Buying vintage MID CENTURY MODERN furniture can feel a bit like a hunt, and the joy when you find some elusive piece of furniture you always dreamed about is long lasting.
Depending on your budget, you will find different places for you to check out: retail stores, online stores, auctions, estate sales, antique markets and private sales.
If you just starting, getting your first apartment, and have a small budget, you might want to look for not restored vintage MCM furniture from private sellers on Facebook Marketplace or Kijiji and Craiglist or similar. If you want to be successful at your “hunt”, you need to know some important rules of the “jungle”.
Please note that I only write about vintage Mid Century Modern furniture, not antique, art deco, etc. I also write about Canadian market, which is different from the American or European.
Market players. Besides the owners of the furniture or their families selling on these markets, you will see multiple small resellers. Some do nothing to the furniture they acquire, just post them for bigger price, some do not do much for furniture but rather take their time to stage them for their Instagram photos. There is also a 3 kind - who do some restoration. Interestingly enough, often their prices are better than those sold by the owners...
The main rule is ASSUME NOTHING.
- Do not assume that all sellers know what they sell; it might not sound like true, but, unfortunately, we see many examples that confirm this rule. It appears, that a lot of people know that vintage Mid Century Modern furniture is very trendy and popular, and some pieces can catch rather high prices, so we often see that some sellers call any vintage furniture Mid Century Modern, and, in addition, made of solid teak since it is what people are looking for.
Below is a great example of the private listing on the Marketplace, selling a vintage MCM table and 4 chairs for $2000.
What is not true: there is no teak at all; Walter of Wabash was an American maker of wooden extension slides, not the tables. Table legs and chairs are made of ash, and tabletop is laminate. Nice vintage Canadian made set, just not worth $2000.
Here is another seller, offering vintage stereo cabinet that clearly needs refinishing; it is made of walnut veneer, but in order to justify $2000 price point seller says it is solid teak. Depending on condition of stereo components you can buy similar piece for $50-$200.
Plenty of honest people say that they do not know much about the item, or that they think the furniture is made of teak, but they are not sure, whilst some are not that honest. Buyer beware; there is no returns here.
- Do not assume that private sellers always sell for less than in retail stores. It would be logical to assume that, however, rules are different in “the jungle”. We see that happening more and more often.
Here is expensive coffee table:
Compare to our teak coffee tables that are refinished to perfection (cost $600-$700):
And here is expensive table, which is neither solid teak, neither Danish, and most likely needs some work:
Similar teak dining table, refinished to perfection (cost $1500), we sell for $2000.
3. Scammers. Whilst most people think that Marketplace and Kijiji are "safe" places, you might encounter many scammers looking to steal your money. Below are just a few examples.
How do we know these are scams? Because these are our photos and our furniture, that we sold, just not to the people listing them.
4. Condition - not as described. A bit TLC required
As a rule of thumb, it does not make sense to buy furniture that requires repairs or/ and refinishing if you can not do that yourself; I am talking about money here. In most cases you would be able to buy our refinished furniture for less, plus, you will not need to take your time at all to do that; you can order online from your sofa and get furniture delivered next day.
Just to give you some idea about the costs of repairs and refinishing, count at least $1000 for the refinishing medium size sideboard or dresser, same for the dining table, $80 to re-glue one joint of the chair, $150 to refinish one chair (not including any repairs). Obviously, the actual cost will depend on your item, condition, the re-finisher and your location but these should give you some idea before you do anything.
Some damages can not be fixed at all: burn marks, intense water damage causing veneer lifting, bubbling, veneer loss, deep scratches and gauges; you also want to be careful with structural damages.
Another important fact about repairs and TLC - if the table or a top of the storage furniture has only a one or a few dark spots or scratches, and seller says it can be easily removed with a light sanding, that is again not true. First, if you sand just the part with the damage, it will be very visible comparing with the rest of the furniture. If the damage got through the finish, the only way is to strip the piece with the chemical stripper and sand afterwards, and after apply the finish you desire.
If scratches are not deep, and you know that the piece has an oil finish, you will be able to remove them with very fine steel wool and Danish oil or teak oil. That will not help if your piece has a lacquer or polyurethane finish.
Next time when you see listing for furniture that requires a bit or a lot of TLC, you will know that there is no such a thing as easy repairs, otherwise, the sellers would fix their furniture themselves and ask for more $$$.
5. Great vintage condition - that is very subjective. Often, when you come to buy furniture in great vintage condition, you find it very far from great, but sellers say it is great for their age, just need cleaning and some TLC, which they never done themselves.
Some think that wobbly chairs are still in good condition (they say these just require gluing, but in some cases you have to dismantle all chair to properly glue one joint). It will take more than one week to refinish set of 6 chairs or so (if you know what you do and want to achieve "like new" condition
Also, be especially careful when you buy furniture located in the basement - in most cases something will be broken, something damaged (that is why it is in the basement after all), but you will not be able to see much because of the bad lighting. You will see all, however, next morning once you check it at your home.
6. Sometimes sellers change their minds and decide not to sell, but do not let you know in time, and let you drive all the way. The last example, Peter Wiebe (email@example.com) at 47 Devineridge Ajax. How would you feel if situation were reversed and you had to drive for 2 hours back and forth on hwy 401?