How to choose vintage furniture and objects on a flea market?

Our best tips to hunt effectively!

Skipping flea markets to find cheap furniture at low prices, it’s tempting, especially when you’re a little handyman and you can take advantage even parts to retype! But where is the difference between a piece of furniture that requires a little refreshing and one for which a real restoration work is necessary? And what are the limits to be given to be sure to be able to bring a new touch to the coveted object? 

I consulted second-hand dealers, but also asked Soline’s advice from So Sweet vintage who remakes and sells decorative items and children’s furniture. Her eye has been sharpened with experience and in the middle of junk and garage sales, she has no equal to find wonders!

The importance of the material

Some materials are easier to clean or repair than others. The wood can be easily repaired and sanded while the metal requires welding skills. The rattan furniture also has drawbacks: as soon as a rod comes off, it is all that will relax and may start to swirl! Plastic will tend to discolour over time irreparably, while wood will tend to work, curl or warp.

Take into account the time of the coveted room: specialists only repair antique furniture with pieces of wood of an equivalent age! Shaping and materials have also evolved over time: if the coating of modern copper pans is safe, tinning old models contains lead and can be very harmful.
Wood ? Marble? Metal ? Have a look in flea markets!

Consider your level

If you do not have specific DIY skills, focus on objects that require more cleaning than repairs, finishing rather than structural work. Your creativity will find enough to express itself in the work of painting or the choice of the accessories (handles, braid, canvas of lounger etc.) and it is better to leave the restoration of the antique pieces to the pros.

Basic tools may be enough to re-type some elements, but beware of convoluted, angular or recessed furniture that will be harder to clean without a triangular sander or angled material. Also beware of twisted wrought iron that can only be sanded by hand!

Be careful also to evaluate the work necessary to refresh your acquisition. A good deal can quickly turn into a financial chasm if many repairs are needed, especially on fragile materials (marquetry, crystal etc.) for which the intervention of a specialist is essential. Consider also the cost of materials: reaming a chair or retracting a chair can be expensive and it may be better to wait to find an opportunity in better condition.
Do you feel like renovating this school desk?

Finishes with a magnifying glass

Attention to finishes! Not only are multiple layers of paint or varnish difficult to remove, but they can also hide defects such as cracks, worm holes or spots that will only become visible once the object is stripped. Beware too thick or lacquered varnish which only specific strippers or a radical sanding can overcome.If you do not have technical equipment, choose furniture that only a coat of paint or varnish covers to be removed by sanding or sandpaper.

Pay special attention to wood veneers: in the event of a blister, it will probably be necessary to re-glue or even replace the entire veneer.
Pretty feet for this vintage dresser!

Attention to details

Even if the general state of the object is decisive, the details must not be neglected. Look well under and behind the coveted furniture, open the doors, check that the drawers are sliding, that the wood is not damaged at the hinges … The interior and exterior coatings are also important because replacing the moleskin of an office or the paper of a dresser can be complicated.

Do not hesitate to manipulate, even to shake (moderately!) The object that interests you. A table should be stable, a chair should not “crack” when sitting there … Check welds, rivets, seams and all wearing parts. If necessary, negotiate the price down to cover the cost of the items to be replaced. In the furniture, watch for the presence of small holes, it is the sign that the wood is worm-eaten and will have to be treated then consolidated.
Did you open the drawers of this china dresser?

Imperfections are also good

Sometimes the market value or a crush can make us crack on an object, even damaged. Be aware that the chipped crystal or glass can repair itself, but that their use may be compromised. The ceramic can be repaired, provided you have all the pieces so that the recomposition does not involve a “game” that would weaken the whole too.

Stitched metal, dented or oxidized also has its charm, especially brushing and a polished care will restore all its luster. Even broken marble can be glued with an epoxy adhesive: if it is likely that a slight crack remains visible, the object will not necessarily lose its value and charm!

Do not hesitate for blackened frames or quilted mirrors, their patina is often what makes them desirable. Avoid, however, furniture with broken legs that, even restored, will remain fragile.
Nice little rattan bed for kids room!

Do’s and Don’ts

Before you go shopping, have these tips in mind:
It’s easy to crack on an isolated element like a headboard or a wrought-iron gate thinking you’re going to tinker with it and adapt it. Make this choice only if you know exactly what to do with the object and if you have the necessary equipment to transform or complete it.

Otherwise it may clutter your garage or your attic for many years! Avoid the compulsive purchase of objects too damaged to fill their first use: too fragile rattan carriages transformed into decorative objects, metal vases too rusty to be used, pitted pans … Many things that will take the dust for lack of power be properly repaired. Think again before attempting risky diversions.

Transform this army box into bedside, is it really a good idea? And these test tubes, will they really taste good on your buffet? Some categories of objects are indeed very connoted and do not lend themselves to the game of transposition.It’s up to you to see if, by a subtle work of reappropriation, you manage to make forget the first vocation of these objects. 08732118-photo-dresser-vintage.jpg
60s dresser or wicker chair?
You are ready to skim the garage sales without fear of deceiving you. And know that, like everything, chiner learns, and that your flair will sharpen over flea markets, consignments and purchases!