall in love with an upholstered secondhand piece, don’t fret! You have a couple options, you can (a) give it a deep clean or (b) reupholster it. Reupholstering things can be expensive, as you have to factor in the cost of the new fabric as well as the cost of the labor. Of course, you can reupholster some things yourself, I have reupholstered a few dining room chairs in my day! But for things like lounge chairs and couches, it can be tricky and I recommend getting it professionally done.

3. Check the condition and quality of your piece carefully. It’s important to understand all the work that will need to be put in to making your pre-owned piece shine.

Whether upholstered or not, thoroughly checking the quality of a secondhand item before you buy is crucial. In some cases, the items you get are in perfect condition and ready to live in your home. In other (and many) cases, second-hand furniture needs a little love before it’s ready for use. It’s important to understand the quality and condition these pieces are in so you have an idea of the work it entails to breathe a new life into pre-owned furniture. Consider structure, shape, and material foremost – is it structurally sound and without damage? Do you like the general look of it and will it fit in your space (literally)? Secondly, consider color, texture, and finish. Changing the finish on a wood piece is possible, but changing the wood species and grain is not. Finally, it is important to think about comfort. Is the table the correct height to sit at comfortably? Is the sofa or dining chair comfortable to sit on through a movie or a dinner?

4. Ask yourself: Does this piece fit with the aesthetic I have or am wanting to create for my home?

5. Read reviews of antique shops or secondhand stores before you visit to make sure they are of good quality. Be safe if purchasing online and bring a friend, spouse or neighbor to pick up pieces you have purchased from someone online!

Moral of the story is that secondhand and antique furniture is a great way to add character to your home. It can also be less costly than buying new furniture (depending on where you purchase it from) and chances are, not many people will have the same pieces as you. I adore my second-hand pieces and love the custom, curated look it brings to my home. I hope these tips can help you achieve the same for your home.

Good luck and happy designing!

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