Following on from my post about creating a more sustainable home, I wanted to talk today about second hand furniture. Buying pre-loved, vintage, antique or up-cycled designs is a great way to stylishly furnish your home while also being mindful of the environment.
There’s really only so many new chairs and designs the world needs – I know it makes me sometimes feel uncomfortable when I go to a fair like the Salone del Mobile in Milan and see so many new pieces, each brand racing to announce the latest thing or be part of the trend of the moment. The mindless consumerism and churning out of collections season after season can start to feel excessive, if not a little unnecessary. What’s more, everything starts to look the same – designs mass-produced and machine-made so that they begin to lose some of their character. Our furniture has become homogenised to the point that it’s hard to tell what is original and what has been copied. And you’ll see the same pieces in homes across the country, or indeed the world. This certainly isn’t true of every brand (and not of my favourites that prioritise design heritage and craftsmanship), but I personally want to see materials that patinate and get better with age, reissues of design classics or innovative ways to use existing waste material.
Not everything in the home needs to be brand new. I like mixing old and new so the space starts to tell a story of the person that lives there. Second hand furniture and unique found objects give a home interest, texture and life. Some of my favourite pieces in my home are vintage finds – my mid-century armchair in the living room, the old French road sign I have in the hallway, the old cricket score numbers I have on my shelves.
Buying second hand furniture can also be really affordable, whether it’s charity shop finds or browsing a brocante market. Some of the best pieces I’ve found have been for less than £20. I love that feeling when you’ve found something totally unique and got a good deal on it. It doesn’t even matter if no one else loves it or they think you’re completely mad – if it means something to you that’s what matters. And there’s often a much lower lead time than most furniture brands – the items are made and ready to ship so you can enjoy them straightaway. They’ve already withstood any wear and tear before you got them, so they’ll likely last even longer.
But not everyone has the time or the patience to seek out those special pieces and bargain buys (there certainly is an art to bartering a price down!), so I’ve rounded up 6 of the best online places to buy second hand furniture. With a few clicks, you don’t even have to move from the sofa…
eBay is always my first port of call for second hand furniture, although it does take a lot of time and patience to hunt out a good buy. My midcentury armchair in the living room was found on eBay – the seat was broken but easily fixed, so I think it’s important to remember that items can be refurbished or reupholstered to bring them back to life if needed. You can find a lot of rubbish on there so it’s important to refine your search by ‘used’ and be specific in your terms – ‘Ercol vintage Quaker wooden dining chair’ instead of ‘vintage dining chair’ for instance.
Most items will be delivered by courier at an extra cost, while some can be collected in person. Some pieces you can ‘Buy Now’ and some you’ll need to bid for. My tip: add items to your ‘watch list’ and bid right at the last minute so you’re less likely to get outbid by someone else.
Pamono is an online marketplace and magazine specialising in distinctive design objects and the stories behind them. Driven by the belief that ‘a life well lived means surrounding yourself with beauty and soul’, they source vintage and contemporary furniture, lighting, accessories and crafts from a curated selection of galleries, shops, editors and designers around the world. ‘Nothing in our shop is run-of-the-mill or mass market, but there is definitely something for everyone,’ they say.
You can find all sorts of vintage items, from old cinema benches and school desks to midcentury sideboards and designer Danish armchairs. And I like being able to see everything in one, easily navigable website. I find the site is best for authentic collectible pieces – by the likes of Gio Ponti, Børge Mogensen, Arne Jacobsen, G-Plan and Parker Knoll. While there’s a range of prices in terms of affordability, Pamono is definitely a site for those who know their design and are looking for quality, well looked after pieces.
Vinterior is similar to Pamono in that it’s an online marketplace to buy, discover and source vintage and antique furniture. They have partnered with 1,000 independent boutiques and dealers, so again it’s about quality and craftsmanship rather than cheap junk shop finds. They say, ‘We want to surround ourselves with pieces that spark conversation, celebrate craftsmanship and bring soul to spaces. But, we don’t want to spend all our time visiting endless antique fairs or vintage shops or trawl through different websites to find that special piece.’
There’s some 100,000 carefully chosen products on Vinterior and every type of style you can imagine – leather Chesterfield sofas, Danish teak sofas, ornate Victorian dressers, quirky designer pieces and second hand contemporary designs.
Although I’ve never bought second hand furniture on Etsy myself, lots of people rave about it. Etsy helps creative entrepreneurs manage their businesses and sell one-of-a-kind pieces online. The marketplace may be better known for craft objects and the handmade, but there’s plenty of larger, bulkier designs to discover too. You’ll find midcentury Danish sideboards galore and plenty of up cycled painted furniture. I also like that as a company they place high value on craft, sustainability, responsibility and minimising waste.
Selency is a secure community platform specialising in pre-owned furniture and handpicked interior design accessories. They validate all the listings and authenticate items to ensure a quality catalogue and offer reliable delivery solutions. Founders Maxime and Charlotte see the site as ‘the Farfetch of decoration’, they say: ‘Our mission is to promote the joy of buying and selling on the vintage market and to transform your home to suit your personal style!’
As well as midcentury designs like on Pamono and Vinterior, you’ll also find more unusual smaller items such as crystal carafes, fluted glass jars, Persian rugs and lots of vintage lighting. They have a 14-day money back guarantee.
Retrouvius is a bit of an institution in the interiors world. Founded in 1993 by husband and wife team Adam Hills and Maria Speake, who first met at the Glasgow School of Art, it’s an architectural salvage and design company selling quirky reconditioned furniture and fittings. They’ve provided reclaimed toilets for the Trainspotting filmset, they’ve saved furniture from refurbished and demolished buildings, they’ve rescued entire facades and floors from airports, they’ve designed interior projects and a new build house to showcase their philosophy of re-use, they’ve published a book and most recently, designed a show apartment with Bella Freud for the old BBC Television Centre. They really know their stuff and could probably source anything!
On their site, you’ll find a wealth of unique pieces, whether it’s stone fire surrounds, hardwood doors, vintage glass pendants, old medicine cabinets, sash windows and a lot, lot more. It’s a great resource if you want to be a bit more imaginative with your second hand furniture – for instance, using an old laboratory worktop in your kitchen or a beautifully patinated door as a headboard in the bedroom.
These are also worthwhile checking out if you love a rummage in an antiques market and the thrill of finding a bargain:
– The International Antiques & Collectors Fairs – I sometimes make the hour-long trip out of London to Ardingly, it’s the largest fair in the south of England, taking place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays a few times a year. I once picked up two vintage Fritz Hansen office chairs for £25 each, while the standing lamp in my living room was just £15. It’s vast so you need to get up early and have some stamina. There’s a mix of indoor and outdoor stands and what feels like whole fields of vintage furniture, antique signs and ceramics. A lot of sellers come over from France so you can get some really unique finds. Make sure to take cash. Tickets are £20 on Tuesdays and £5 on Wednesdays. They also have fairs in various other locations too – Newark, Shepton Mallet, Newbury, Alexandra Palace and Staffordshire.
– Crystal Palace near me in south London has a number of antique shops. Crystal Palace Antiques has four floors of antique, vintage and modern design items from 20 different dealers.
– If you’re London-based it’s worth heading to the Modern Shows. Midcentury Modern takes place at Dulwich College and features collectible vintage furniture as well as contemporary pieces. Their next show, Midcentury East, on the 19th May 2019, will see 55+ traders selling everything from rare collectable pieces to quirky lighting and Berber rugs from the ground floor of the Ernö Goldfinger-designed Brutalist school in Haggerston. Tickets are £10 and £9 if booked in advance.
– The Vintage Furniture Flea – I’ve found all sorts of things at this monthly fair in my time, from old maps and vintage letters to stackable stools and Ercol tables. The founders describe the fair as ‘a mid-century celebration, a showcase of decoration from the fifties and beyond, all bound by affordability’. There’s one taking place in London on the 7th April 2019, as well as fairs throughout the year in Cambridge, Bristol, Leeds and Birmingham. General admission £2.50.
– Alfies Antique Market – is a large indoor market in Lisson Grove, with over 75 dealers offering furniture, paintings, ceramics, glass and vintage clothing. I find it’s best for smaller items rather than bigger pieces of furniture.
– It’s also worth popping into charity shops. The British Heart Foundation’s Furniture and Electrical Stores offer pre-loved sofas, dining sets, beds and more at great value – sofas for instance start at £95, beds at £65. It’s pot luck what you find but you might just come across something – one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. There’s 185 stores across the UK and they offer a 10% discount to students. The British Red Cross has similar shops too.
– The Modern Shows’ The Modern Marketplace has a curated edit of independent dealers, designers, repurposers and restorers around the UK.
Know of anywhere else that’s good for second hand furniture online or in store, let me know in the comments below! And tell me, what has been your best vintage find?