Close this search box.


Let's Go Antiquing

Heritage Auction and “Antiques Roadshow’s” Nick Dawes shares some helpful hints and insights on buying antique furniture.

“Let’s go antiquing” is a seemingly harmless and commonly heard call to action, especially if you’re on vacation or otherwise idle.

Great idea, terrible approach.  

The world of antiques has so much to offer: education to the point of enlightenment; intellectual and aesthetic stimulation, plus they allow us to become preservationists and adaptive re-users and ‘green’ recyclers. There can even be significant financial rewards. Successfully acquired antique furniture may bring generations of joy and an intimate relationship with an inanimate object, so why do we treat acquisition so carelessly?

Would we say, with such abandon, “Let’s go fridge shopping” and set off hopping from one local appliance store to another, just incase something takes our fancy? There’s not much chance we’ll achieve any of the above rewards with this approach. Most of us have also learned that without some forethought, “Let’s go looking for a life mate” doesn’t work either. Serious relationships deserve serious attention.

The most important decisions about buying antique furniture are made before you leave home. Here are a series of tips to help you make the right choices and avoid missed opportunities. Think about these first, and “Let’s go antiquing,” later.

  1. The first and most essential question to ask yourself is, “What am I looking for?” If you don’t know the answer, how will you know if you found it?
  2. Condition? Are you happy with something “rough?” Some of us are not afraid of re-upholstery or restoration, but if you are not that person, avoid rough. It makes life easier.
  3. Authentic? Do you care if it’s “period”—made in the age and the style—or are you happy with a reproduction which is often stronger, cheaper and easier to find? Just so you know, reproductions of 18th Century furniture may be 150-years-old, so it’s not just about age.
  4. Style? Antique furniture is either formal or informal, town or country. It is okay to be provincial. Most forms represent a lifestyle you may, or may not relate to. Are you Louis XVI or the peasant who beheaded him? Grandma’s house or Bauhaus? This one can take a while and lots of interior design magazines to answer.
  5. Dimensions. Measure everything meticulously, and do not believe what the seller says, especially if space is tight.
  6. Shape. Round, oval or rectangular table? Extra leaves, anyone?
  7. How much? Only you can answer this one, so try not to ask for advice. Once you have the specifics, set a limit. You may feel unqualified, but you do this—without expertise—for clothes, fridges and cars, so why not antiques? Try it next time.

I’ll have more helpful tips about buying antiques on my next blog post. In the meantime, good hunting.

Share this Story

Nick Dawes is Vice President of Special Collections at Heritage Auctions in New York and a former Sotheby’s Vice President and Auctioneer. He is familiar to many through 20 years of regular appearances as an expert appraiser on PBS Antiques Roadshow.

7 thoughts on “LET’S GO ANTIQUING”

  1. Love these, Nick! I’m looking for a house or property to build on, and I’m finding many of these tips apply to this process as well. xoxox, Brenda

  2. Great tips! We are in an area abundant with antique shops but some are only pretending. I never go without specifics in mind for the use of a piece.

  3. Such great tips! I’ve purchased a few mid-century pieces on eBay so I’ve learn to be a cautious buyer, but it’s good to have some principles to consciously apply next time I’m actually going into a physical antique shop. Thank you!

  4. Great tips! I would add one — make sure you have measured your space at home too! You don’t want to get your new beauty home and have it be too big or too small for the space.

Comments are closed.


Sign up to our list and we’ll send you our sought-after guide “50 Ways To Change Your Life”
I'm happy you've joined us! If you like what you read, I'd love for you to stay and subscribe to our updates by email. We have a great community of like-minded women, and your presence can only make it stronger.