If interior design feels more relevant than ever right now, that’s because it is. And while that encompasses all updates and interiors purchases, nothing feels buzzier at the moment than vintage and antique furniture. Since the dawn of e-commerce, comfort levels with making big, luxury purchases online, from fine jewelry to Gucci, have varied widely—and investing in that 1970s Bellini chair is no different.
Anthony Barzilay Freund, editorial and fine art director at 1stDibs, is sharing his vast well of knowledge to help you navigate the Italian and Danish furniture-filled waters of shopping for vintage pieces on the Internet. Get answers to pressing questions on reupholstering and refurbishing, spotting fakes, and what’s trending in furniture now—and shop pieces from go-to sites like 1stDibs, Etsy, and beyond.
Where should you start if you’re new to buying vintage and antique furniture online?
If you already know which piece of furniture you need and what style you like, then great—you’re ahead of the game. But if you’re unfamiliar with the different periods and styles, it’s worth spending some time learning, say, the difference between Art Nouveau and Art Deco. There are plenty of online resources where you can bone up on your design smarts. On 1stDibs, we have an online magazine, Introspective, and a blog, The Study, with design stories that are equal parts educational and inspirational.
Another good way to start is by collecting images of pieces you like. Bookmark them, save them to Pinterest. If you’re browsing on 1stDibs, you can create a folder of the things that appeal to you. You’ll start to get a sense of your own taste and what draws your eye.
How can you do your best as a buyer to confirm designer and brand authenticity?
The key is really to shop with dealers you trust. Our sellers are often experts in their respective fields with experience authenticating the pieces they specialize in. If you’re buying from an online marketplace, make sure it has its own protections. At 1stDibs, we not only vet all of our sellers and hold them to stringent standards, but we also have a whole in-house team dedicated to reviewing objects on the site to make sure that if you’re buying an Eames chair, you’re getting an Eames chair.
What questions should you ask to ensure good quality?
Definitely make sure that you’re seeing a piece of furniture from all angles. If you’re not satisfied with the images that are available, ask to see more. If you notice imperfections, don’t be shy about discussing them. And be sure to inquire about any restoration work that’s been done. Fixing up a piece may make it look better, but in some cases, it can also decrease its value.
What are the names trending now in antique furniture?
We’ve noticed a greater interest lately in Louis XV and Louis XVI furniture—both styles are selling more than last year. We’re also seeing an uptick in Art Deco furniture and objects, Arts & Crafts pieces, Rococo decor, and Gustavian chests and storage pieces. Swedish furniture that can usually be identified by its elegant lines and matte gray or white paint.
The big names on vintage furnishings are lighting designer Paavo Tynell and seating masters Hans Wegner and Vladimir Kagan. And Gio Ponti, who was a master of everything.
- Overall: Daum, Reed & Barton, Paavo Tynell, J. & L. Lobmeyr, Francois Linke, Fornasetti, Max Ingrand, Paul Evans, Marco Zanuso
- Lighting: Paavo Tynell, Max Ingrand, Jacques Adnet, Fontana Arte, Sergio Mazza
- Tables: Paul Evans
- Seating: Marco Zanuso, Guillerme et Chambron, Hans Wegner
How can you make sure the item will work in your space since you’re seeing it only online?
There are now several online apps that let you take a photo of your space and digitally place the object of your choice in it. You should also block out the space with tape on your floor or find a similarly scaled item—whether a piece of furniture, a box, or a stack of pillows or blankets—to give you a rough idea of how the volume will fill the space. If you’re still having trouble visualizing its impact on your room, check your seller’s return policy to find out your options if the scale feels wrong once you get it home.
People are often reticent about purchasing used upholstered pieces. Do they have reason to be?
When buying antique or vintage pieces, it’s likely you’ll need to reupholster them unless the dealer specifies that they are newly recovered or that their condition is excellent. Far too many people are intimidated by the idea of reupholstering. It’s actually often quite easy and cost-effective.
I recently bought a pair of midcentury-modern swivel chairs that were covered in their original, unattractive (to my mind) paisley. I had them shipped to my upholsterer (any good furniture dealer should be able to recommend one); ordered a beautiful, durable fabric (the chairs are for my kitchen, so they had to be stain proof); and had them recovered and delivered home faster, and at a lower cost than had I ordered brand-new chairs from a contemporary furniture chain. Now I’ve got chairs that have an interesting backstory and that are covered in a fabric that is exactly to my liking. And I derive satisfaction from knowing that I gave some old furniture new life. There’s nothing “greener” than salvaging old furniture.
What is reasonable for shipping?
There are many factors that go into shipping, whether it’s the distance between buyer and seller, the type of piece (i.e., an armchair is a very different shipping project than a chandelier), or the type of service—meaning do you want the piece brought into your home and have all the packing materials removed or merely delivered to your front door so you handle the rest.
How much should someone be open to refurbishing items? What’s a good bet to work on, and what should you skip?
Reupholstering, refurbishing, or refinishing a piece can often be simpler and less expensive than many people imagine. That said, there are instances when the required work can be quite challenging and you may never be able to restore something to pristine condition. That might be fine: One person’s ding or scratch is another’s “patina” or “character.” Regardless, it’s best to confirm with the dealer how extensive she feels the restoration will be. The price you pay for the piece should reflect the amount of work you’re going to need to invest to bring it back to a condition you’re comfortable with.
Where to Shop
1stDibs: The company is a veritable mecca of high-end designer furniture by the biggest names—from Bellini to Gio Ponti.
Etsy: Etsy has everything—and it doesn’t stop at crafts and vintage clothes. With big-name vintage from trending names like Charlotte Perriand and Caprani to hard-to-find little French milking stools and marble pillars, it’s a one-stop shop.
LiveAuctioneers: This one isn’t for the reticent. These auctions from around the globe can get heated, and you’re often left trying to figure out how to ship your win. But the payoff for the extra stress is some of the best deals on designer pieces. Godspeed.
eBay: A classic for a reason. While eBay does have dealers, you have a good chance of finding an individual seller who is ready to part with a true find. The trick is in knowing what you want and slinging deals (i.e., make your best offer and walk away).
Everything but the House: In essence, an online estate sale; there are some rare-name items, but what you’ll mostly find are truly lovely antiques at a total steal. Think: classic American furniture with some stellar diamond deals for when you tire of tables.
Pamono: Pamono is a streamlined global marketplace offering vintage and antique furniture only. Dealers from around the world sell on here, and if you allow yourself some time to browse, you’ll most likely discover some true gems. They also offer reupholstery for select pieces through a partnership with textile company Kvadrat.
Chairish: Chairish is big, as in get your scrolling thumb ready, because you’re about the hit thousands of items from one search for MCM lounge chairs. But all of those options, broken down by price, style, era, and more, mean that what you’re looking for is most likely on there. And don’t be afraid to make an offer a seller can’t refuse when you find it.
Instagram: You’d be hard-pressed to find a dealer worth their salt who isn’t putting their items on Insta. If you want to see the latest from your favorite shops—Friends of Form, MDFG, Dobbin Street Co-op—look no further than the ‘gram. Some shops sell on the Instagram Shop pages, and others just announce their latest finds and wait for the DMs to roll in.
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