7 Must-Have Tips for Antiquing

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Do you love the thrill of finding that special treasure when you’re out antiquing? Or is it overwhelming and intimidating to go looking for such high-value items? Whether you consider yourself an expert or novice in the world of antiques, there’s always something new to learn with these expert tips for antiquing.

kitchen butlers pantry decorated for halloween.

Antiquing can be a fun, exciting way to curate your vintage home decor. But it can also be overwhelming – halls of old goods, multiple dealers and sellers vying for your attention, price tags that can be downright shocking at times…where do you even begin?

Luckily, with just a few helpful tips and tricks up your sleeve, antiquing can quickly become a rewarding experience. From finding trustworthy vendors to having the right form of payment (hint: cash is king!), turn antiquing from daunting to delightful with these helpful tips that will have you browsing like a pro!

Tips for antiquing

Top Tips for Antiquing

Ever since I discovered my passion for decorating, incorporating antiques into my spaces has been a must. I love to bring in vintage items because they have history and help me tell a story.

I also secretly love that an old piece is something that lots of folks aren’t likely to own. That is, it’s not something you can buy at Target. (No shade to Target, because I love them too!!)

Earlier, I shared some of the “previously loved pieces” I used in my ORC master bedroom makeover. In that post, I wanted to include tips for antiquing but chose not to because the article was getting too long. I promised I’d get back to you with those tips, so that’s what I’m going to share today.

Whether you’re new to antiquing/thrifting or just looking for helpful tips for your next hunt, here are my suggestions for a fun and fruitful antiquing adventure!

flowers on outdoor fall tablescape.

1. Plan, but be open.

It never fails. If I’m searching for something specific, I never find it. When I go antiquing and am open to possibilities, I will find more things than I can fit in my vehicle.

A prime example is the lamp I sourced for my master bedroom makeover. I wasn’t even looking for a floor lamp when I happened upon it. Now it’s among my favorite pieces in the room.

Because this is how antiquing/thrifting seems to work for me, I’ve developed a strategy:

  • First, I make a list of all the things I’m hoping to find.
  • I also take measurements and jot them down with any colors or styles I want to keep in mind.
  • If necessary, I make a note of how much I’m willing to pay for a particular item.

Shopping can be overwhelming, so it helps to start with a plan. This detailed list can make it easier to stay within your budget if you’re tempted to overspend. Saying no to things you like but don’t have a need for is also easier with a digital or printed list.

Of course, you can veer from the list when you come across that unexpected piece that blows your mind or causes you to rethink your decor plan! Case in point: the desk/small table I found for my master bedroom.

Another example is my vintage-inspired tablescape. While I began sourcing with a plan, I allowed that to change as I found pieces that I loved.

close up of an antique floor lamp

2. Do your homework.

If you are looking for a particular item, do your due diligence when it comes to price. You don’t want to be taken advantage of by an unscrupulous seller, so take the time to research and be informed before committing to any purchase.

It’s also advantageous to have a general sense of antique values so you don’t overpay for an item. Luckily, these days you can do a quick google search and see what similar items are selling for on eBay or other online sites!

More posts to learn about antiquing

a front porch with white and blue furnishings

3. Find the right store.

If you’re serious about antiquing, it’s important to find the right shop. Visit a few places and take notes on their selection, prices, return policies, etc. Get to know the staff and vendors so that you can develop relationships with them.

This will help you find out when new items come in or if they have something special that isn’t on the shelf. Plus, you can often get better pricing as a regular customer than as a one-off shopper.

Visiting or live in Pittsburgh? Then check out my favorite Pittsburgh antique stores!

transferware pitcher with topiary.

4. Take your time – walk through twice.

Whenever possible, give yourself time to thoroughly explore a store. Typically, I walk through once, quickly looking for anything on my list. Then I walk through again, a little more slowly, taking it all in and being open to all the possibilities. This is when the magic is likely to happen!

It might sound a little “woo hoo,” but I think “the antique will find you.” So don’t get hung up on when you go, where you go, or how often you go. That perfect piece will find its way to you.

antique drinkware on a patio

5. Always ask for the best price.

Most stores will work with you on price. In fact, if you just ask for a better price, some dealers will automatically knock off 10%. This isn’t always the case, but antique shops with multiple vendors usually have systems in place, so they don’t have to reach out to the booth owner every time someone asks if they can do better on the price.

It might feel uncomfortable at first, but you’ll always be glad you asked. I can assure you it also gets easier once you become accustomed to saying: “Is that the lowest you can go?” (You might even practice saying it before you go shopping.)

One important thing to note: When an item is marked “FIRM,” there’s rarely room for negotiation.

wooden box on a desktop with various vintage and antique decor set on top

6. Bring cash.

You will often get a better deal if you pay cash. I’ve found this to be the case 95% of the time. That’s why I try to carry greenbacks with me when antiquing.

I like to have a variety of bills because this can prove helpful in negotiating a price. Let’s say, you spot a cute lamp that is marked $25. You might be able to get it for $20 if you offer a $20 bill.

Buying with cash can also help to keep you within your budget. Your spending limit is what you have in your pocket.

7. Check return policies.

Most places in my area do not accept returns of any kind. Be sure to note return policies or ask before purchasing. This is why it’s so important that you come prepared with measurements, color samples, etc. Once you purchase something, it’s yours.

bottles and long stem glasses on a table

Frequently Asked Questions

I’ve been an avid antiquer for years and years, and these are the questions that pop up frequently. If you have another, feel free to drop it in the comments below, and I’ll get back to you!

What’s the difference between antiquing and thrifting?

While these terms get mixed up frequently, I do feel there is definitely a difference.

Antiquing is the practice of buying vintage or antique items. Thrifting is a term used to describe the act of shopping at thrift stores, which sell second-hand items such as clothes, books, and furniture.

There’s a quality difference between the two stores typically. That’s because thrift stores consist mainly of donated items, while antiques are more likely high-value heirlooms.

I enjoy both, but if I’m looking for something high-quality and unique, antiquing is definitely the way to go, in my opinion.

bookcase decor with books

Why do people love antiquing?

From my experience, the answer is simple: People love antiquing because it’s a great way to find unique items that you just can’t find anywhere else. Whether it’s a ceramic cotton ball rabbit or a brass snail, these items give your home an entirely unique feel that no other store-bought item can.

Plus, you get the added bonus of knowing that you’re supporting local vendors and businesses. That’s always an important plus in my book!

What are the best items to buy at antique stores?

I think every collector might have a different answer for this, but I’ll throw mine out there: vintage art and Christmas decor.

I love the idea of having vintage art around my home to give it a unique and timeless feel—so much so that I have an entire post devoted to how to decorate with vintage art!

Likewise, I also absolutely adore perusing antique stores for different vintage Christmas decorations – from old-fashioned glass ornaments to retro Santas. Something about pulling them out year after year and continuing their story brings me so much holiday joy!

What’s the best place to antique in Pittsburgh?

I know this doesn’t apply to the vast majority of you, but I’ve had several requests to share where I go, so I’m happy to oblige. Here’s an entire post answering where to antique in Pittsburgh!

booth in an antique store

Wrap Up

Well, there you have it…my tips for antiquing. I hope they’re helpful. As with all aspects of creating your personal happy place, enjoy the process!

If I think of any other tips, I will be sure to update this post. If you have any more questions, let me know in the comments below.

More posts to learn about antiquing

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  1. I grew up in the ’60’s going to auctions with my parents who loved antiques and decorated with (in those days) the popular Early American style. That was when a painted piece was stripped, sanded, and restained. No chippy paint in our house! One thing that was stressed over and over was that a true antique is something that is over 100 years old. Today I still love anything old and enjoy going to an auction now and then. I prefer to shop the vendor malls where I can tell the flavor of what the seller has and whether I want to poke around or just move on. Your tips were very helpful!

  2. Wish I could go antiquing with you! Such a thrill! I live down in Florida and we have this giaaaaant antique market twice a year in Mt. Dora. It’s hundreds (maybe thousands??) of antique dealers in one place. Maybe I’ll see you there one year! 🙂

  3. Like you, I generally walk through an antique store or mall twice. On my second pass, I turn around and walk through in the opposite direction (if that makes sense). I see things I may have missed on the first walk through by approaching each booth from a different direction.

  4. I love antiques as accents or key pieces. The very first piece of furniture I bought when I was just 19 was an antique pub table that someone had cut down to make it a coffee table. It’s still my coffee table despite several remodels and redecorating. It’s a great size and can extend to twice as long, which works great for setting out appetizers and more when entertaining and for holiday, still leaving plenty of room for people to use to set drinks. Most of all, it’s just beautiful with turned legs and that rich warm natural 100 year old patina that you won’t find in anything new. I source from a lot of different places now days, antique fairs, antique malls, even Craigslist, where I have found some tremendous buys for far less than would pay in an antique shop. I like unique accent pieces as well each one tells story and often are great conversation pieces, like a wood hat size mold with beautiful rich wood and an iron handle in the middle. Had no idea what is was when I saw it, but I just love it. Everyone always comments and it’s fund asking them to guess what it is and then the story. I’ve had so many myfriends then want to go find some of these unique accent pieces from history for themselves.

  5. Enjoyed this. I’ve also noticed that if I walk the aisles in the opposite direction the second time, I see things I didn’t spot the first time around.

  6. I have a small collection of antique items – mostly decorative pieces like a coffee grinder, small cabinets that hang on walls, wooden advertising boxes, etc. I have owned these pieces for many years, and there is one thing that makes them special. When I bought these pieces either at auction or antique shops I was usually with my Mom. She is gone now, but I remember the day each of these items were purchased and what fun we had. There used to be more farm auctions back in those days, and we would have such a great day with our family.

  7. I am new to your blog and am thoroughly enjoying your posts. I’ve gone back to earlier posts just exploring your style. I love what you create – a mix of antiques and “modern..”
    One question: how did you hang the chicken coup on your patio? I have the exact same one and it is currently in my attic. Your photo gave to inspiration to pull it back down; however, I have very few walls on my patio for it.
    Thanks for your answer.

  8. Always enjoy seeing the way you mix antiques into your decorating schemes! I’m soooo looking forward to being able to get out & go to antique shops, flea markets, consignment shops & yard sales again!

  9. Michael, I thoroughly enjoy your posts, especially your tablescapes.

    Antiques and vintage items make a room. My home has both, most antiques are family pieces but I have found some of my most treasured pieces at the thrift stores. For the most part every item has a story to go along with it and I love the fact that everything is unique.

  10. Hi Michael!
    I’m really connecting with your ideas of antiquing~there’s nothing woo-woo about a piece finding you; it happens all the time. So many things call to me when I’m out looking & I don’t have a specific purpose for them at the time. Unless they’re too spendy I usually take them home and eventually find a spot for them in my life. Really appreciate your tips and ideas, thanks so much for doing what you do!
    Keep looking!!

  11. I love incorporating antiques too, they add warmth, history, interest and texture. I love taking my time to finish a room, finding the right item is part of the enjoyment of creating.

  12. It never fails, that the times I have money I can’t find anything, but f I’m broke and
    “Just looking” I fall in life be with everything I can’t have!

  13. This was Interesting to read as I’m getting ready to list some 1940s pieces (local antiques dealer calls them 1920s era). Hope people look at FB sales pages! Love the pieces you found!

  14. Michael,
    Love all your tips and suggestions for antiquing. I have typically made my best finds when like you I wasn’t looking for it. I would suggest also keeping a open mind and don’t overlook thrift and consignment stores when vintage shopping. You wont always hit the jackpot but I have made some great scores especially MCM décor and pieces. Many times, when a older family member has to go into a health care facility or passes away, younger family members don’t want to be burdened with selling their items and will donate it to Goodwill or a local thrift store. In fact, I have seen vintage dealers shop local thrift stores to stock their booths!