10 Things You Should Never Pass Up When Antique Shopping

A good antique-store haul never starts with a grocery list of must-buy items. That’s a sure way to set yourself up for an unproductive—and probably less enjoyable—experience. “When you are shopping second-hand, you can never be on a mission to find exactly what you need that day,” says stylist and designer Eddie Ross. “You can search for what you want, but you can’t be disappointed if you don’t find exactly the right thing every time.”

For those who find joy and success on the antique trail, it’s all about the thrill of the hunt. But, there’s one thing the seasoned shoppers know too—there are some antique finds that are too good to pass up. Antique and design experts are sharing their must-have antique finds for the next time you’re on the hunt.

Samantha Stathis Lynch, interior designer and founder of Samantha Ware Designs, says the power of these pieces can completely transform your space—which is one reason why you should never be afraid to negotiate for what you want. “Take the initiative and ask for a price reduction when you feel an item is too expensive,” she says. “Most resellers are willing to take 10-15% off when asked nicely.”

As you head out for your next antique shopping spree, keep these must-grab items in mind.

Laurey Glenn


Vintage Carpets

Ross always keeps a lookout for antique rugs or carpets—particularly antique chinoiserie carpets and oriental carpets with modern color palettes. “I love layering those on top of a clean sisal carpet to ground a seating area within a room,” he says. “I also like to use them to upholster ottomans and chairs, and even like to use them as table cloths over a foyer table.”

Unusual Lighting

“This is an obvious one for us because, as lighting designers ourselves, we love lighting,” says Natalie Page, co-owner of Lostine. “We believe that lighting can function as art in a room as a backdrop or as the main event.” Page and co-owner Robert Ogden add that you shouldn’t be afraid of even odd lighting pieces for this reason. Not only can they take a functional role, but they can also act as a conversation starter for your next get-together—just make sure your new-to-you piece is on full display.

Dylan Chandler


Art

Page and Ogden are especially fans of “weird and wonderful” 70s and 80s abstract paintings. The two say that no matter the style, you should invest in pieces you love and naturally gravitate toward. “A piece bought on an antiques excursion that makes you smile when you look at it will look even better on your wall at home,” Page says. “If it doesn’t, you can pass it on or make friends with a dealer who can do that for you.”

Midcentury Chairs

“Whenever I’m at a flea market or second-hand warehouse, I keep an eye out for authentic mid-century side chairs, which look awesome in a bold and colorful fabric,” Lynch says. These gems can be a great find, even if they require upholstery. Before purchasing a piece that you know will need some work, just ensure it is worthy of the investment. You’ll want to do some research to verify the piece is authentic and in good condition, and won’t leave you spending more than it’s worth once all is said and done.

Robert Brinson

Earthenware Pots and Jugs

Lynch recommends keeping an eye out for smaller items like vintage earthenware pots and jugs. These small, rustic elements can add a big dose of charm when used as vases throughout your home. The same can be said for other unique pieces, so keep an open mind while you’re perusing the antique shop. Giving a second life to an antique oftentimes means giving it new purpose, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to the intended function of an item.

Small Sculpture Pieces

While sculpture might not be a focus of your interior, Page and Ogden believe this underutilized decor element is worth seeking out. “Marcel Duchamp championed a whole art movement called Readymade and he argued an ordinary object [could be] elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist,” Ogden says. The duo urge novice antique hunters to be the artist. “It is as much about the art as it is about the edit.”  

John Granen

Unique Dinnerware

“If you’re looking for unique dinnerware, I always recommend collecting transferware, which looks best when it’s mismatched,” Lynch says. Ross agrees, explaining that this mix-and-match approach can work wonders the next time you go to set the table. “When you mix [antique dinnerware] in with modern tableware it takes antiques to a whole new level,” he says. “The same goes for silverware.”

Serving Bowls

Give your kitchen some character by collecting serving bowls during your antiquing adventures. “Creamware and ironstone tureens and bowls are perfect for displaying your fruit, onions, and garlic,” Lynch says. “The crackled patina of vintage ironstone provides depth and dimensionality, setting it apart from its modern ceramic counterparts.” Give these items special weight on your countertop by clustering them together or placing in a more prominent place.

Keep in mind that some antique finds can contain lead, as strict regulations weren’t put in place until 1971. If you can’t verify the item’s production date or manufacturing details, it’s best to save dishes, cups, and serving platters for decor only.

Karyn Millet


Mirrors

Not all mirrors are created equally—or are worth purchasing. Lynch says mirrors with patina can be real treasures, but you’ll want to steer away from items that look too good to be true. “There’s nothing quite as beautiful as a vintage French mirror, which looks best with signs of wear and tear,” she says. In fact, the designer warns to be careful with pieces that look too pristine. “If there is a seller listing a Louis Philippe mirror as being authentic but it’s in perfect condition, keep looking as it is likely a contemporary piece,” she warns.

Studio Pottery

Page and Ogden recommend grouping pottery pieces together to tell a story. “These can be stories of color, shape, and pattern or place, time, and function,” Ogden says. Consider giving this collection a pretty spot for display, and let it evolve over time to create the most interesting array of elements.

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