Shopping for vintage furniture is 75 percent of the fun when you own a vintage furniture, decor and paint shop! People often ask me how I choose the unique pieces on display at the store and where I find them. There is no big secret in where I go -- estate and tag sales, garage, yard and moving sales, flea markets and antique malls, Craig's List and now, my customers and pickers often offer me furniture they think I will like.
People are surprised that I rarely, if ever, go to auctions. While I know there can be some excellent bargains found at estate auctions and auction houses, I rarely go. What I am looking for is what everyone else in the painted furniture market is looking for. So chances are I can sit through three hours of auction action for a few pieces and not win the bid! I save myself the disappointment, time and gasoline costs and do a lot of my shopping in my living room via the internet!
What is an art, if I can presume to call it that, is picking the right piece at the right price that you can repurpose, upcycle or restore economically and flip for a profit. That does take experience -- and believe me, I have had my share of disasters that I sold at cost or even a loss. On occasion, they have just been left on my curb for the pickers to find and take off my hands! But those days are few and far between after five years of buying and selling vintage furniture.
Every day I meet new people who are just getting excited about going to sales or upcycling grandma's old furniture. So here are my ten top tips on how to avoid disaster and score a win with every piece you undertake!
1 Look for good bones. The piece needs to appeal to your sense of style or shape. I am not a mid-century modern person, but I admire the work of my friends and customers who are! I tend towards Victorian and French Provincial styles. The piece needs to be proportional to my eye and my customers.
S Structurally sound. Does the piece jiggle because legs are loose or one is short. Starting out, you may not have the skill set to fix what needs fixing. There's a lot of really sound furniture on the market -- don't adopt a headache!
Glass is in great condition. There is nothing quite so expensive as replacing heavy glass shelves or beveled mirrors! Take a look for chips and cracks. Personally, I do not totally shy away from beveled mirrors that may have some haziness due to age -- as I think that tells part of its story. But there is nothing worse than discovering a thick heavy glass shelf to match the others will cost $55 or more!
2 No active woodworm. You do not want to introduce woodworm to your home or store. While the charm of woodworm holes may be copied in modern pieces, there is nothing funny about woodworm or carpenter ants! Don't import a problem into your environment. If you see holes, make sure the hole does not look fresh -- like new wood around the opening and make sure there is no fine fresh sawdust type material inside the piece.
3 Use the smell test. Three things I try to avoid are mildew/mold, tobacco odors and the smell of mice droppings and urine. There are ways to deal with the first two if you really fall for the piece, but watch out for the last one. It is virtually impossible to lock in the smell of a urine saturated drawer. (I speak from experience.) So stick your nose inside a piece and check. Also look for ragged holes indicating rodent activity.
Rickety drawers. Drawers that fall out of the chest when you open them because there are no glides are often expensive to fix. Drawers with missing pieces in the bottoms or that have warped need work. Once again, plenty of nice pieces out there. Skip this one for now. Your customers want drawers that work!
Watch out for warped, cracked or missing veneer. There are ways to fix these things -- and they are not that difficult. And in later posts this year, I will be offering "fixes" to many of the problems mentioned here. But you are starting out so be kind to yourself.
S Size does matter. If you operate on your own, can you move this piece yourself? Can you get it into your auto or truck? If you are selling at events, I find that smaller pieces sell faster than large ones. Unless they have a particular piece of furniture in mind, most people are not equipped to leave your flea market booth with a 300-pound Mission-style buffet. They will take home a side table they can fit in their backseat.
The price is right. Is it a fair price? Will you be able to invest the time (consider an hourly wage for yourself), money for materials and flip the piece for a profit? I always ask the seller what their bottom price is. I try not to insult them with a low-ball bid if I believe someone else will probably pay up for the piece. Be kind to the seller -- someday they may be your customer.
You have a vision. A piece of furniture or decor should grab your imagination so you have an idea of what you will do with it. But never love your pieces so much that you cannot part with them There should always be a price where you will be willing to part company.
So there you have it! Ten traps to avoid or ideas to embrace on your new hobby or business. Will you make mistakes? Darn right. Will they make great stories to tell your friends in the future? Heck, yes! By the way, did I tell you the one about the Eastlake dresser that had housed a family of mice.........