Text by Bethany Adams
For many, the charm and allure of antiques is an integral aspect of cottage style. Every year, thousands of people flock to places like Round Top, Texas, in the hopes of purchasing that special piece for their homes, and it’s difficult to find a cottage that doesn’t have at least one timeworn treasure within its walls.
But for those of us who aren’t professionals, navigating the world of antiquing can be downright overwhelming. To help, we’ve pulled together some of our favorite advice from experts and enthusiasts designed to help you hit the shops and shows with confidence and have you well on your way to becoming a pro treasure hunter.
Choose a Starting Point
Jumping into the world of antiquing can be overwhelming, but having a place to start will help the process go more smoothly. Is there a certain country of origin or time period that’s of particular interest? Or are you in the market for new side tables? Even starting small, with a common characteristic, can help you get your feet wet.
Homeowner and antiques enthusiast Suzy Reynolds notes that this is particularly helpful when starting a collection. “One thing I like is color,” she says. “So, starting a collection of bottles—it’s something easy to find and it’s not real expensive—adds a fun pop of color to any room,”
Do Your Research
Have an idea of what you want? Do your research before you dive in! Learn what you can about the type of item you’re looking for, and if you’re planning to attend a fair or show, research the vendors as well.
If you’re in an area where it’s available, booking an antiques tour can be an invaluable way to learn the ropes, as antiques expert Toma Clark Haines notes. “An added bonus is that a tour guide typically has relationships with the vendors, allowing you to get the best prices possible when negotiating,” she says.
Support Your Local Dealer
Toma also points out that connecting with and building relationships with dealers in your area is your best bet for finding that special piece you’ve been looking for. She suggests searching #supportyourlocalbusiness on Instagram to get started.
“If they don’t have what you’re looking for, tell them what you want,” she says. “Dealers need to know what you’re looking for, and most dealers have a warehouse of inventory not on display, so if a vendor has the style you like, they may actually have what you’re looking for in one of their other locations.”
Learn the Story
Once you’ve found a piece you’re interested in buying, ask the dealer what they know about it. “Antiques are warm; they’re friendly, and they have stories to tell,” says collector Pat Camp. “The provenance is very important.”
But Pat also says that provenance isn’t everything. A skilled hand can seamlessly blend fine furnishings with humble vintage finds, and if you find a piece beautiful, you may not need another reason to incorporate it into your home.
Look for Function
Welcome pieces into your home that will be not only beautiful but also useful. Determine a need in your home and then look for something that can fill it—being sure to pull out the drawers, check inside the cabinets, and determine the sturdiness of the legs.
Antiques dealer Mimi Montgomery encourages her clients to purchase pieces that can be used and enjoyed for generations rather than placed in a corner to collect dust. “You have to be able to use the furniture,” Mimi says. “You can’t just have it around and not sit on it or open the drawers.”
Go with Restored, Not Refinished
Be wary of pieces that have been refinished, as altering the original finish of a piece can lower its value and cause damage to your investment in the long run. “You lose some of that patina and that old wear and tear,” explains Laurent Gouon, owner of Lolo French Antiques et More.
Laurent emphasizes the importance of respecting the existing finish and restoring it, which maintains the antique charm while helping the piece look its best. If you purchase a piece that needs to be restored, consider consulting a professional rather than attempting the job yourself.
Keep an Open Mind and Go with What You Love!
Much of the joy of antiquing is in its unpredictable nature. While having an idea of what you want is important, don’t limit yourself—embrace the thrill of the hunt and open your heart to those unexpected finds.
Above all, look for things you’ll love having in your home for years to come! Another piece of advice from Toma Clark Haines? “If you love it, if it’s the right price, buy it.”