Yes, You Can Find Budget- and Kid-Friendly Vintage Picks — Here’s How

published Feb 28, 2022
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Credit: Erin Derby

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More than ever, vintage-powered, nostalgic style is pulling eclectic old treasures into the present. Incorporating antique furniture and accessories into whatever look your space is currently rocking is a wonderful way to furnish your home in a more sustainable way, since you’re literally recycling existing pieces and reducing the demand for new manufacturing. (You are also avoiding delays in delivery and supply-chain issues!) Bringing in vintage finds is also an ideal strategy for family lifestyles, since pieces can be found for much less of an investment than modern furniture. 

These vintage pieces are time-tested and durable enough to take on the toughest toddlers (which we know, since each piece has proven over generations of enduring!). The shopping and arranging process also gives you an opportunity to cement a sense of place and history in the home for the kids, with the added bonus of potentially introducing an heirloom into the family. As someone who has been drawn to antique stores since before they were cool, I’m here to help you on your vintage shopping journey in finding, selecting, and caring for truly special finds.

Here, my best tips on creating an eclectic style with vintage furniture and home goods:

First: Hone Your Personal Style 

As with any design project, things will go much smoother if you begin with a good idea of what you’re going for. There aren’t any hard-and-fast rules with vintage shopping, and there’s room to mix-and-match, but you’ll save a lot of time and money by identifying a few eras or design styles that you love before you start your search. Here are a few searches to run on your Pinterest and Instagram feeds to see what gets your heart racing.

  • Victorian: Did you have a Samantha American Girl doll growing up? Live for English period dramas? Then bringing in features from this opulent aesthetic might be just the thing you’re looking for. Dark woods, heavy and ornate furniture pieces, gold chandeliers, silver candelabras, and tea sets are all on the table here (with a thick, fringed tablecloth, of course).
  • Art Deco: This is a surprisingly versatile era that stretched from the 1920s into the 1940s, serving up all the Great Gatsby and prewar realness that defined your grandparent’s childhoods. Rich colors are key, with plenty of gold and silver metallics to bring hints of industrialism into the space. It’s also characterized by sleek lines and symmetrical elements.
  • Craftsman: Also called the Arts and Crafts movement, this early 20th century movement was about whimsical designs that incorporate natural elements like leaves, trees, dragonflies, and flowers with handcrafted materials like stained glass and woodworking. 
  • Mid-Century Modern: Here, there’s a heavy emphasis on function, lightness, and curves. Authentic furniture from that time may appear airy and sleek, but is made with quality woods and made to last. And not everything Mid-Century Modern is minimalist — there’s lots of fun atomic age kitsch to play around with.

Let Your Keywords Be Your Guide

Once you have an idea of what era you’d like to start building into your home, you can use the style search terms in Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist to cut through a deluge of results.

  • Be specific in your word choice. Instead of “vintage chair,” which pulls up hundreds of results, focus your effort on the handful of “Art Deco chair” offerings in your area.
  • Make a habit of running your searches once a day. People are continuously adding things, and the most desirable items with the most reasonable prices go fast. Spending a few weeks watching what appears and its price range will also give you a sense of the market, so you’ll have a better handle on what is or isn’t a fair price.
  • Filter your results to By Owner and Local Pickup. This will weed out expensive shipping and catchall ads by resellers that can be deceptive.
  • Get as much information before you go. You don’t want to waste your time on a drive out to find something that won’t work. Ask for dimensions, any questions on condition, or anything else so there’s no surprises. If the seller isn’t responsive to these courteous requests, move on — there’s always something new you’ll discover later.
  • As with most things, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Items priced shockingly low or ridiculously high are both red flags and can be signs that someone is trying to unload junk or make an inflated sale on something they claim is “rare.” You’ll be most successful when you seek out the middle ground.
Credit: Erin Derby

Feel Free to Start Small

Finding an eclectic style is also a great option for the commitment-hesitant because you can bring in a few striking, smaller pieces and test how it goes.

  • Lamps and lighting fixtures are fantastic starting pieces, because they’re high-impact with a low investment. You can even try just switching out generic lamp shades in your current space for an old-school pattern, like toile or chintz.
  • Playing with new fabrics, textures and designs as throw pillows or blankets on a contemporary sofa bridges old and new, and can help you envision what a larger piece, like an upholstered chair, might feel like before taking the dive. Florals, velvet, and fringe are all on-trend and are great places to start.
  • Make knick-knacks a collaborative effort! Small accents like ceramic figures or vases, quirky clocks, candlesticks, an old sugar and creamer … these tiny touches are essential to creating a true old-world vibe in your space. At most thrift stores, these items can be found for less than you pay for a nice latte. So bring along the kids and let them pick their own treasure to add to the project. It gives them an investment in the switch-up, and a memory in the making.
Credit: Selena Kirchhoff

Create an Antique Store Route

Although shopping online is a great way to start planning and building your vintage-inspired space, nothing quite beats the hands-on thrill of antique shopping.

  • Pick one area and do a tour of their antique, vintage and thrift stores. If you’re in a larger city, try a historic street or shopping district. Main streets in small towns often have a couple of resident antique shops (and can be worth the drive, as they’re likely going to have lower prices than trendy metro areas).
  • Pay attention to your senses when you’re inside of the store. Can you move around comfortably without running into things? Does it have a pleasant smell? If it feels overly cluttered or musty, move right along. Don’t take the word “junking” literally; a store that has quality vendors carrying desirable items won’t be messy or dirty.
  •  Just like at your favorite farmer’s market, make an effort to engage the people working at the store. Ask for the stories behind items that you’re interested in. When was it made? Where? Any details on where it was sourced from? You’d be surprised how many details you’ll get from vendors, who are often turning their passion for finding and preserving these items into a hustle.
  • Do some comparison-shopping. Look at some of the common antique store finds at each place you visit, like depression and carnival glass, and take note of how it’s priced. This can help you figure out what to expect from the store, and whether it meshes with what you’re able and willing to spend.
  • Once you’ve identified a few stores that carry items that intrigue you at a price point you’re comfortable with, it’s time to become a regular! Visit as often as you’d like, since inventory is constantly changing and it’s impossible to see everything in one trip. I visit my favorite vintage store about once a week, and 2–3 times per week during the holiday season (I’m a Christmas decoration fanatic). Try walking around the store in a different route each visit — it’s astonishing how many new things you’ll see by just tweaking your perspective a bit!
Credit: Selena Kirchhoff

Make Special Care a Family Affair

The best way to make a piece of vintage furniture or an antique decoration into an heirloom is to make sure your whole family is invested in it.

  • Share the story. Tell your kids about when the new dining table was made, and what else was going on in the world at the time. Connecting it to family members — “This chest was made when your grandma was 5, just like you!” — is a wonderful way to create context.
  • Create a care routine together. Most old furniture is surprisingly low maintenance, so purchase plant-based wood cleaner and polish (we love Method’s offerings), and make a twice-monthly routine of wiping off the dust and gently polishing with a soft microfiber towel. Simple maintenance on sturdy antique furniture is a perfect task for kids to take on.
  • Explain the “why” of being careful. Talk about the reason we don’t throw toys near the leaded glass doors in the cabinet. They were handmade by an expert 100 years ago, and we can’t get new ones at the store. Watch some cool artisan YouTube videos together to see how these treasures were created, and make preservation a celebration, not a limitation.