Beginner’s guide to buying second-hand furniture
Who doesn’t love a cheerful mix of old and new? From hand-me-downs to flea market finds and car boot sales, a good old rummage can certainly reap its rewards… and chime with present-day pieces.
But how about taking your purchasing prowess to the next level – and styling up your space with planet-friendly finds en masse?
“We’re all trying to buy less and buy better,” says Lisa Dawson, home stylist, interiors blogger and author of Resourceful Living.
So when you’re planning your interior scheme, she says you want to make sure to include a sustainable mix of furniture. “Sourcing vintage and second-hand furnishings is a great responsible way to do that, instead of buying everything new.”
Harriet Pringle, founder of Narchie, a homeware marketplace app, also applauds shopping second hand. “Not only is it the most sustainable way to shop for your home, it helps give new life to something that would otherwise be chucked away.
“But you can also get cheaper, better quality, and unique designs at a fraction of the price. It’s also the quickest and most efficient way of purchasing for your home, as you don’t have to wait for long lead times.”
So where should you go, and what should you be looking out for?
Where to shop
“For me, the number one place to source vintage from – that everyone can access easily – is eBay,” says Dawson.
She advises: “Now eBay is a massive platform and can seem daunting with thousands of sellers – so it’s really important that you do some due diligence while you’re shopping there.”
Make sure to spend time looking at the customer ratings the seller has received – before you start bidding – to check how reliable they are to be buying from, warns Dawson.
“You really don’t want to be bidding on products, for them then not to be what you expect – or arrive in poor condition.” She says you can also filter your shopping search by distance, so you can see which furniture items are closest for you to collect, or to organise a courier service for.
Pringle says platforms like Narchie have more than 2,800 sellers, selling everything from vintage tableware, textiles, furniture and art, so there is a huge selection to suit every budget and style.
“You can search for specific items or categories, and you can filter by resale, new, price and more,” she highlights. “So it’s easier to find specific pieces you’re looking for, as well as discovering items you may not have otherwise come across.”
She says the algorithm also creates a ‘For You’ section in the app that recommends pieces you may like.
“I’m always searching for vintage furniture on eBay due to the sheer volume of products available,” says Dawson.
“A top tip for me when you’re searching for a term – such as ‘vintage sofa’ for example – is once you’ve searched, you click on ‘filter’ and make sure to select the ‘auction’ category.
“You don’t want to be on ‘all listings’ as this includes items that definitely aren’t vintage!” advises Dawson. “You’ll see this filter then refines your search and only includes purely vintage designs.”
You can then save this search for the future and if new sellers start adding additional vintage pieces, you’ll be alerted immediately, notes Dawson. “It’s a great service that can unearth some real hidden gems!”
Do your research
If you’re new to shopping second hand online, Pringle says it’s worth making a list of the specific homeware or furniture items you need. “This will help you stay focused and avoid impulse purchases.”
From a practical standpoint, she says it’s worth researching and getting familiar with styles, materials, brands and design names you love, e.g. Ercol or Pieff. You can then set alerts and discover good deals more easily.
And don’t be afraid to negotiate the price, adds Pringle. Most sites have a feature which allows users to negotiate prices and find amazing deals on high-quality second-hand items.
“Know when to be impulsive and when to be realistic,” says Pringle. “For bigger furniture pieces it’s worth waiting and making sure it’s exactly what you want, as they are often an investment.”
What to look out for
It’s all about the bones…
When you’re looking at a piece of furniture like a vintage sofa, it’s very easy to cast aside something that doesn’t look too pretty based on the fabric pattern or colour alone, notes Dawson.
“But the key here is to make sure you’re looking at the structure – or the bones – of the piece to focus on what the frame is like, and whether it has potential to be re-invigorated with a new fabric or a lick of paint.
“While I was looking for a new sofa for my own home I found a design with a very grubby looking fabric,” reveals Dawson. “But the bamboo framework itself was absolutely beautiful.”
So she purchased the sofa “at a very good price as obviously a lot of customers were put off by the fabric,” and then invested her money on having the cushions reupholstered in a fabric that ties in with the rest of her interiors scheme.”
Think outside the box
Pringle says to be open minded and don’t be put off by minor imperfections – focus on the overall construction and craftsmanship of an item…
“Any small blemishes, scuff marks or chipped paint can easily be fixed… keep in mind that sometimes all a piece needs is a little love,” says Pringle.
“A fresh lick of paint, a re-varnish, new drawer handles or even dying material can completely transform an item. The great thing about upcycling is you create a piece that perfectly matches your style.”
Lisa Dawson’s online course with Create Academy – An Introduction to Resourceful Interior Styling – is available now, £49 for lifetime access in which she explains more about vintage shopping and styling at home. Visit Createacademy.
The best videos delivered daily
Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox