Furnishing and decorating your space with a curated collection of antique or second-hand items has major advantages: you can avoid the long wait for large pieces delayed by the supply chain, create a truly unique space that expresses your personality and reduce your environmental impact by reusing items instead of buying new ones.
But making your first forays into the world of antiques and collectibles can feel more than a little overwhelming, with multiple options for where to shop – an antique store, a thrift store or online? – and thousands of types of items on display, from 1970s salad servers to Victorian-era furniture.
“Most people are looking for something practical, useful, but also beautiful,” says Sean Scherer of Kabinett and Kammer in Franklin, NY. Sometimes you’ll pay less than for new items at a high-end store, sometimes you might pay more, but you’ll always choose something more durable, longer lasting, and often more attractive. “You get something authentic and something you can’t get from a new item: the beauty of wear.”
But every collector, whether beginner or quasi-professional, should work around a simple question: what do you like? “Before you even go to the flea market, you have to ask yourself: ‘What makes me happy, what do I like and what do I want around me in my space?” says Bena Raia, an auctioneer and appraiser based out of Boston. Once you answer that question, the rest of the pieces – where to buy, what to look for, and how much to pay – will fall into place. “You really should buy things you like,” Scherer says. “If you like it, you’ll find a place for it.”
1. Start browsing
Whether you have a general interest in the concept of antiques or a passion for a specific type of object, researching thrift stores, antique shopping malls, field exhibits and social media can help you define your aesthetic and your vision, as well as your shopping list. “What I always tell people is to really start looking everywhere and everywhere,” Scherer says. “If you’re just starting out, the best way to educate yourself is to look in as many places as possible.”
2. Be specific
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount and variety of second-hand goods available, whether you’re at your town’s weekend flea market or at a big antique fair. Raia recommends being “very, very specific” when starting out: if you like vintage Pyrex, for example, focus on a certain color and type of product to start your collection, like pink bowls or casserole dishes. red. “The more specific you are, the better your start,” she says. “You now have something so specific that you know it when you see it. You will be like a hunter.
3. Or adopt a variety
Another technique that helps newbies get to grips with collecting, Scherer says, is to pick a broad category and start looking for a variety of items that fit within it. Pick a color, texture, or material (like ceramic or glass) and build your collection around disparate pieces that share that quality in common.
“You can have a 19th century red lacquer box next to a mid century red ceramic vase from the 1960s, next to something else that’s red, and that way you can really mix the eras” , he said. “It’s an easy way to make things fit together more easily when they have something connecting them.”
4. Start small—literally
You can imagine a house full of old furniture, but replacing all of your current pieces at once requires a serious investment of money and time (plus extra square footage where you can store the pieces you’re waiting to donate or sell) . Instead, plan to focus on one piece at a time: a side table next to your bed, a bench for your entryway, or a suitable chair for the reading nook. “When you’re just starting out, you’re looking for things in your house that you can really use,” Scherer says.
If transporting, shipping and rearranging to accommodate new furniture seems overwhelming, look for smaller items that speak to you and that you can use to personalize your decor: think vintage postcards from your favorite seaside town, from beautifully worn antique cutting boards, to tiny -glass bonbonnieres, beaded purses or concert t-shirts. “Even if you only have $2 or MYR 10, you can collect something,” Raia says.
5. Prepare to overpay at first
Many aficionados dream of stumbling across a priceless find – a 400-year-old bowl at the thrift store or a vanished Rembrandt at the antiques mall – but don’t get your hopes up. “That would be a happy event in a million,” Scherer says. Especially as a beginner, you are much more likely to overpay. “It happens to all of us, including me. The first time I see something, I’ve often paid too much,” says Scherer.
When you regularly visit multiple sites, from thrift stores to the antique mall to Etsy to your favorite antique-focused Instagram feeds, you get a better idea of prices. “It’s not as complicated as you might think, but you have to take the time to look,” says Scherer. Sellers may also not have priced an item correctly, Raia says, so it’s key to trust your own instincts. “You have to know what you’re looking at and trust your judgement,” she says. “Don’t believe everything you are told.”
6. Maximize your funds
Once you understand the general price range of the items you collect, set a budget and stick to it, Raia says. “The best advice I received was, ‘Buy the best your budget allows,'” she shares. When she started collecting jadeite, it meant that she sometimes bought pieces with chips or small flaws. “They were cheap, but as I learned about them, I only bought the perfect ones,” she says (and selling the cheaper ones helped her fund improvements to her collection).
Sometimes you will find an item that is so valuable to you that you are willing to pay a price you know is too high. “I always try to get a deal, but sometimes you don’t get a deal,” she says, mentioning a doll she added to her extensive collection at no cost drop. “At some point, you will pay too much for something. But you always regret what you don’t buy.
7. Enjoy the process
Building a collection can take months or even years of research and shopping; you may never feel like it’s over. But that’s part of the beauty of antiques, Scherer says. “It should be a really fun process,” he says. “The joy of finding that item or discovering something you never knew existed, that appeals to you, that you love – that’s the allure of buying vintage rather than new. Often you won’t see it again , and it is something to remember and enjoy.
Raia agrees: “There’s this feeling when you’re a new collector – the passion is too simplistic,” she says. “There is an adrenaline rush, a workout. You’re so driven because it’s something inside you that you’re looking for.
This story first appeared on www.marthastewart.com
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