Niche Interiors

San Francisco Interior Designer’s Guide: Shopping for Vintage Furniture

Incorporating vintage furniture, lighting and accessories into your home is a great way to add character and layers to a space. Even just one vintage lamp or mirror can bring just the right amount of interest to a room. I love that no additional resources are used when purchasing vintage pieces, and by extending the life of these items you are diverting furniture from landfills.

Another bonus – shopping vintage is instant gratification! As supply chain issues and COVID-related production delays in the interior design industry persist, vintage pieces can be a lifesaver when you just need one last thing to complete a project. The learning curve to shopping for vintage furniture can seem daunting, so we put together our interior designer pro tips for shopping locally and online.

San Francisco interior design living room
Coastal Retreat by Niche Interiors featuring Vintage Dining Chairs

Shopping Local

I always start by perusing local vintage and antique shops in San Francisco and Oakland to see if they have what I am looking for – our previous post covers some of our favorite San Francisco Bay Area Vintage Furniture Shops. Local flea markets are a great way to see inventory from lots of vendors and to snag amazing deals that you can’t find online. The Oakland Vintage Market and the Alameda Antiques Faire both take place on the first weekend of every month and feature a variety of vendors and price points. On the hunt for mid-century modern furniture and artwork? Start at the Oakland Market which has a smaller, curated list of high quality vendors specializing in mid-century and contemporary design.

Oakland vintage furniture market
Oakland Vintage Market

PRO TIPS

• Arrive early with plenty of cash (and a Venmo account), a measuring tape and comfortable shoes!

• Make a list of the pieces you are looking for along with their ideal dimensions. This will help you stay on track and quickly assess whether a furniture piece will work in your home.

• If you find a must-have item ACT FAST! There are no holds. Flea market etiquette dictates that if you put down an item before paying for it, all bets are off.

• Ask the seller what they know about a piece, where they purchased it, how old it is etc. Don’t assume that everything you find is vintage, there are many reproductions and knock-offs to be found at flea markets. Flip over a piece and look inside the drawers for a maker’s stamp or label.

• Considering buying an upholstered chair or sofa? Try picking it up to see how heavy it is. Higher quality upholstery has kiln dried wood frames which are much heavier than cheaper alternatives.

Modern interior design San Francisco
Vintage Milo Baughman Chairs in our Telegraph Hill Project

Shopping Online

The biggest benefit to shopping online is the abundance of options and the ability to find a specific collectable piece. 1st Dibs and Chairish are the top two sites we shop for our interior design clients.

PRO TIPS

• Check where the seller is located. The closer the better, not only for reducing the carbon footprint and shipping costs, but the item is less likely to get damaged in transit on shorter trips.

• Inspect all items as soon as they arrive and if possible note any damages with the shipping carrier. This will make it much easier to hold the seller accountable and to get reimbursed for any necessary repairs.

• Ask about whether the item comes from a smoking or non-smoking home. This is especially important for upholstered items but also applies to wood furniture since wood can also absorb smells

• Beware of terms in title such as “In the style of” or “mid-century modern style” which can be a subtle way of saying that the furniture piece is not an actual vintage item and is instead a new reproduction or knock-off.

• Don’t be afraid to ask for more photos, especially if the photos are poor quality or blurry. Ask questions about any damages and be sure to specifically ask if the piece is structurally sound.

Need some inspiration on how to incorporate vintage finds into your own home? Take a peek at our collection of Art + Styling photos from our San Francisco Interior Design projects!

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