Note the title of this is 10 “of the best” not the 10 best as these things change all the time and these suggestions will only qualify as good if you find the thing you are looking for. That said, I have tried to include a mix of periods and styles and while some of you will know some of them I’m gambling on the fact that all of you won’t know all of them.
This is a post that is evergreen in that new shops selling old stuff will come and go all the time but I was prompted to write it as (shameless plug) I will be appearing on BBC Radio 4 You and Yours tomorrow – for about three minutes between midday and 1pm – to talk about sustainable shopping in interior design which chimes perfectly with my Do Less Harm campaign not to mention a subject that is currently the hot topic in interiors.
So you will see here from the images – all of which have a link if you want to see more – some of the best places I have found to shop vintage. I realised the other day that my kitchen chairs, and stools and the pair of Jindrich Halabala chairs in the library are all from ebay. And the latter were a proper bargain at £750 a pair instead of the more usual £750 each. Our kitchen stools were £60 each and at the time – ten years ago – we thought that was extortionate – we didn’t have much money left after doing the house up and so it was a stretch.
I found the kitchen chairs last week. That was serendipitous. I am going to include some tips for vintage shopping below but sometimes you just stumble across the right thing. Our old kitchen chairs were from Muuto. They were black wood and they looked perfect when we bought them about four years ago (having sold the previous chairs to pay for these ones). But when we installed the fireplace for the woodburning stove everything suddenly looked very dark and I wanted something lighter.
I put a story up on instagram asking if anyone might be interested in buying them and sold all six by the following day. So the pressure was on to find more. The Mad Husband hankers after Hans Wegner wishbones but the bank account isn’t up to that. We looked for some cane ones ( the Thonet Cesca are gorgeous but I didn’t feel the bent chrome legs were right for the room).
We were still looking for new chairs at this stage and nothing felt right. I started looking on ebay – deep down I knew I wanted vintage and as soon as I started looking at old chairs I knew I would find the right thing. Then I found some that I adored. The Mad Husband hated them. I can’t even tell you why. I doubt he can. It was just instinctive.
By this stage we had narrowed the search to mid-century. We didn’t even put bent plywood into the mix. But these came up. Three days later they were paid for and sitting in the kitchen. They cost me £850. I sold the others for £900 and paid £50 for them to be delivered from Sheffield by Shiply. Winning.
Now, when it comes to shopping for vintage, there’s no way round the fact that it can be a slog. The days when you just happen to spot the thing that you need at the price that you can afford that fits all the other criteria are rare. It’s about virtual shoe leather and pounding up and down the pavements of the internet.
However, if you know exactly what you want – and that probably means the manufacturer’s name or the material – you can set up a google alert and also an ebay alert so that if the right thing turns up you will know about it.
Most of the smaller stores won’t operate like that however, so you will either need to keep checking or try contacting the store and asking them to either keep an eye out for or search for the particular thing that you need. Again this is only for a precise designer – you can’t ask them to tell you every time a mid-century sofa comes in.
When it comes to ebay be as precise as you can. If you want six chairs then say so – there’s nothing more irritating than wading though pages of sets of four. Click the newly listed filter if you are there regularly. And don’t be afraid to contact the seller to ask questions about the condition, the size etc. Get into a conversation. This can sometimes help with the price. Some people are selling much loved stuff rather than running it as a business. They will appreciate a buyer who genuinely cares about what they are selling.
Then it’s about hunting. But don’t rule out the happy discovery. It’s fine to have alerts and set searches but sometimes nothing beats a bit of mindless bit of strolling round the corridors to see what’s there. You never know what you might find.
One other tip; do your research. Just because someones says it’s chair by Hans Wegner doesn’t mean it is. Ask to see a label or a maker’s mark. Look out for words like “style of” or “in the style”. Make sure that it is what it says it is. And the other advice that is always suggested is trying searching with a misspelt word as vendors do get it wrong and will attract fewer offers as it’s harder to find. There is an app called Fatfingers which tells you the most common spelling mistakes on the thing you are looking for.
Always pay with PayPal as you can get your money back if something goes wrong. When the 16yo was about 8 he managed to use The Mad Husband’s password (slightly inadvertently to be fair on that point) to win a bid on a Pokemon collector’s item for about £1200. In that instance the seller was sympathetic and we were able to cancel the purchase but it was a fairly shouty hour in The Mad House. On another occasion I bought a ski jacket which turned out to be fake. I lost the money because I hadn’t used Paypal only my debit card.
Lastly, if you don’t have the time or the bandwidth to do your own search, or aren’t quite sure what you want then there are various places you can look for for help. Your Antique Sourcing Studio is one such based in north London. Founded by Samantha Hansard and Tamara Broido, the pair have both spent years sourcing and styling for private clients and commercial projects. They have now teamed up to provide a more dedicated service that, while based in North London, can help anywhere as they regularly travel to fairs all over the country. Sourcing fees vary on a project by project basis so contact them to find out more.
Hopefully those tips are useful and if you already know them then have a happy browse round the shops and let me know what bargains you have unearthed.