How To Antique-Shop Like A Pro

You've been watching Antiques Roadshow on PBS since you were a kid — you're hooked, and it's all your grandparents' fault. You also have a trip to Las Vegas in the works, in part because you want to haggle with the guys from Pawn Stars. (Okay, so maybe I'm projecting a little.) But, whether you're a full-fledged antiques expert or a curious beginner looking for a few pointers, you shouldn't forget that there's an entire world of real-life auctions, flea markets, yard sales, and online antique shops at your disposal that extend beyond your TV screen.
And, thanks to the home-decor geniuses at Homepolish, ACRE, Gunnar Larson, Viyet, and Design*Sponge (plus, R29's brand-new lifestyle editor, too!), we've got the tips, tricks, and web resources to help you elevate your antiquing prowess tenfold. Find out what these designers really think about authenticating merch before buying, and how and when to trust your gut, among other need-to-know hacks of the trade. It's all just a click of the remote, er, mouse away.
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Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
Margaret Wenzel, interior designer, Homepolish

So, how did you get your start in antiquing?
"My grandmother and mother both collect antiques, so I grew up visiting antique stores, yard sales, and flea markets. Now, I get to do it for a living!

What are your tried-and-true, go-to online resources?
"Etsy and eBay are likely the best online resources for affordable antiques, but browsing them requires a lot of time and patience. If you’re looking for a good deal, try New York City-based Furnish Green or Chairish.

"And, for those with a little time (and a generous budget), Cafiero Select, Post Modern Home, and Nickey Kehoe offer a well-curated selection."
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Which do you prefer: shopping online or visiting freestanding antique shops?
"In this day and age, there aren’t many freestanding shops in New York City that are both affordable and high quality. As a result, I end up doing most of my antiquing online or while traveling (usually at thrift stores and local flea markets)."

What expert words of wisdom can you shed on the topic?
"If you love it, buy it. (Otherwise, someone else will!) Always bring cash, and don’t be afraid to bargain. And, rummage through stuff. Sometimes the best things are covered up."

Well, on that note, what's the best piece you've ever bought antiquing?
"I have a collection of vintage ceramics that I really love. Every time I travel I try to find a new piece to add to the group."
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Louise Youngson-Klasfeld, founder and chief curator, Viyet

What's your experience in antique shopping? And, what does your role as chief curator entail?
"In the true sense of the word antiquing, I have only ever done it for fun. In my role at Viyet, you can say this is all that I do as the chief curator! I source furniture and accessories that have retained resale value. Antiques — from the Viyet perspective — are pieces from another time period that have retained or grown in value, and that (hopefully) will find an interested buyer on our site. Authenticity and condition are the key issues I focus on."

What is it that makes Viyet so special, to you and to your costumers?
"I love that Viyet introduces new pieces every week. There's a constant flow of new products, and you can shop them at any time that fits into your schedule — it is an online shop, after all! All of the pieces are curated and edited for authenticity. And, the prices are very attractive compared to those at auction houses on furniture like Robsjohn Gibbings and Tommi Parzinger chandeliers. True classics at great prices."

Where were you shopping before you opened shop?
"My other favorite antique store has to be Olde Good Things. They have an online presence, too, and also a storefront in my neighborhood on the Upper West Side. Proximity is everything."
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What are takeaways you learned from past shopping experiences?
"Remember, it is not rude to negotiate. In fact, dealers expect it. If you are looking for something specific, ask the dealers where you can find it. They always are ready and willing to help you out and have solid networks in the antique community.

"Also, avoid buying things you don't have a place or a use for. Although, it can be tempting when you see something really cute!"

Do you have a favorite piece you've purchased? Where did you find it?
"In the Hamptons, there's a great shop in Bridgehampton called The Black Swan that sells rustic, solid furniture. I bought an old table that was whitewashed by the shop owner — and I painted the top turquoise. It has great character and a wonderfully beachy feel. It looks great with my oversized, slouchy white sofas and metallic accents. And, I get tons of compliments on it."
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Grace Bonney, founder, Design*Sponge

What's your antiquing experience? Do you do it for fun? For work?
"I do a little of both — I window-shop a lot of antiques online and in person for work, but rarely buy. I am primarily looking for research purposes. I buy small antiques here and there for my home, but typically really small tabletop pieces. I try to focus on hand-me-downs from family instead whenever possible, because those always have a bit more meaning to me."

Do you have any favorite e-retailers to shop antique pieces for your home?
"Honestly, I feel Etsy is a great spot right now — granted, the prices can be inflated with some sellers. I also think Hunters Alley is starting to be an amazing site, as is One Kings Lane. But, I like Etsy most for small purchases because they're typically inexpensive and easy to have shipped quickly."
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Where do you go when virtual shopping just isn't cutting it?
"Brimfield, hands down. I wish the prices were more reasonable, but when your shopping opponents are people from Martha Stewart and J.Crew, sellers know they can sell at top dollar. Although, the selection is more unique and exciting than anything I've seen elsewhere in the country so far."

Is there a tip you can recommend for people who are new to antiquing?
"Trust your gut. The only regrets I have are about not buying when I couldn't stop thinking about something. Chances are, at a shop or fair that's competitive, people will buy if you don't. So, if your heart is set on it, buy quickly. I still think about a set of cane chairs I missed back in 2012."

What's the best antique you've ever bought?
"A curved, marble tabletop that I use as my living-room coffee table. I paid full price, in cash, and had to fight off a J.Crew staffer for it. It's worth every penny and every bit of the anxiety I felt pushing for it."
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Evan Schwartz, interior designer, Homepolish

For you, is antiquing more work or play?
"I was always doing it for fun until last year, when I started my own retail-slash-auction business, Brooklyn Auction Barn. Now, I do it for work, but it'll always be a passion of mine, too."

Your favorite online antique shop is...
"Well, I have to say my own shop is my favorite. It's an e-commerce vintage shop that lists when our live auctions will be. But, I'm also a fan of 1stdibs, Three Potato Four, and Urban Remains. What can I say? I'm a sucker for architectural salvage."

Where do you go when virtual shopping just isn't cutting it?
"My favorite places to shop are other auctions and flea markets because I have the ability to travel further for what I want. But, while Brimfield is fun for the experience and selection, it can be expensive. So, I also like to stop by the yard sales happening in the area.

"My favorite freestanding store, Jeffries, is in Ohio. It's a gigantic antique warehouse that's impossible to cover in just one day. I've never been through the whole thing, but that's definitely on my bucket list."
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Tell us your super-duper antique-shopper tips. What should we be doing?
"What is your endgame? If you're just looking for things you like and that speak to you, go for it. If you're shopping to sell or to get something of 'value,' do your research.

"There are certain techniques and production methods that are antiquated today, and they can be a dead giveaway to experts. Learning about when certain hardware and machines were invented is all part of a piece's history. It's always relevant. For example, in the early Art Deco period, exotic woods like ebony and rosewood were the primary materials used. So, if you find a 'Deco' dresser made from a more common wood, chances are it's either a reproduction or it was made during the tail end of the period — making the short-lived Deco era one of the most expensive to collect.

"Find out as much as you can in areas that interest you. Because, although the dealer should be the expert, sometimes they're not, or they only know what the previous owner knew. Of course, keep in mind that most things are not one of a kind. So, if you miss out, you'll probably see another one if it's meant to be. And, it's also totally okay to make mistakes. Those can be just as valuable as a great score, educationally speaking."

What's the best piece you've ever bought antiquing?
"Hands down: a painting of a sea captain by David Pelbam that I bought because I thought it'd be easy to sell to my clientele. I paid $8 for it and had a real Antiques Roadshow moment when I found out who he was and that it's potentially worth between $800 to $2,500. I still have it and am working on getting it appraised."
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Gunnar Larson, interior designer

What are your experiences in antique shopping? Do you do it for fun? For work? On assignment...?
"All of the above. I do a lot of antique shopping for my clients, and the range is wide — from large, high-end antique furniture to vintage tchotchkes. I grew up hunting and gathering antiques and oddities with my parents and now do the same with my wife. I love the hunt and enjoy the find."

Live auctions kind of scare us a little. We can only imagine the intensity of online auctions...
"I love online auctions, and my favorite one is LiveAuctioneers. It is the best place to find everything. I love the thrill of the auction because you don't know if you will be outbid or get the item for a deal. It's not a click-and-buy option, but there is a world of interior wonders.

"For the 'hunter and gatherer' inside of me, I love to shop on Ruby Lane. It's not curated, so it's everything from junk to treasures, but if you have patience and like to dig in, this is where to do it from your couch."

What is your favorite freestanding shop, and why do you love it?
"There is a great shop between Philadelphia and Reading, Pennsylvania, called Home Works New & Used Store. It is as 'ma and pa' as a shop can get. There is a lot of inventory to dig through, but I always come away with one or two antique or vintage finds that are amazing. My wife and I love taking the back roads from New York City down toward Reading, PA, and stopping at the little shops along the way. I like the mix of items that you find in that area, and the drive is beautiful. I took my wife to this shop on one of our first dates and have now made it a tradition.

Home Works New & Used Store, 603 Ben Franklin Highway W; Birdsboro, PA.
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Have any great antique-shopping hacks to share with our readers?
"When it comes to antiques, the back always tells you the truth. Look at the backs of frames or the back of a dresser to find out its true age. This skill comes with time and looking at the backs of lots of items. Sometimes it's easy to read, and other times it can be a bit ambiguous. When it comes to a frame, if the back is new-looking and has any metal reinforcing the corners, you know it is a new frame with a faux, antique face."

What is your all-time favorite purchase?
"A 1950s chrome-frame lounge chair with oak handles. It was a steal of a price and so comfortable, too. It fits perfectly in our apartment, and reupholstery was a cinch because of its removable cushions."
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Kelley Carter, Refinery29 lifestyle editor

Is antique shopping a personal passion or just a job for you?
"I love antique shopping! I mostly do it when I'm visiting my friend in Palm Beach, my dad in Camden, South Carolina, or my sister in Los Angeles. It starts out for work (I usually have one or two design clients), but then I end up buying random but amazing things for my already-cramped apartment."

Where is your favorite online-shopping destination for antiques?
"My absolute favorite site is eBay. The inventory is never ending, and I love to scour! I recently purchased something from Hunters Alley, too. It is pretty legit. The site is super curated, the product shots look great, and it makes buying and selling almost effortless."

Yay or nay to flea markets?
"I go to the Fort Greene Brooklyn Flea all the time. It is a great place to find those weird knickknacks I use as props on photo shoots. I also really like the Antique and Artisan Center in Stamford for furniture and accessories. The dealers are very diverse, so you can find something for tons of different styles. I'm really into '70s antiques, and there is a lot of that happening there."
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Do you have any tips for those who are brand-new to the art of antique shopping?
"Make sure you take your allergy meds beforehand because antiques are crazy dusty! I once had to cut a shopping trip short because I had an allergy attack!"

Noted! So, what's your best find ever?
"I bought the best brass light fixture on South Dixie Highway once. It was a floor lamp with multiple arms. It was so hot."
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Leanne Ford, interior designer and stylist, ACRE

Antiquing: Do you do it for fun or just for work?
"Both, of course! I do for work what I do for fun, and that works out well for me! Antiquing is one of those treasure hunts that overlaps between finding treasures for clients and for myself. If I am out at the markets and see something that works for me or for my clients, I grab it."

What are your favorite online-shopping destinations for antiques?
"Home-shopping aside, Erie Basin has gorgeous antique jewelry. It’s where my husband found my engagement ring, and it’s still the most beautiful ring I have ever seen. I love vintage jewelry because you can never really tell the value of it in terms of money; you can only see its value based on beauty. It’s an awesome concept. Especially with diamonds!

"Craigslist is also an amazing website to find vintage. I love that I can search keywords like 'midcentury' or 'rustic' and find a list of exactly what I am looking for."

What is your favorite freestanding store to shop for treasures?
"Melrose Trading Post in Los Angeles on Sunday mornings. I even used to sell stuff there when I was in my 20s. I usually ended up spending everything I made, but still! Treasures everywhere, and a fashion show of very cute people in fun outfits, too."
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Is authenticating your pieces as important as everyone claims?
"I say forget authenticating, scratches — all of it — if you LOVE it. Antiques have an emotional value to them. So, if it makes you happy, makes you smile, looks pretty in your room, reminds you of a friend — get it! Its worth is only what it’s worth to you."

What's the best thing you've ever bought antiquing?
"When I was 23, I bought a HUGE, green, vintage cabinet with three layers of paint chipping off it from an old video-rental store. I remember looking at it all day at the market I was selling at. I was trying to hold back because it was a huge piece of furniture, and I was a bit of a gypsy. But, when I saw someone about to take their money out to buy it, I ran over and said I would take it! I paid $100 for the thing. And, I have spent thousands shipping it from city to city with me. It’s been so worth it. I still love it today."
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