How to Find the Best Vintage Home Decor, According to a Pro

Rebecca Margao of The Shed DC shares expert tips for buying vintage décor.  

As the saying goes, everything old inevitably becomes new. And while some vintage wares might appear outdated, others can be the perfect finishing touch to a modern room. "Vintage pieces are more than granny's old keepsakes," says lifestyle expert Rebecca Margao of The Shed DC, an online vintage yard sale. "They are unique, one-of-a-kind treasures that can add character and a found look to your home."

Margao has a knack for executing luxe style on a budget and she's an expert in sourcing unique, one-of-a-kind furniture and housewares. But finding the perfect timeless vintage home decor can be tough. It is an art, not a science, to elevate your space by adding a hint of history. Margao admits that finding the perfect painting or furniture made with precious materials is hard, but not impossible. In advance of the summer release of her book, How to Source Like a Pro, Margao shares her tips and tricks for buying vintage furniture and accessories for your home.

sitting on blue and yellow patterned sofa
Courtesy of Rebecca Margao

What's the Difference Between Vintage and Antique?

Both "antique" and "vintage" essentially mean "old." So how do you know if that dining table, painting, or vase you have your eye on falls into one category or the other?

The general rule of thumb is that for an item to be classified as an antique, it must be at least 100 years old. Furniture, art, jewelry, rugs, and everyday objects like housewares and decor can all be considered antique if they fit this timeframe.

Vintage, however, refers to items at least 20 years old, typically before the year 1999. This means vintage housewares can fall between 20 and 99 years old.

wooden cart with vintage decor
Adam Albright

Where Can You Shop for Vintage Accessories?

If you prefer to shop online, search for vintage accesories on sites like eBay and Etsy, as well as social networks, specialist sites, and auctions. If you like to rummage, flea markets, estate sales, garage sales, and thrift stores are prime locations for hidden vintage gems. And if you're lucky, you might stand to inherit a few pieces from older friends and family.

When shopping, "the joy is in the hunt," says Margao. If you're new to incorporating vintage into your home, she recommends focusing on small accent pieces and accessories that you can place on a bookcase, coffee table, or console.

These are some of the best places to find vintage pieces:

  • Your Attic or Basement: Perhaps you already have something in good condition that you thought you threw away or didn't need. Keep an open mind about styles, colors, and fabric; these can easily be changed.
  • Trusted Sellers: Building a relationship with a collector or vendor can be a reliable way to find rare and unique pieces. Mom-and-pop shops might be willing to take your number to alert you to new inventory before it hits the shelves.
  • Auction Sites and Estate Sales: These days, many estate sales are advertised online, even if the sale is in person. Go prepared with a budget and ready to haggle.
wood bathroom vintage storage
Jay Wilde

Tips for Adding Vintage Accessories into Your Existing Decor

If you find a piece you love but it's not the right color, don't let it be a dealbreaker. "Give it new life with a simple upcycle," says Margao. "Consider painting or staining the piece in a color that best suits your home."

Mixing vintage finds with existing home decor can be a rewarding challenge. The addition of a few striking pieces can add timeworn charm, especially to new construction homes. The key is blending salvaged decor with personal items.

Vintage decor offers one-of-a-kind designs guaranteed to spark interest and generate conversation. Place stately furniture in a central location but be willing to repurpose it. An antique bookshelf can become a private cocktail bar. Or reupholster a chaise lounge with modern fabric. Grandfather clocks, mirrors, and vanities should be well placed as the centerpiece of the room.

Another effective way to merge old and new? Create a cohesive look using common colors. Pair vintage pieces with finishes, fixtures, and fabrics in the same color palette.

Things to Keep in Mind When Buying Vintage Furniture

Not all vintage items are created equal. From overpriced knockoffs to uninvited bugs, vintage decor can be host to more than a few surprises. Shoppers should do their homework before shelling out a lot of money on an item that is advertised as antique or vintage. Don't forget these important tidbits when shopping for vintage furnishings:

  • Do Your Research: A little background on design eras and price points is beneficial when shopping for vintage items. Knowledge about why a piece is rare and how much it last sold for at an auction or online can help you avoid paying too much for a replica or a knockoff.
  • Look for Quality: Just because a piece is old doesn't mean it is good quality. Avoid items made of flimsy materials and poor handiwork. Don't be blinded by the "vintage" label.
  • Evaluate the Cost of Refurbishing: It's normal for vintage pieces to show some wear and tear. However, before making a purchase, consider the cost to restore or upgrade it. Before you buy, keep in mind the investment you'll have to make before you can truly enjoy it.
  • Be Careful with Pests and Mold: Wood items, books, and old furniture can be home to unwanted infestations. Mold, fungi, bugs, and other pests can nest happily in storage units, unventilated homes, and more. Be sure to look for holes, droppings, powders, and discoloration. Leave pre-loved items outdoors for at least a few days before bringing them into your home. Every problem has a solution, so talk with a pest control specialist if spraying, freezing, or fumigating won't work.
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