Vintage shopping is one of my favorite pastimes — whenever I visit a new city solo, I spend the bulk of my days scouring charming shops for hidden treasures. But finding the right pieces is an art form of sorts.
Most important of all is that the pieces you select truly speak to you. “When you find an item you are drawn to, ask yourself: Is it functional? Is it timeless? Is it interesting?” explains Jessica Crosby, owner of Brick Alley Co in Richmond. “A yes to all three? Well, that means you’ve got a piece that will be treasured in your collection for years to come!”
How do you even begin to find the goods amongst the diverse array of inventory in vintage stores, though? Experts suggest narrowing your focus on the following types of items:
“Vintage artwork is my top pick for beginner collectors — it’s thrifty, it’s fun to unearth, and it’s the quickest way to personalize a space by adding much-needed color and texture to plain walls,” says Amy Hughes, owner of New Jersey’s Maplewood Mercantile.
Purchasing vintage artwork is bound to save you major cash, too, Hughes adds. “Original oil or acrylic paintings found at antiques stores, flea markets, and thrifts sell for a fraction of the cost of new pieces and often come pre-framed, saving you a bundle from the get-go.”
Before making a purchase, though, keep an eye out for any flaking or damage, Hughes notes. Flaking — when the painting loosens from the canvas — is something a pro can easily fix, but the service isn’t cheap. You’ll want to check for water damage on the back, too.
Don’t forget to make note of the artist’s name if it’s visible, she adds. “The back (or verso, as the fancy folks say) is also where the artist tends to sign and title the work, and it’s a great place to start your Google investigation into the history of the piece and its creator.”
Kyle Dubay, co-owner of Woodward Throwbacks in Michigan, says he encourages people to keep an eye out for interesting vintage chairs. “More often than not, you can find quite good deals on one-off chairs at thrift stores, garage sales, or even on the curb,” he says. “In our house, we have a handful of interesting chairs that we purchased for like $5. They aren’t designer brands, but we like them and they add a little bit of soul to the areas they occupy.”
You can’t really go wrong when it comes to choosing a specific style, notes Ariene Bethea, owner of Dressing Rooms Interiors Studio in Charlotte, North Carolina. “From the perfect petite swivel for a small space to dining chairs, you can always find well-made vintage chairs.”
Carpenter Studio co-owner Jessica Carpenter frequently debuts new coffee tables in her Baltimore shop and encourages others to look for such pieces. “To me they really set the tone for your space,” she says.
But don’t rush into making this type of purchase, she says. “Take your time to hunt for — and really think about — how you use your space and what would work best for you,” Carpenter explains. “For us, it’s a big chunky and well-worn wood table that’s filled with our favorite books and pieces we’ve collected in our travels. It’s even big enough to give the cat a spot to chill.”
Need new lighting for your space? Search for it at your local vintage store. “Lamps are a great starter item for a new collector who wants to buy vintage, because they are so adaptable,” Crosby says. “It’s easy to change a lampshade, and that alone can instantly change the vibe and function of the lamp.”
Cheryl Luckett, the blogger behind Dwell by Cheryl, agrees. “The right lamp or sconce (better yet, a pair of them) can do wonders for a space by adding color, drama, and interest, not to mention added lighting.”