A little effort goes a long way when you're buying vintage.
Because scoring a to-die-for piece of used furniture seems as impossible to us as Don Draper giving up his Luckys, we went to an expert for a crash course on happy hunting. Martha Mulholland, who is in charge of visual merchandising Jayson Home & Garden (1885 N Clybourn Ave, 773-248-8180) and loves scouting for vintage pieces in her free time, gave us five simple tips for snagging pieces you’ll treasure forever.
Scour outside of Chicago.
Mulholland has fave hunting spots in Chicago-proper—especially Post 27 (1819 W Grand Ave, 312-829-6122) and Stop! Look! (1307 N Western Ave, no phone)—but her best finds have been outside of the city limits. “If I’m driving to Wisconsin and I see a sign for an antique mall or antique fair, I’ll take a detour to check it out,” she says. She’ll travel to Grey’s Lake, Volo and Kane County for scouting expeditions and she reads Antique Weekly, a trade magazine, for leads on estate sales and estate auctions. Craiglist is another spot to check for postings about upcoming events.
“Good deals go fast,” Mulholland says. That’s why she makes a habit of visiting the same spots over and over. Another bonus: You’ll get to know the shop keeper, which often translates into leads on furniture that’s not on the floor yet, tips on other places that may have you’re looking for, even reduced prices when you’re ready to make a purchase.
When you’ve got one piece in mind—say, a desk—it can be tempting to buy the first sorta-what-you-had-in-mind item you see. Resist that urge, counsels Mulholland. “Have a selective eye,” she says. “Don’t buy something if it’s not very, very close to what you had in mind.” Mulholland often clicks around on Craigslist and Ebay for weeks (or months) and then jumps to action when she spots the piece that’s “just right.”
“People are more willing to make a deal if you offer them cash,” Mulholland says. “If you pay with $150 cash instead of on your credit card, they may even knock off the sales tax or come down on the price.” And a quick word on haggling: It’s totally kosher if you’re not at a boutique and if the price is $100 or more. You might also try negotiating a reduced price if you’re buying a set—for example, if you’re buying six candlestick holders ask if they’ll knock a few bucks off each one or a percentage off the total price.
Know your limits.
There are varying levels of quality when it comes to used furniture and some pieces will be harder to restore than others. “Ugly fabric, chips and scuffing—these are things you can deal with and fix yourself,” Mulholland says. But other issues like a veneer finish and broken ornamentation will be harder to fix up. A hint for the budget-conscience: Investing in your own wax markers or furniture re-touching kit cuts down on the cost of refurbishing.