How to Shop for Furniture

The antique shop chest of drawers. See more images from the course here.

When we hosted our first furniture painting course in July this year, we all turned up with very different pieces of furniture and some varied tales behind the pieces we’d chosen to paint. One lovely set of drawers had been picked up just that morning from a local antiques shop, whilst a beautiful dining chair had been sitting with the rest of its set around a table being used for some time already. My piece, a small chest with some lovely details, was picked up for £5 from a second-hand shop when I moved into my flat and had nowhere to store my winter jumpers besides on top of the pile of books on my bedroom floor. The chest was missing bits here and there, and if I ever drop anything heavier than a paperback novel on its lid it’s sure to cave in, but there was something charming about it nonetheless. Now, with its coat of Oval Room Blue, its charms have doubled.

I was probably lucky to come across something I really liked and had been hoping to find when I went into the shop. I hadn’t looked anywhere else, and had stopped by on a whim. But there are better ways of making sure you find the right piece for your project, and with a little planning you should increase your chances many times over.

Farrow & Ball have put together these simple tips for finding that perfect piece at antiques shops, auctions, or anywhere else:

So, just to recap…

  • Try to visit shops regularly. Some of the most successful shoppers stop by at their favourite shop two or three times every week just to see what’s come in and to catch it before it’s nabbed by somebody else.
  • Consider how the furniture you’re looking at will benefit from being repainted. It’s always best to choose something that’s going to be improved by painting. You really don’t want to wish you’d left it as it was, or just sanded it down to a simple wood finish.
  • Get to auctions early. This is when the professionals will show up, and if you want the same success that they enjoy in their shopping, then it’s probably best to do as they do. Auctions can open very early in the morning, so be prepared for an early rise and pick up a coffee to keep you perked up in the queue.
  • Once you’ve visited a shop or a stall a few times, you’ll start to develop a relationship with the sellers. They’ll come to know both you and your tastes, and hopefully they’ll agree to look out for particular items just for you if you’re having trouble finding them.
  • IMG_4552
    The £5 chest, bottom left, freshly painted. See more images from the course here.

    Don’t be afraid to haggle. The professionals always do, and it’s without doubt worth doing as you’ll end up spending much less especially if you’ve a lot of furnishing to do.

  • Keep a lookout for chests of drawers, dressing tables, bedside tables, and small wardrobes, as they are all quite versatile. Pieces with intricate fretwork can look really beautiful when painted and distressed, and provide a nice contrast against more solid colours.
  • Always attend auction house viewing days to take a look at the furniture before you raise your hand to buy it. Look out for woodworm, which is fine if it’s dead but can be an issue if it’s still doing its job. Live woodworm will give off dust, so give items a tap to see whether anything falls from the holes.
  • When you go to an auction, make a day of it. Don’t miss out on something because it doesn’t come up earlier in the day. Some people will give up and head home, so the longer you stay the fewer people there are to compete against for the later items.
  • Most of all, keep an open mind. You might be looking for something very specific but find something quite different which will work just as well or even better than you’d hoped.

We’ll be hosting another of our furniture painting courses shortly, so keep an eye out on our Facebook and Twitter pages for the announcement and come along with your latest find at the ready.


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