Buying Vintage: When to Splurge and When to Save

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I’ve been buying vintage for a long time – it’s always been part of our style. A fun Saturday to us is going to yard sales and antique malls. I have a great husband, don’t I? I’m always grateful that Will likes old, dusty stuff as much as I do. He makes fun of my granny bag full of change. I collect change through the winter for the yard sales and church sales that spring and summer deliver.

I’m going to spill the beans and share my decision making process for buying vintage. Regardless of how tactical I sound below, remember to buy only what you love. I never buy things because they are cheap or I ‘think’ I’ll like them. I’m instantly drawn to an object and know if I want it or not. Follow your heart and you’ll end up with a home full of vintage you love. Also, vintage items mixed with new items give your home a unique feel. I don’t want to live in the past or have a home that feels like a museum. I mix it up and am constantly thinking about how a certain vintage item will compliment a new item.

Deciding how much to pay or, the value of an object

I have two techniques that help me figure out if I want to open my money bag.

One: How much does this cost new?  
It’s a good rule. If the price of the piece is the same or lower, I’m more confident to purchase. Let’s take a dresser/cabinet we recently purchased. It was marked $200, and the dealer offered it for $175. If I were to go buy a new piece of a comparable furniture brand new at a discount store, this piece of furniture would run me around $750. Take a moment and look it up on your phone while you are standing in the antique store if you are unsure. Looking up the cost of a new item can give you a whole new perspective on shopping vintage. I would have no problem paying for the new $750 piece of furniture because that’s what the store said it would cost. Using new retail prices helps me decide if vintage is a good price or not. 

Two: Is this useful?
I can always justify spending a bit more on something useful. A mixing bowl, or piece of furniture used for storage, for example. These are incredibly useful objects that I’ll get good milage out of. You’ll know what’s important to you and maybe you splurge a bit on something incredibly useful. 

Buying Vintage: When to Splurge and When to Save

Items I Splurge On

Rugs: I love a good rug and frankly – they make a room. This is a big area of splurge for me. Several things can determine how much I spend on a rug like condition, color, uniqueness, professionally cleaned and shipping costs. I tend to buy a lot of neutral furniture. The rug has a big impact in the room, which is why I’ll spend a bit more on something that makes a statement.

Case Goods: Any kind of hard wood storage piece, I’ll spend a bit more on. I get a lot of value out of these! When I was in college in Savannah, Georgia, I purchased a burled walnut armior for $400. Which was SO. MUCH. MONEY. in college. I still have it 19 years later. Granted it’s been retired to a guest room, but it’s still around! I also find even if you buy something and are unsure of ‘keeping it forever’ these have a good resale value.

Art: This is something that sticks around forever and I never mind spending a bit more on. I have art I framed in college. Original oil paintings will run you $, however prints are a bit less. I always try to buy original art and nothing manufactured. Buy art you love and don’t forget to frame it beautifully. Never frame for the room, always the art. Keep the frame job about the piece of art, like a gallery would. This will make your investment last and last, plus you can reinvent it from moving it to a different room in the future.

Brand names and known artists: You have to be well researched to know when to splurge on these types of pieces. You might see a vintage designer piece of furniture, or a well known artist. One of my biggest regrets was not buying a Paul Klee print in college. I was a broke college student, but loved this print I found for $350 by Paul Klee called Illustration V. Today, I still have regrets. Because I knew what real lithography looked like, I knew it was indeed an original. Not a cheap knock off. If you bump into these special items, splurge once in a while. The key is research and knowing how much is a good price, even for a big ticket item. 

Items I buy without abandon

Side tables or small occasional tables: I can put these in any room, so if they are cool, I keep buying them.

Art: If I see a good piece at a good price, I buy it. I never worry about where it will hang, I just buy it. I have three or four styles of art that I love. Old oil paintings of landscapes, engravings, and anything black and white.

Silver platters: Another mild addiction of mine. I just keep buying. These come in handy when you get organized for a party.

Interesting glass storage containers: Cotton balls and Q-tips never looked so chic. Glass is easy to clean, I’m always on the hunt for pretty glass containers.

Items I save on

If I’ve seen it at three antique stores, it’s probably a mass produced item. For instance, I love milk glass mixing bowls. They were manufactured and sold with mixers so there are a lot of milk glass mixing bowls out there. A fair price to me is similar to what I’d pay for a new, mass produced mixing bowl. Don’t pay a lot for something that’s not rare or unique.

I hope this gives a new perspective on buying vintage. It’s sometimes hard to make a quick decision and having a process can make it a bit easier. At the end of the day, buy it if you love it.


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  1. Coco kliks says:

    Great entry! I more or less use the same judgements when I shop. Thank you for validating my silver tray addiction ? I can’t help myself!! I find boxes of them at the auctions for so cheap, i have to stop myself from buying them all.

  2. I love that you splurge on wooden and glass containers. You appreciate the classics, and the handcrafted, natural quality of these materials. That’s why I made the Cheese Grotto, my cheese humidor, out of similar materials. You can really tell the difference when something is made with an attention to detail.

  3. Elisabeth B. says:

    This is a great guide – I often use the comparison concept when I shop for vintage furniture – very often I still end up saving because of the high cost of quality furniture these days. I do wish my husband enjoyed vintage / antique shopping as much as yours, though!

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