Nov. 17th, 2014

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cross-posted to tumblr.

When I first began living on my own, I didn’t really have any furniture. I started with an IKEA bed and a hand-me-down dresser; from there, I added wobbly particle-board bookshelves and lumpy couches left behind by previous housemates. By the time I was getting ready to move into my current house, a year and a half ago, most of my furniture was, frankly, kind of crappy.


So I started scouring Craigslist, and checking the furniture section at the thrift store, and called in favors from a few friends who owned vans or SUVs. When I moved into my new place, I had ditched most of the old stuff and replaced it with better-made, better-looking vintage pieces, almost none of which cost more than $200 individually (and that was for a midcentury modern dining table with eight teak chairs). Since then, I’ve also swapped out most of my particle-board bookshelves for hardwood replacements. I still pick up nice pieces when I see them and the price is right— most recently, a glass-fronted cabinet ($25), a velvet settee ($300, which is more than I’d usually pay), and a coffee table/console/end table set ($100).

collage of furniture photos
Actual furniture & art currently in my house.

There are a lot of reasons I prefer my current furnishings to the old ones. Well-made vintage pieces are sturdier, last longer, can better survive dis- and re-assembly, and (in my opinion, anyway) generally look nicer. I do still have a couple of Billy bookcases and a Lillesand bed, but I am also a human person under the age of 40 and living within 50 miles of an IKEA, so that’s kind of inevitable.

There’s one other good reason for buying vintage that gets overlooked. The furniture and other housewares I’ve bought secondhand will not lose value; in fact, should I ever resell them they will probably go for more than I paid. 

Because here’s the thing: if I hit a rough patch, or an unexpected medical bill, or other major unplanned expense, I am probably not going to have to resort to hocking my laptop or my few pieces of good jewelry. I can sell my 1930s enamel-topped breakfast table (bought from Craigslist for $85; would resell for $200 easily), or my 1920s spool cabinet (bought from an estate sale for $25, would fetch $250+ at an antique store), or a few of the thrifted paintings off my walls. They are all lovely things that I enjoy owning very much, but I would be fine without them and I would find equivalent replacements eventually.

So: let’s say you want to start divesting yourself of particle board. How should you start? What should you look for? How much should you be willing to pay?

they're more like guidelines, really )

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