My husband and I are a huge fans of finding vintage home decor pieces and /or just finding a great deal.  There are many weekends that we finds ourselves on the hunt through various flea markets, fairs and antique shops.  We, incidentally, get a great deal of inspiration through these excursions for our own design business.  There are several tell-tale signs with wooden items, including furniture, to look for prior to lugging them into your home (and especially before taking on a flight of stairs) plus information you should have before you commit to preserving or restoring a piece.  I, personally, have mistakenly and painfully learned the hard way with a few of these tips.  I have, also, gained advice from a craftsman woodworker - which really helps - so you don’t have to haul something in just to haul it out again on another weekend.


When vintage and antique shopping: shop for quality items.  I’m guessing you have heard someone complain “that they don’t make them like they used to” that quote has gotten used a little off-track from its original intent but you get the idea - rest assured quality is out there but it may require a little work to find it.  

Avoid wood that is actually not wood but paper or plastic made to look like wood, unless its wood veneer (which is a thin shaving of a particular wood species that is adhered to a substrate).  You may find depression-era furniture pieces that will have the wood veneer breaking or chipping off.  These items are fairly fixable and most furniture repair shops deal with it often.  If you can gather a good amount of the veneer pieces they can be glued back on with a strong wood glue or you can even cut out a rectangle or square shape using an exact-o knife and glue a new piece of wood veneer in place of the broken parts.  You will need wood glue and gentle, yet effective, tape to hold while the veneer is drying.  

really like the glimmer of beautiful metal on a pieces of furniture, mirrors or lighting fixtures.   Most of the brass hardware I find has a patina on it, which appears in variations of dark brown to green, this can be sanded off or left if you enjoy the look but be mindful if the metal is rusted through by testing that it doesn’t crumble in your hand.  if you enjoy the patina or if never want it coming back be sure to clean the metal as best as you can and clear coat it was a clear finish (easiest done with something in a rattle-can.)  

Drawers should open and close smoothly with no sticking.  If a drawer is difficult to open or close it is most likely because the entire structure of the furniture piece is out-of-square, maybe it was dropped or has rot.  Other times, it could be the rails that the drawer slides on - that is an easier fix especially if you have all the rail components.  If something is missing, make the missing piece by mimicking the system from the opposite side.  

- When you slide a drawer out, if there are dovetail notches in the side of the drawer - you have a winner (meaning its a quality piece).  If there are no dovetails, it still may be a good item but put in some more inspection time.  If the drawers appear poorly made then, chances are, the entire piece is. 


My first thought is...no!.  If it has fire or smoke damage you will smell it a mile away.  You could try to contain the odor but really decide how much you love it before tackling the challenge.  

They may not be as obvious at first especially if you are at an outdoor market with fresh air surrounding you.  

If you open a door or drawer and there is a strong chemical smell it is probably not low in vocs or solvents and it has a high chance of containing lead paint or some other product that is not safe for indoor use.  

- Previous Pets.  Some stains and smells can be contained with varnish and sealed from omitting order however you will need to seal it to live with it.  The smells can linger for many years and (as with water damage too) always check the bottom for signs of discolorations, rot, moisture, or smells. 


It took me a bit to learn what was a quality item, what is easily fixed and how long smells linger but you can avoid many mistakes with a little thought first.  


Good Luck Hunting!


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