How to Shop for Vintage Like an Interior Designer

​​Photo by Julia Lynn

Nothing makes a home more personal than incorporating antique or vintage pieces. The patina, the quality of workmanship, and even the sense of imagination that they invoke. Antiques add a level of sophistication and authenticity. Otherwise your house would feel like a furniture store or a spread in a catalog. Using pieces that belonged to your parents or grandparents (or could have) creates a sense of nostalgia that will do more to evoke a feeling of home than just about anything else. 

Despite the seemingly effortless and immediate transformative effects that occur when you introduce vintage into your home, shopping for them can actually require a lot of effort. To gain some perspective on this process, we spoke with three designers and gathered insights on how they approach shopping for vintage pieces.

1. Keep a List

Organization and efficiency is a key factor in success as a vintage and antique shopper. "I always keep a running list of items I’m looking for in the notes section of my phone, and I have the dimensions noted next to each item." says Interior Designer, Stephanie Molster. "So when I’m shopping for vintage or antique items, the list helps me focus and make quick decisions." This tactic also prevents her from getting distracted by items that don't fit her criteria. As a result, she's able to maximize her time and resources, ultimately leading to a more successful shopping experience.

2. Do Your Research

To hone your eye for antique hunting, consider visiting a museum of decorative arts or browsing through online museum catalogs. By gaining an understanding of the artisan's hand, you'll be better equipped for the hunt. “I’ve been hunting for vintage Spanish + Mexican MCM and Brutalist furniture for my projects in New Mexico" says Creative Director and Stylist, Jill Sharpe Weeks. "The energy of the artisans that made these finds has taught me to trust that my eye is changing/growing/curious and always continually looking to learn from the past."

Jill Sharpe Weeks ​​
Moore Gallery of Decorative Arts / Photo by Julia Nucci Kelly​​

3. If You Love It, Don't Leave It

It's a common experience for those who love vintage and antique shopping to have a story about the "one that got away" - that special, one-of-a-kind item that they didn't purchase and later regretted. Whether it was a unique piece of furniture, a rare collectible, or a beautiful work of art, the missed opportunity can be a source of disappointment for years to come. While in Italy, Interior Designer and Fritz Porter Owner, Sarah Hamlin Hastings, was strolling down a little alleyway after dinner and stumbled upon an antique shop with the most beautiful carved writing desk. “It stopped me in my tracks”, says Hastings “I could not stop thinking about that piece even after we got back to the US. I had no idea the name of the shop (it was Italian) so I called the restaurant where we had eaten and described the store. They put me in touch with the owner, and I finally got ahold of him and purchased it. He shipped it to the me and it has held pride of place in all of the many houses we have lived in since then.” This experience serves as a reminder to antique enthusiasts to trust their instincts and take risks when it comes to making purchases, as the perfect item may not come around again. “If you love it, it will always find a place in your home” says Hastings. But if you’re on the fence make sure to get the vendor’s contact information, because chances are the outcome won’t be an lucky.

4. Strike a Balance

"Buying vintage for your home is a great excuse to experiment with accessories and furniture that bring you JOY," says Jill Sharpe Weeks. "By adding layers of things that you choose because they spark a feeling and also add a side of personality to your room that feels unexpected and bold is how a great room is built. It’s how a house goes from good to phenomenal." It's also important to balance out these finds with other pieces in the room. This can help prevent the space from feeling cluttered or overwhelming, and can also create a sense of harmony and cohesion in the overall design. 

Stephanie Molster I​​nteriors 

5. Look For Items That Speak to You

"Nothing makes an interior more personal than revealing to yourself who you are and what you love." says Jill Sharpe Weeks. There's a unique value that vintage items bring to a home. By incorporating vintage pieces into your design, you have the opportunity to create a space that truly reflects your personality and interests. Rather than simply following the latest trends or buying what's popular at the moment, vintage shopping allows you to choose pieces that resonate with you on a deeper level. "If you are shopping for antiques, the same feeling can be found if you come across something that has an interesting provenance or is just similar to a piece you grew up with that has special meaning to you." says Sarah Hamlin Hastings. "It can be grand or humble - as long as it speaks to you. There really is no right or wrong - you just have to love it and it will always find a place”

F​​ritz Porter Design Services
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