Tips for the Thrifty Vintage Lover

I’m a big fan of Atomic Ranch magazine. Based in Portland, the magazine focuses on mid-century homes and the people who live in them. It also highlights companies that cater to those living the “Atomic Lifestyle”. However, the magazine does not focus on people who live the life, but don’t own the home, and it does not stress the importance of buying from antique shops. These days many, many pieces of modern furniture can be purchased brand new. I can’t tell you how many times I see new Noguchi tables in Atomic Ranch spreads. Sure, it’s an awesome table, but, a lot of people have them. Design within Reach is a store that caters to those too lazy to hunt for unique items and great deals at shops and shows.There, you can buy coffee tables for hundreds of dollars, and couches for thousands. It’s silly, and continues to perpetuate the idea that living mid-century means you have to have lots of dough, and I’m here to tell you that is not the case. Additionally, buying vintage means you’re more likely to be unique. I came from a family of collectors and restorers, so I knew where to go and how to do restoration work.When I decided that the 50s and 60s were my niche, I knew I chose an expensive era, especially since I adored the modern works of Eames and Saarinen, and the line of furniture by Heywood Wakefield. So, how did I furnish an entire apartment in mid-century furniture without breaking the bank? How can you do it too? Here are some tips…

1. Have no shame

The mid-century market is rather yuppy-ish with men in thick-rim glasses, black turtlenecks and matchstick thin women in heels that could kill you. They often turn up their noses to places like Goodwill and St. Vincent de Paul and that garage sale down the street, so these places become your friend. You’ll find great deals on furniture, lamps, chairs, and just about anything and everything. I often spend a whole day “making the rounds” hitting each thrift store and scoring.

Goodwill will be your new best friend.

2. Don’t be afraid to barter

While at antique shows, flea markets, or garage sales, remember that the price tag may not be what you have to pay. Most people are willing to take down the price at least ten percent. If it’s $8.00, ask $5.00. Sometimes if you buy more than one item, people may be more willing to deal. Just ask “Would you take…” if you have a price in mind, or ask “What’s the best you can do on this?” In this economy, sure, people want money, but they’re also more willing to sell and less likely to hold out for someone who may pay more.

Let's make a deal!

3. If it isn’t perfect, don’t worry

When I bought my first Hey-Wake piece, it was covered in three layers of paint, but I only paid about $15.00 for it (I bought it along with a lettermans jacket, some records, a magazine and some 8-tracks for $35.00). So if the price is dirt cheap, but it’s in sad shape, don’t worry. Paint can be removed. If you find a wood piece that has some rings in it, don’t worry either. If you happen to have an old car battery laying around, pop open those caps and take a paintbrush, dip it in the acid and gingerly apply it to the ring, and then wipe it off, repeat if necessary. Be careful because the acid will bleach the wood. And if the rings don’t come all the way out, it’s not a big deal because you’re going to put stuff on it anyway.

It's a process, but will worth it.

4. Reupholstery is spendy…sometimes

So you’ve found the perfect chair…but it’s in a horrible fabric…or the fabric has some rips in it. First off, ask yourself, how much is the item? Is it cheap? Secondly, do you have someone you know who can do the work? If it’s cheap, and you have someone in mind, give them a call, get an estimate. Sometimes having something reupholstered costs a fortune. If you need that couch or chair, a way to save money is to buy the fabric yourself. This way, the upholster doesn’t have to make a call, and there’s no shipping costs, plus you know exactly what you’re getting.If you’re in Oregon, I recommend Econo Sales in Springfield to purchase fabric, and Joe Klem in Coburg to do your work. He’s done all of the stuff I’ve been incapable of doing, additionally, he’s will to trade since he runs an antique shop along with an upholstery shop (UPDATE: Sadly, Joe passed away in January of 2012.  Rest in peace.). For my sofa, I traded my old European style dresser for the labor. If it’s only a dining chair seat, that can be done yourself with some fabric and a staple gun. Like I did here.

A quick DIY for fantastic new chairs!

Now that you’ve armed yourself with some tips, go get yourself some deals!

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