April 2, 2014

Screenshot 2014-04-01 23.42.51

I received a request from a reader a while back to post about how to find quality vintage furniture among the sea of garbage out there, and today I’m doing just that, along with an interview with an upholstery pro, Brian Maxfield.

If you’re familiar with withHEART, you know I’m a big believer in scouting out quality pieces, refinishing them, and making them new again.  And while I do love a new piece as much as the next consumer, I have several reasons behind this method.

1)  I just love mixing old and new.  Call me sentimental, but I have just always loved old furniture.  I think it adds soul, depth, and meaning to a space.  Now that is not to say everything in my home is old (or that it should be).  That, my friends, can be creepy.  There must be a balance.

2)  Quality just ain’t what it used to be.  A sofa made in the 1960’s was probably made much better than a sofa of similar style from a big box retailer today.  Again, that’s not to say I don’t have a modern day sofa in my home.  But, if you can find a great quality, solid piece of furniture and have it recovered, it will not only last longer, it will probably look better and be more comfortable.

3)  You can find some great prices on old pieces, if you know what to look for and where to look.  It takes patience to find a really great vintage piece worth refinishing, but when you do, it’s like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Today I’m sharing all the secrets so that you too will be able to walk through a yard sale and figure out what is garbage and what is gold.

First, let’s start with an interview I did a couple months ago with Brian Maxfield of Rocky Mountain Upholstery, who I use for all of my recovering, along those lines.  He has some wonderful tips and tricks from an upholstery perspective and it’s such valuable information.

Thanks to James Young for the video/editing!

Now that he has shared his advice, here is some of mine.

The first thing I look for is a good shape.  Clean lines, timeless curves, and a piece I can see living in my house for a long time.  If I don’t totally love it, I don’t take it home, no matter the price tag.  It takes time and money to refinish a piece, so I want to make sure it’s something that I know I’ll love tomorrow and beyond.  Below are two very different sofas.  One is really good and one is really bad.

This is the good one.  Don’t be scurrrred by the fabric, ya’ll.  Fabric can be changed.  Look at the shape.  Now imagine it in a pretty dark gray mohair, or light gray velvet.  Perfection.

IMG_5607 IMG_5608

This one I would never buy.  I mean, new fabric would be a huge improvement, but it’s just not my style.  But if it’s yours, have at it!


After finding a good shape, I look for signs of how it was made.  I try to pick it up.  Heavy usually equals quality.  Flip it upside down.  Read the label on the bottom, if there is one.  It will usually say who made it, and sometimes the year.  Do a quick google search if you don’t recognize the name.  I also look at the legs closely, put pressure on it to check for wobbles, and look closely at the springs.  As Brian mentioned, hand tied springs are a sign of a high quality piece.

I also check out the condition of the piece.  Has it been totally abused?  Is it something some sanding and paint can fix, or is it too much work than it’s worth?  I’ve made the mistake more than once of falling in love with something only to start into the project and realize it’s taking way more time to fix than I thought it would.  I’m a bit of a germophobe, so I usually recover pieces, but you can have them cleaned if the fabric is in good condition.

Lastly, look at the price.  If it’s inexpensive, that’s a huge bonus.  You don’t always get what you pay for.  There are really expensive pieces of garbage, and there are amazing pieces that you can get for a steal.  I always look at the price, then factor in fabric and upholstery fees.  This just comes with experience.  For more on that, you can see my tips for fabric amounts.

I hope this has helped you figure out which pieces to look for next time you’re in a thrift store!

Happy Wednesday!

Jen Signature photo JenSignature_zpse63747c4.jpg

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  1. Christa says:

    Yea! Thanks for the post! (I was the one that left the comment). The video was very helpful. Actually seeing what old, but quality, cushions and springs look like really helps. I feel much more confident in my ability to pick out a great sofa 🙂

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