It’s no secret that I have a deep love of all things vintage. My fascination with nostalgia has always kept me attached to people longer than I should be, and I feel like this attachment to inanimate objects is far a far healthier source of the same feeling of connectedness. So, without further ado, here are my top 8 tips for the vintage hunt!
1. Know your avenues! Vintage can be found at varying price points and time commitments through thrifting, garage and estate sale-ing, vintage markets, online shops, and online resale hubs like Kijiji, Craigslist, Varage Sale, etc. Thrifting and garage sale-ing, in general, I think offer the lowest price point, but the highest time commitment, and for some, is a full time job (see point number 4). For me, with three young kids and a low tolerance to stress and buckling carseats, the logistics of getting out frequently just weren’t feasible. Kijiji became my favourite past time in those early years when I was up all night with my babies. By my 3rd child, I appreciated the (relative) alone time so much in the middle of the night, I had to force myself to go back to bed. I loved the ease of scrolling through all of the offerings from the comfort of my rocking chair and nursing pillow. I love the ability to search for exactly what you’re looking for. Kijiji, for me, is like a thrift store online. Where some people truly enjoy the hours of the thrift store hunt, I appreciate Kijiji’s precise and to-the-point searching ability.
Markets, and online shops are cool, but I can’t get past the pricing, and estate sales make me break out in hives. The introvert in me has a really hard time with the crowds, and the clamour for the STUFF.
I think with vintage hunting, you just have to explore these avenues and find what works best for you. Each has their own merit, and you may be surprised by what you enjoy.
2. Be realistic about your commitment level. If a piece has great bones and you love it and plan on saving it, think about costs of materials, and labour if you’re sending it somewhere, or your time if you plan of refreshing things yourself. I once paid $50 for a mullet wingback that was all brocade in the front and pink in the back, because her wings were plentiful, and her legs were straight (I do not personally prefer a cabriole leg. They make me think the chair’s knees are giving out, which, with my lifelong insecurity about my mass, is a major mental hurdle), with the intention of recovering it myself. I collected enough of the same expensive fabric I had my heart set on from a few discount online shops, and just never got further than the instructional youTube videos. After I had invested so much in the fabric, I really didn’t want to mess up the reupholstering, and I knew if it was done well, the mullet wingback would turn into a timeless classic (basically, a 90’s teen makeover movie scene in chair form). So in the end, I had it professionally reupholstered, and I’m so glad I did. But I won’t lie…it sat in my living room as a mullet eyesore for over 5 years. At least by that point she had already proved herself comfortable enough that I was living in the open with brocade, and so she was worth the cost to fix her up. In the end, my $50 bargain ended up costing about $600 with fabric and reupholstering (and I got insane deals on both…Maharam wool even at a discount isn’t cheap). Anyway, if anything, I kept her out of the landfill, and truly, the wingback is one of my favourites in the house, and I can see her surviving many a refresh.
3. If you’re looking on Kijiji, try and get inside of potential sellers heads instead of doing word for word searches of what you’re looking for. People who are selling with the proper terminology like mid-century modern and boho know what the trends are and are capitalising on them. Which is awesome for them, and mostly, they are on point with the quality of the items they’re offering. Where I’ve scored the best deals (from free to under $50) for my mid-century hoard, is to imagine people cleaning out their grand parents’ basements, totally desensitised to what they’re looking at, because they’ve looked at it their whole lives in the context of grandparents. I once swiped through a really crappy looking estate sale ad, and found a really dark, and grainy picture of what looked like a mid-century wood dresser. The MCM wood dresser in one of my favourite finds because it’s so versatile. It can be a dresser, converted into a bathroom vanity, a tv console, or a catch-all anywhere in the house. I went to look at that dresser, which turned out to be melamine, but I stumbled onto a MCM teak table and chairs for $40, and two of my favourite dressers ever for $25 each. Like everything in life, perspectives are all different. My treasure was this person’s burden, and in the end, the removal of the furniture from her grandma’s home was mutually beneficial. Anyway, to sum up, I always try searches imagining what the people trying to get rid of things think of the items…old, in good shape, perfect for a basement or cottage etc. etc. I also search on specific wood species of the style or era I’m looking for. Unknown MCM gems come up frequently when I type in walnut or teak. It just usually takes a little more sifting, which is one of my favourite things.
4. Follow vintage shops on social media. These are people who know what they’re doing, and spend their time making the rounds at thrift stores, estate and garage sales, and kijiji hunting. While you’ll definitely pay more than if you find items in the wild, the convenience is delightful. If you have an idea of what you want, you’re likely to find it. Vintage shops make shopping for your character pieces as easy as stepping into your average new furniture shop. And every now and then, they’ll give out tips, which is how I ended up with my sweet vintage loveseat and chair for a total of $90.
5. Marry someone whose mother is a vintage magician and does all the previous steps in this post and sends you pictures of things she thinks you may like all the time. My 8’ Troeds Bjarnum teak sideboard? A mother-in-law find at $135. My kids can’t stand being dragged around thrifting, and having to find babysitters in order to go has taken the thrill out of it for me. It’s so nice to have another set of eyes on the ground, checking things out for me. She’s also just a great resource. I can say I’m into one type of thing, and before I know it, she’s searching through her loft and producing exactly what I wanted.
Sub-point 1: Marry someone with a truck, and never-ending love and devotion (whichever order), who will respond and comply with texts out of nowhere asking him to pick up big ol’ nuggets of furniture goodness.
Sub-point 2: A home with two garages will save marriage to person in sub-point 1, allowing the never-ending love to continuously flow.
6. Try and curb your enthusiasm when you find the deals. Early in my vintage years, I stumbled across the cutest walnut sideboard being sold for $20. Before the thing was even in my van, I had blabbed too much about the popularity of MCM items, and I could see the person beginning to rethink this sale, imagining getting 10x what I was paying. So I quickly shut up, and loaded in my van and learned my lesson as my tires squealed. The person selling was so fascinated by her grandma’s old liquor cabinet having any value and that’s where I learned about point #3.
7. Enjoy the story of the pieces you find, if you’re picking them up from previous owners.
I have many pieces in my home that have stories imprinted in them from their previous owners, from a fold up table from a pre-WWII first apartment, to a unique vanity that had been refinished lovingly years before. It may seem weird to people who prefer new furniture (which I also think is cool), but I like to think of the lives the furniture witnessed before it became mine. I think it’s neat to imagine someone out there saying, “Remember that mullet chair? It was so ugly, but so comfortable”, and to know it has found new purpose somewhere else. Perhaps I sound completely fruity, but the idea of connection has always thrilled me, and if it comes in the form of furniture, so be it.
8. Be open to more than what might just fit into the style you’re currently coveting. An entirely MCM interior is great, but when you add something perhaps not of that exact era, but something you love, you add to your story, keeping your home from becoming a catalogue page, instead, reflecting who you are.
Vintage hunting and gathering is, understandably, not for everyone. It can be time-consuming, frustrating, and a little all-consuming (constant FOMO). However, I’ve found that these little tips and tricks have made it an enjoyable and affordable way to give my home character, function, and beauty.
Do you guys have any favourite tips and tricks on the vintage hunt? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear them!