Used Furniture: Buy Solid Pieces

Buying used furniture for the home is a great way to save money and purchase quality furnishings if the buyer keeps a few things in mind.  The general rule is to buy anything solid, like used wood furniture, used wrought iron furniture, used wicker furniture or used iron or brass furniture.  Of course that pretty much eliminates buying used furniture that is upholstered.

Buying used furniture can be a great savings.  Know what you are looking for and what you are looking at.  As mentioned earlier it is best for the novice in particular to only buy solid pieces of used furniture.  However, even when purchasing solid furniture there are certain things to look for.

Style of Furniture

Delicate style of the Sheraton gaming table

Sheraton Gaming Table

First of all, it is important to determine a general style of furniture to buy.  This does not mean that every piece of used furniture has to be the exact same style.  Even if you are planning to buy all new furniture every single piece will not be the same exact style.  It would be too boring, even for the novice furnishing a home or apartment for the first time.

However, a general style is good to have in mind.  For example, if you are looking for more formal furniture the used furniture you look for should be in the Queen Anne style, the Sheraton style, the Chippendale style, or another complementary style of furniture.  If you are looking for a more casual style you may look for lighter woods in the American Colonial style or

Primitive End Table

Primitive End Table

another style that utilizes lighter woods.  And of course, for those going for the cottage style or a more country look, it is always fair to look for metal, woods, wicker and perhaps more primitive styles.

It is important to decide on a general style before making a purchase.  Once you make the first purchase of a piece of used furniture you should have decided your decorating style.  I mention this only because it is really easy to get caught up in buying good pieces of used furniture because the price is right.  Do not let price determine the style when buying used furniture.  And, do not get too carried away and decide to purchase every inexpensive piece of furniture of good quality that you see.  Stay true the general style you decide on. 

Regardless of the price or condition, the Sheraton gaming table and the primitive end table should not be in the same room.  Keep in mind that some styles just do not mix!

Do Not Buy Veneers

This rule applies to the novice in particular, although it is a good rule of thumb for anyone who does not know how to veneer.  Veneer is a thin sheet of wood that is attached over a solid piece of furniture to give it an appearance of being a different wood.  Veneers were very popular at one time and a good piece of veneer used furniture is beautiful.  However, there are a few drawbacks if the buyer doesn’t know what he is looking for.

Wood Veneer

A Selection of Wood Veneers

First of all, some veneers cover reproductions and with new furniture in particular, veneers cover pressed wood or particle board.

But, on older used furniture the story is a little different.  Veneers can pop loose or separate from the base.  Usually, it is first noticed around the edge of the table or cabinet.  With a thumb or finger the edge can be flipped.  While this may not seem like a big thing at first, it will become a problem.  I did not say “can.”  I said “will.”

As much as I hate to say it, but based on personal experience, a veneered piece of used furniture may look good, only to later discover that the seller glued the veneer down for the sale.  Moisture and incorrect application will certainly disappoint the buyer within a matter of months.

Applying or reapplying veneer is not quite as simple as one may think.  First of all, veneer is easy to break.  Second, it is hard to match veneers from the past to what is available in the present — if you can even find a place that sells veneers.  Third, it is hard to work with, especially for the non-professional.

Most people think applying veneer is a matter of gluing the sheet of veneer to the base.  But, it takes a little more than Elmer’s glue to do it right and make it last.  Without going into the process of veneering, let me just state that it is not the first task you want or need to learn when buying used furniture.

Check the Joints and Attachments of Used Furniture for Authenticity

Do not be afraid to look under the table or chair.  Check to see if all the bolts or attachments are the same.  If there is a new screw or attachment, you may consider that the leg or piece is a replacement.  That does not necessarily mean that it was just replaced.  It could have been replaced years ago.  That may not seem like a problem unless you decide to refinish the surface.  Sometimes the replacement piece is not of the same wood as the original.  It will not refinish evenly in wood tone.

Look inside drawers.  Some drawers may have been dovetailed.  Check to be sure that all the pieces — drawers — are dovetailed.   In other words, look at every place a piece of used furniture may be joined.  If there is a corner or area that appears to be different, generally it is wise not to buy it.

Check the wood surfaces that are not finished, usually the undersides of tables and chairs and occasionally where the legs join the upper parts.  Determine that the raw wood is all the same shade.  Wood ages and naturally darkens.  If a section appears lighter chances are it is not original.

Check the Flat Surfaces of Used Furniture for Bowing

When buying used dining tables, be certain to get a clear view of the top, not for the finish, but for bowing.  Occasionally used dining tables will have been improperly stored with heavy items on top of it or stored in a very damp place.  These tables will develop a dip in the center.

In fact, any flat surface that is over two feet wide without bracing underneath should be checked for bowing.  Large elegant executive desks are another piece of used furniture that may bow in the middle.  One of the best ways to check is to open the center drawer.  It the drawer sticks or is difficult to open the desk top could be bowed.

Check the Overall Finish

All finishes darken with age.  It is a natural part of aging.  Depending on the purpose of purchasing the piece it may not matter if the piece has been refinished.

Most often when buyers are looking for “antiques” or older pieces they prefer the original finish.  They appreciate the patina and most often will pay more or charge more for the original finish.

Do not worry so much about water spots or circles on original finishes.  They can be remedied quite quickly without requiring a total restoration.

If the piece of used furniture has been painted you really don’t know what you are getting.  However, it you plan to paint the piece for use with cottage style decor or a shabby chic setting, the only concern should be that the surface is smooth enough that the piece will not have to be stripped.  Stripping paint or a finish is still a pain, regardless of what you may hear.

We have not covered everything you should look for but this is a good solid start on what you need to know before buying used furniture.