It could be the matter of style, passion or practicality that has drawn you to purchase used furniture. Whichever one it is, you should have a plan and knowledge to make a rational and informed decision you will not regret down the track.
Know the purpose of the purchase
There are several reasons you may be on a hunt for used pieces. The first one is an investment, to refurbish and resell, or simply resell if it is antique furniture. The second one is to enrich your living space by collecting and using the items containing the soul of the period they are from. Finally, it could be simply to get a piece you need in your home at a reasonable price. If you are buying the furniture to keep, have a clear image of where you want to put it. Not only that, but also measure the space and compare it to the measurements of the piece. Without a good spot, you could end up cluttering your home. If, on the other hand, you are buying to resell, make sure you have a proper storage area with humidity and temperature levels which will not compromise the furniture. This will help you preserve its current state.
Look for the maker’s mark
It happens quite often that a maker of the furniture has left their mark somewhere on the piece, particularly if it was built after the 18th century. Once you meet it face to face, inspect every part of it. What you are looking for are signatures, stamps, and labels. They are usually hidden away somewhere in order not to affect the furniture’s exterior. Look at the back, the bottom or undersides of drawers.
Inspect the joinery
Certain parts of the furniture can tell you more than others. If the piece you are inspecting has a drawer, you are in the luck, as they tend to reveal a lot. First of all, look at the joinery. Antique pieces are most likely not to have any screws or nails in them. The sides of the drawer you are looking at should be connected with dovetails. Earlier pieces will have large dovetails, as well as those which haven’t been made by one of the top cabinetmakers of the period.
Look at the materials used
What is the furniture made of? If the furniture is made out of metal or plastic, you can tell, almost with certainty that it was made after the 1950’s. Looking at the options aluminum and metal furniture offers, it is a good find as it can easily be brought back to a pristine state with little or no damage marks that make a difference. However, when it comes to wood, you have to be very careful. Being able to recognize the type of wood will tell you how durable or fragile it is. Hardwood is generally sturdy and can withhold greater weights than softwood. If the back of your furniture is also made of solid wood, it may indicate that the piece is old. Depending on the intended use and the location of the furniture in your home, veneer and laminate furniture may be a good choice as it can withstand a lot.
Know your wood
As mentioned above, being able to recognize the type of wood you are looking at, will tell you a lot about the furniture’s performance, as well as the period and sometimes the region it is coming from. This is particularly important for those who are looking for antiques. Sometimes you may have a good luck of finding and exotic piece, coming from Asia for example, which uses rare or extinct woods. Being able to tell whether wood has been stained to resemble a different kind is also very useful. This way you will get to know more about the furniture and sometimes even whether you are being misled to believe a certain piece is worth more than it actually is.
Understand the styles and periods
Quite similarly to being able to recognize the type of wood used, being able to differentiate between different styles will help you know the value of the furniture you are looking at. It will also tell you something about its future and you will straightforward know the advantages and disadvantages of your find.
Consider the damage
While you are inspecting the furniture, make note of any signs of damage. If you suspect to have come across a genuine antique piece, look for signs of wear to know whether it has been restored, mainly, whether the original patina has been preserved. If you are looking at a wooden piece, make sure there is no insect damage. Insect damage makes furniture really fragile and almost impossible to restore. If you are happy to refurbish a piece, metal and solid wood are your best options. Sometimes the damage goes further than the aesthetics. If you want to buy a used piano, for example, to have an instrument with a history and a soul, the damage can also affect the sound. However, if it is just a scratch here and there, there is nothing to worry about.
Use a trustworthy source
Whenever you are buying something which has been used, you are entitled to know the details of its current state, as well as its past if known. While searching for good sources, make sure you stick to those which are reputable, and which have had good pieces in the past and you have grown to find them trustworthy. This particularly refers to those occasions when you are purchasing a piece without having a chance to inspect it first, such as an online auctions.
While these should be the main rules to follow, you should also trust your instinct and all of your senses. Know when something is overpriced and know your budget, but also please do indulge yourself if you get immediately drawn to a piece. Happy hunting!