This Old Thing? The Joy of Vintage Furniture Shopping

I’ve always loved a rummage. As a teen with a limited budget, I scoured car boot sales and charity shops for unusual clothes, records and general nick-nacks. I feel like it was a slightly different world back then (please note, I’m only talking about the ’90s, I’m not that ancient, although I still feel like 1990 was around 10 years ago, as opposed to <gulp> THIRTY years ago). Nowadays, the same venues are cluttered with supermarket and Primark type clothing, often being sold for more than they cost in the first place, which is no good to anyone. Back then, it felt like more of a treasure trove, with genuine retro treats waiting to be uncovered. They’re still there, though, if you’re prepared to look.

Vintage artwork, like this oil painting in my utility room, is more my bag these days. This was bought from a vintage seller on Instagram.

These days, it’s mainly interior treasures which I’m seeking out, as opposed to records and clothes. I took a look around my house and realised that there are precisely no rooms which don’t contain at least one vintage item, whether that’s a piece of furniture, an lamp, an ornament – I’m always on the lookout for new things to dot about. Adding a vintage piece to a room changes everything – it brings a singularity, a uniqueness, a je ne sais quoi. I love mixing modern and vintage pieces to create an individual look and, whilst there are some businesses which source and sell vintage for a huge mark-up (no shade, we all gotta hustle), vintage doesn’t have to mean expensive. You’re also saving items from landfill, so it’s a win all round.

Without further ado, I bring you three of my favourite sources of vintage treasure.

1. Ebay: the classic

The original and biggest of the auction sites. As anyone who has ever sold on eBay knows, it’s absolutely a buyer’s market. You have access to things for sale across the country, and internationally, if you don’t mind adding on terrifying shipping costs (it may be worth it for an absolute dream item!). You can search by key word or category, you can limit your search to things within a 10 or 20 mile radius, so you can go and collect them yourself, but apps like Shiply (others are available, but Shiply is the one I’ve used successfully a few times) mean you can easily arrange a courier service to collect your bargains, if they can’t be posted. You can set up a notification to be sent to you when something with a particular key word is listed.

It’s as simple as that, it’s all there waiting to be snapped up. You place your bid and wait until the end of the auction. Or if you’re a thrill seeker, like me, you wait until the auction is ending and jump in in the last seconds with a well timed and winning bid. I do, however, recall many occasions before technology was as whizzy as it is now, where my last minute bid was met with a frozen screen and didn’t go through, leading to intense disappointment and wailing. Sad times. Things are easier now.

eBay encourages sellers to write detailed descriptions and add measurements, and you can ask them questions about the item prior to the auction ending. A cautionary tale here, to always double check measurements. My friend Rachel once successfully bid on a really cheap set of garden furniture, only to discover after the auction ended that it was doll’s house size.

If you’re truly dedicated, and searching for a particular thing, you can search for mis-spellings of your item (eg “chest of draws” instead of “chest of drawers”) and find a secret underworld of drawers that won’t necessarily pop up in the usual searches. Auctions which end at ridiculous times like 2am, when all honest folk are asleep in bed, are a goldmine as they can be snapped up by cunning old you, while everyone else forgets about them.

Of course, things don’t always go to plan. Years ago, I won a vase and the seller posted it to me wrapped in nothing but a bin bag, and seemed furious at Royal Mail when it arrived smashed to smithereens. Baffling.

I also love the way, when you win an auction, Ebay sends you a message saying “CONGRATULATIONS! You won the item!” as if you’re a lucky blighter who’s been awarded a prize out of the goodness of someone’s heart, as opposed to someone who has made a standard transaction for the purchase of an item for money. Anyway, here are my favourite eBay “winnings”, all of the old, brown furniture variety:

2. Facebook Marketplace: a whole new world

Oh Facebook Marketplace, how I love you, and how you drive me crazy. If you’re not into Facebook, then this may mean nothing to you, but it’s a tab you can click on on the Facebook app to show you what people across the country are selling. Much less formal than eBay. Again, you can filter the search to only bring up items within a certain radius, so I tend to limit it to a manageable 20 miles or so, unless it’s a specific thing I’m after.

The thing with Facebook Marketplace is, for every lovely, perfectly delightful individual, there is another “interesting character”, shall we say? As a seller (and, yes, I am one of the delightful ones), the best thing about Facebook Marketplace is simply listing your item for sale, minimal waffle, no fees, someone says they want it and rocks up to your doorstep shortly afterwards, brandishing the cash. Or at least, that’s what should happen. What tends to happen in practice is someone will declare they would love the item, then disappear off the face of the earth. Or message you a week later to say they’ve changed their mind, by which time your queue of alternative eager buyers has also disappeared.

There’s also your classic “Hi, I’m on my way, but I’m lost” buyer, who you have to direct to your house from the outskirts of a town you’ve never been to (Google Maps, people!). Or the doorstep negotiator (“Would you take £10 instead of (the agreed) £50?” “Nope”). Or the “Ooh I didn’t think it was that big” funster, when you have provided precise measurements in the listing. My favourite recent experience was when agreeing to sell a 2m long media unit for £20 less than the already bargain price – the buyer not only got lost and rang me for directions, but then sat in his car on arrival and texted “I’m here”. Well, ok your Royal Highness, let me strap this huge item to my back and bring it directly to your car, would you like refreshments while I’m at it? Then, of course, it was bigger than he thought (measurements had been provided) and he wasn’t sure it would fit in the car (aaaaargh). It was all ok in the end, though. Sigh.

I digress, as a buyer it’s a treasure trove. As always, you have to separate the wheat from the chaff, but when you spot something wonderful and it’s available, it’s incredibly exciting! If it’s near, you can have it in your house within an hour! It’s brilliant! I can lose hours on there, scrolling through the various household sections, just for fun – it’s worth looking at everything, furniture, household items, antiques, all of it. Here are my favourite Facey-B finds, and it’s the old, brown furniture that has, again, won my heart:

None of these items cost a lot, and certainly not as much as buying a new equivalent, even from Ikea. And for that bargain price, you get solidly made furniture with dovetail joints, that’s been around for decades and will be around for decades to come. And they were all from just down t’road.

3. The Auction House: old school

None of your online stuff here, I’m talking trotting along to the local auction in person, and doing all the exciting bidding stuff, where you daren’t even scratch your nose in case you’ve just contracted to buy a priceless Ming vase for £7,000.

Now, this is a relatively new thing for me. I always associated auctions with very expensive antiques, which were miles out of my budget. Reader, I was wrong. My local auction house (it’s Hartley’s in Ilkley, if you’re local, but there are similar places all over the country) has a general sale every Wednesday, with viewing on a Tuesday, and it’s literally a warehouse full of old furniture, pictures, rugs, glassware and crockery, and general bric-a-brac. You can pop along on the viewing day, and either leave a bid at the desk for your items, which they’ll place for you in your absence during the auction, or rock up the next day in person and do the old, nonchalant “finger in the air” bidding. Of course, this was all pre-pandemic, and they’ve had to shift both viewing and bidding online for now. Still exciting, but just not quite as exciting.

I’ve had some nice bits of furniture from the auction (a £5 cabinet that lives in the kitchen is my winner), but my most frequent purchases tend to be lighting and ornaments. If I get a bee in my bonnet about a particular thing, there ain’t a chance I’m backing down until it’s mine. Here are my 3 recent favourite auction buys:

Again, none were expensive and each bring that bit of individuality to the room schemes (I mean, you can get pottery dogs all over, but they’re all a little bit different and special). One word of caution: I once left a paper bid on viewing day for a piece of furniture. Unknown to me, my writing of the item number hadn’t been the clearest and, in my absence, the auction people managed to successfully bid on another, completely unrelated item for me. I think it was some kind of cabinet with an integrated music system (it wasn’t in any way cool or desirable, it was just rubbish). Not really my fault but I was stuck with it, and had to leave it with them to resell the next week. I made a loss. So, just remember to use your best handwriting!

There we are, not by any means an exhaustive list, but 3 of my most-used vintage sources. Have you scored any vintage bargains? Have you got any top tips? Let me know, make me jealous!

2 Comments

  1. Louise Cameron
    14 February 2021 / 10:10 am

    Hi, I love this post and seeing all your beautiful items. Was the calendar / date block thing (next to the board) a vintage buy? I’ve been hunting similar but no success – I’m not sure my search words are always that effective- what would you use to search for that item? Thank you so much x

    • 20 February 2021 / 5:05 pm

      Hello! Thanks so much for reading 🙂 Mine was from the Little House Shop but I think they’ve stopped making them. However, there’s someone on Instagram who has picked up the design and started making them, so yay! The account is @scandi_cal x

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