There’s something magical about antiques. Every item, whether it hails from a stoop sale or a specialized shop, has a story to tell. From the smallest bric-a-brac to the most ornate hand-carved dinner table, antiques guarantee a unique flair and character in your space.
Here are our tips for finding the best antiques to suit your personal home style:
Be prepared with your own personalized antiquing kit
If you’re driving, clear out your trunk to make space for your future goods. Bring some foldable cardboard boxes, plus padding like a blanket or bubble wrap, to protect delicate items. Make sure to download the Dolly app so you have a reliable way to bring bulkier pieces that won’t fit in your car back home.
Have measuring tape handy to make sure items will fit in your (pre-measured) space at home. Live in a rain-heavy area? Bring a poncho, rather than an umbrella; it’s easier to fit in your bag (or fanny pack), and will also keep your hands free, vital for sifting through piles of memorabilia. And pack some wipes – you’ll probably get dirty when examining dusty antiques.
Most importantly, have a list handy. Do a thorough inspection of your home to see what you need. Maybe it’s a scratched floor that needs a rug, a new vase to replace one that chipped, or a too-bare wall that needs a splash of art.
Identify the best antique market for your home’s needs
Not all antique markets are created equally. If you’re simply looking for affordable, second-hand goods – and you’re willing to rifle through some piles – your best bet is a flea market. If you want certifiably old, cool stuff (like heirlooms and etchings), try an antique mall. Antique malls are indoor areas set up for selling different items from various vendors. Tip: Call ahead to see which days vendors typically restock their booths, so you can get first pick. Antique stores, on the other hand, are overseen by a single owner, rather than multiple vendors.
No matter which site you choose, keep some terminology in mind – specifically, “antique” versus “vintage.” An item has to be at least 100 years old to qualify as an antique, whereas those cozy knit sweaters and tea kettles qualify as vintage after just 20 years. There’s also “collectibles,” which is simply a popular item – its age doesn’t matter. Most antique dealers, stores, or malls will have a mix of all three.
Brush up on your antiquing etiquette
Whenever you enter a booth or store that interests you, make sure to greet the vendor. In most places, it’s considered rude not to – not to mention, greeting sets the stage if you intend to haggle.
Speaking of: It’s perfectly acceptable to haggle in more casual setups, like flea markets or yard sales. But we don’t recommend it in antique malls, where prices are usually already set.
(However, you can ask for a discount – some places offer an automatic 10% discount just for asking.)
Nervous about haggling? It helps to frame your negotiations in a courteous manner. The easiest way to steer the convo is by asking something along the lines of “Is this your best price? Would you be willing to go lower?” Don’t be put off if the vendor isn’t willing to negotiate; a good response is a simple “Sorry, that’s not in my budget.”
If the item has flaws, ask the vendor if she would be open to discounting the price. Stay polite – you don’t want to accidentally insult the owner. Frame the question as “Have you noticed this [scratch/scuff/mark]? Would you be willing to reconsider the final price to reflect it?”
Also, try haggling in the afternoon, when vendors are less willing to haul all their stuff back – and more willing to cut you a deal. Lastly, remember, cash is king: When making an offer, have the exact amount you’re thinking in your hand.
Keep the vision for your home or space in mind when antique shopping
It’s easy to get swept away by all the textiles, ceramics, and oddities on display when you’re antique shopping. But if you’re planning on decorating with antiques, keep your overall theme in mind, and shop for items accordingly. Are you going for retro, mid-century swank? Look for rugs with pops of color or a mod lamp. Farmhouse chic? Rustic wood pieces, lanterns, and feedsack fabrics are great picks.
Psst: Not sure what style really “defines” you? The easiest way to build a look is by starting with a major, anchor piece that ties a room together. It could be your plush suede sofa, a quaint bed frame, or your grand dining room table. As long as it’s a piece you really love, you can build an entire look around it.
If you’re buying multiple items, use Dolly to pick each one up. Our Helpers transport large and small items, and can easily take care of loading and unloading for you.
Be a thorough inspector of each antique
While not everyone has a laser eye when it comes to authenticity, there are a few tricks you can learn to keep from getting duped:
- Silver: Distinguish sterling silver from plated by its authenticating mark. Look for a marking that says “9.25,” “Sterling,” “Sterling 925,” or “S/S.” This will either be on the clasp (for jewelry), or on the underside (for utensils).
- Porcelain: To check whether a porcelain item is genuine, hold a flashlight (your phone works well for this) up to see if the light shines through. If it does, it’s genuine.
Also, keep the item’s function in mind. If it’s a rug you plan to keep in an area with high foot traffic, like the foyer, make sure it doesn’t have any initial fraying that could quickly unravel. On the other hand, if it’s a piece of art you really love but which has a cracked frame in the back, remember you won’t be displaying that side, so it’s likely fine.
If you’re at a less regulated event, such as a flea market or yard sale, be meticulous in searching for pests. If you’re really worried about ickies invading your home, avoid buying anything upholstered.
Get the lowdown on the antique seller’s return policy
Purchasing an investment piece? Guarantee yourself a little peace of mind in case things don’t work out. There’s always a chance that gorgeous china cabinet won’t look so pretty next to your futuristic fridge, or the bed frame you bought won’t fit in your room. Ask the vendor what his or her return policy is – and get it in writing if you can.
Your secret weapon at the antique market? Dolly. If you’re purchasing an oversized piece, or don’t have room in the trunk for trinkets, a Dolly Helper can pick up your order and deliver it to your door. The next time you’re out antiquing, keep Dolly delivery in mind.
Miranda is the Marketing Coordinator at Dolly. She’s moved nine times in the past six years, and while she’s grateful for the moving expertise, she’s hoping she doesn’t need to move a tenth time anytime soon.