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Buying Second Hand Furniture: What to Look For

In this day and age, there are a lot of ways to buy furniture second hand: Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, thrift stores, garage sales… all places I have found pieces. No matter where I find a piece, there are common things I look for before I decide to purchase:

Surface Damage

  • I assess the surfaces for any damage to the veneer, scratches, water damage, or discoloration to the wood. Some wear and tear is to be expected and doesn’t deter me from a piece. Most pieces can be repaired, but depending on how severe the damage is it may be a piece to pass on.


  • Second hand pieces can sometimes develop different types of smells in the drawers. Most smells can be remedied through different methods (look out for a future post on this), but it is preferable to work with a piece with minimal smell odor….

Structural Damage

  • For a dresser or nightstand, I check the joints of the drawers (where the edges of the drawers come together), the tracks the drawers sit on, the legs, and the base of the piece. I am checking to make sure there are no major cracks or damage. Minor cracks can be repaired, screws can be tightened. As long as it is not majorly structurally compromised and won’t require a major re-build or repair, most things can be fixed!


  • Personally, I like to look for pieces with clean lines and little to no intricate detailing. I prefer pieces that already have feet on them, but feet or bases can be added. The body of the piece is ultimately the biggest selling point for me when deciding whether or not to purchase.


  • What material a piece is made of is another important factor when looking for vintage pieces. All wood construction is what I look for. That means that the interior of the piece is constructed of real, solid wood. A lot of vintage pieces have what is called a veneer, and most often a wood veneer. A wood veneer is typically made up of a thin layer of natural hardwood that is then bonded to a stable material, preferably wood that is used for the actual structure of the dresser. This is a common practice in vintage, especially Mid-Century Modern, furniture because it offers a real wood finish over a solid wood structure that is ideally made of wood at a more affordable price.

These are the criteria I use when I am considering buying a piece of vintage furniture second hand. I’ve learned several lessons over the years that have helped me develop these guidelines and saved me from potential headaches and regrets. Remember these five things during your next purchase to find the best piece for you as you shop second hand!

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