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Vintage Home Decor Shopping Tips That'll Help You Find Unique Treasures

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As you spend more time at home, you've probably been looking around your house thinking of different ways to make your space feel more special and welcoming. It's no secret that home improvement of any kind can be pretty pricey, which is why people often look for secondhand items that might be a little bit more affordable and unique. However, because the pieces you find aren't mass-produced, there's an element of strategy involved when shopping for vintage home decor.

"We believe the most helpful thing you can have when shopping for vintage is confidence," says Shannon Wissler and Shay Bond, the co-founders of Ella Jane Vintage. "That could be confidence in a refined style that comes from years of pursuing your aesthetic, or confidence in taking risks and saying yes when a unique piece speaks to you."

They continue, "Having a focused style definitely helps you to make a quick decision on whether to buy something or not, but vintage is all about finding unexpected things that you never knew existed, falling in love with them, and investing in them."

So what kinds of pieces should you be looking for in vintage stores? The answer is really anything you can think of. Everything from small tchotchkes like catch-all dishes and candlestick holders to larger pieces like sofas and coffee tables are available at vintage stores — you just have to find the stores that specialize in each item that you're looking for. For example, the Ella Jane founders have found their niche in glassware: "We decided early on that we were going to own that category, we saw a void, created our niche, and our clients responded really well," adding that they sell multiple sets of glassware every day.

They also see that their customers gravitate toward functional use items. Anything with a lid, dubbed "stashers" by the Ella Jane team, tends to move quickly. They also sell plenty of refillable lighters, one-of-a-kind ashtrays, and anything tied to lighting up a joint, incense, or sage is very popular, speaking to customers' emphasis on self-care, especially during quarantine.

Now there's much more to shopping for vintage than picking up a small lamp or collectible jar. There's actually a whole world of decor at your fingertips that will dress your home from ceiling to floor — you just need to know where and how to look. To help you out, ahead, the Ella Jane Vintage team, as well as a few other vintage retailers and seasoned shoppers offer their tips for scoring some unique pieces for your home.

We only include products that have been independently selected by The Zoe Report's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

Vintage Home Decor Shopping Tips: Where To Shop

"I mostly [look] on Instagram or [ask] friends and other tastemakers I follow," says digital entrepreneur and consultant, Alyssa Coscarelli. Some of her personal favorites include Chairish, Pamono, 1st Dibs, Home Union, Coming Soon, and Abigail Bell Vintage, among others. Coscarelli notes that once you find shops that you really vibe with, you can develop a loyalty to their aesthetic.

She describes her personal aesthetic as quirky, and vintage-inspired. "I'm typically looking for pieces that feel truly unique," she says. "I can tell fairly quickly if the store or retailer has the type of eye I'm looking for. I'm always looking for pieces that I haven't seen anywhere else."

Abigail Campbell, founder and CEO of the aforementioned Abigail Bell Vintage, adds, "Pay attention to the Instagram accounts of people whose spaces you admire and can relate to — both aesthetically, but [also financially]." She says that her business owes a lot of its success to word-of-mouth and customer tags of their purchases styled into their homes, which make it easy for frequent vintage shoppers to find retailers that fit their style via Instagram.

Speaking of IG, keep in mind that the Instagram algorithm caters to who you're engaging with, so if you keep liking and commenting on posts from your favorite shops, they will get pushed to the top of your feed. The platform will also suggest related and similar accounts so you can discover new shops as well.

In addition to shopping online — which is probably the most feasible option given the stay-at-home orders in effect around the country — you can also go vintage shopping in person, which is the method that Stylecaster's Fashion and Lifestyle Editor, Bella Gerard, prefers. "I prefer to do all my vintage shopping, thrifting, and antiquing in person since I like to inspect the pieces up close," she says, adding that she wings it and looks for local antique stores and flea markets rather than planning out trips in advance.

Vintage Home Decor Shopping Tips: What To Look For

As Wissler and Bond noted, it's important to have confidence in what you're looking for. Even if you don't know what exact pieces you want, at the very least, commit to a style. Each shop and retailer has its own aesthetic, so keep that in mind as you decorate your home. Naturally, your taste in home decor can change over time, so having a general idea of what you want can help guide you in the right direction.

"When I'm in full decorating mode, I'm usually looking for specific pieces," says Kellie Brown, founder of And I Get Dressed. "But as a constant re-decorator, I always have my eyes peeled for special pieces and for small objects to swap out." Brown describes her aesthetic as "eclectic post-modern," and in vintage stores, she looks for unique pieces that are well-maintained and harder to source.

Coscarelli says that she often keeps an eye out for specific pieces, like a sofa or a larger lamp, anything that might help complete her space. Similarly, Gerard notes, "I have an ongoing checklist of pieces I’d like to get, but you never know what you’re going to come across when it comes to vintage decor, so I don’t recommend getting too hung up on one particular piece unless you can commit to splurging without any kind of hunt."

Vintage Home Decor Shopping Tips: When You Need A Certificate Of Authenticity

When you're shopping for luxury vintage goods, it can be difficult to determine the real from the fake. The fakes have gotten very convincing, and no one knows that better than the folks at The Real Real, one of the leading luxury resellers on the market.

Your first instinct when scoring a too-good-to-be-true vintage find may be to ask for a certificate of authenticity, but TRR's Home & Art Authentication Expert, Nick Dinerstein, says, "One of the challenges with certificates of authenticity is that they're so easily faked they often aren't reliable." However, he says that you definitely want an authenticity certificate when you're purchasing art, and that you should look at who is issuing it. For example, for a Basquiat, you want the certification to come from the Basquiat Art Foundation or the Basquiat Family.

He continues, "When you're buying vintage home pieces, you want to look at signatures and brand stamps as markers of authenticity. Do your own research so you know what you're looking for, from brand signatures to the dimensions and materials of a specific piece. Buy from a trusted source with an authenticity guarantee so you know your investment is protected."

Dinerstein says that some of the home brands most often counterfeited on The Real Real's site are Tiffany, Lalique, Hermes, Rosenthal Meets Versace, and Cristofle. He recommends looking at small details that differentiate the authentic pieces from the replicas.

With Rosenthal Meets Versace tableware, for example, you want to look closely at the stamps on the piece. It's common to see a discrepancy in the font, spelling or capitalization of the brand or pattern name. He adds, "Touch is also an important sense to engage. Feel the surface of the piece — a lot of Rosenthal Meets Versace fakes will feel grainy from the image transfer compared to the smoother texture of the real thing."

And finally, when it comes to furniture, counterfeiting is more common with modern pieces like the Eames chair. "Feet and arms can be easy tells of counterfeiting," he advises. "The Eames chair, for example, has a specific glider on the bottom of the feet that you'll see changed in reproductions."

Vintage Home Decor Shopping Tips: What To Consider When Shopping IRL

It's probably a little difficult to go shopping in person since many flea markets, antique stores, and other vintage shops are closed due to the pandemic. However, many places are slowly opening safely so it's possible for you to continue your hunt for the perfect pieces IRL.

"My top tips for in-store shopping are to go alone, give yourself a ton of time to browse, and take pictures of what you like as you move through the shop," says Gerard. "Then, you can look back and see what you actually wanted and go retrieve those items. It's way easier than trying to carry multiple precious pieces around while you browse, and you also won't end up buying something you liked in the moment but don't actually need."

You should also have some colors and measurements in mind so that you can stay focused while you're shopping. It's easy to get carried away and want to pick up everything you see, only to get home and realize that the things you bought don't work in your space.

However, you shouldn't limit yourself to one specific style. "This generation is a lot more open to an eclectic style that allows them to ebb and flow from Victorian vanities to mid-century ashtrays paired with colored glassware to art deco vases and ceramic statues," says the Ella Jane team. "When it comes to staying focused or not, we choose not!"

Keep in mind that not all vintage is perfect, but you can be choosy with where you sacrifice quality. A small chip in a beautiful marble dining table that is otherwise perfect is one thing, but you probably don't want a chip or crack in vintage stemware. It's up to you to draw that line based on your home's needs and what you plan to use the pieces for.

Now that you've heard from the experts, you're ready to start vintage shopping. Find a few accounts you love on Instagram, scout out a local flea market or antique store, and get to decorating!