JUDGING VINTAGE WOOD FURNITURE©

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Changes in temperature and humidity contract and expand wood;
furniture joinery can loosen and wood finishes can be destroyed.

Has the vintage wood furniture been kept in a cellar or attic?
How trustworthy is the seller?

Examine furniture with the professionalism of a home inspector.

The best way to gain leverage for price negotiation is to
describe inadequacies using specific terminology
that explain why the price is too high for the quality. 

Compromise becomes a treasure hunt when we apply timeless principles of quality to products we like.  We always win, especially when we find a less expensive product superior to one we can’t afford.

How old is the furniture?
Besides the condition of the furniture and how the wood was finished, AGE MATTERS. By the end of the 1940’s,  engineered particleboard began to be used as an economical substrate for both wood and man-made veneers.

As discussed in previous posts, I do not recommend furniture made with a fiberboard substrate.  Man-made substrates arouse my suspicion about all production methods, especially joinery techniques.

By the 1990’s, mergers and leveraged buyouts among branded furniture manufacturers enforced goals of volume and profit. For many, quality was negatively affected.

Did you get an honest answer about the age of the furniture?
Depending upon the seller, you may or may not learn who owned the furniture and the year it was purchased. Look beneath wood furniture to see if the manufacturer’s name or logo is embossed. You may be able to learn more about a manufacturer’s reputation for quality on the Internet.

How long does a wood chair —or any wood furniture—last?”
If well-made and well-maintained, wood furniture has no expiration date. International museums include chairs made by early Greeks and Romans.

Hand-crafted furniture and chairs from the 17th Century are the pride of the American Wing in the Metropolitan Museum and 20th Century furniture at the Modern Museum of Art is a product of modern technology and may last for centuries.

All of the above are in excellent condition although some may have been restored. Even if the vintage furniture does not have antique value, you’re justified in asking:
               “How old is this —chair—table—bench— desk– – bookcase?

What is the wood species? 
This is tricky. If a seller says the wood is cherry, is it solid cherry wood? cherry veneer? or cherry stain ?—on pine or other wood?  And if stain deliberately obscures the wood grain, the quality of the wood is probably less than furniture grade.

If you don’t get reliable answers to your questions, PASS—or bring a friend who’s a wood expert!

Where was the furniture made?
Imported furniture must have a country of origin label in order to pass customs into the United States. However, previous owners may have removed these labels.

If the quality of the craftsmanship is good, more important than country of origin is the condition of the wood and joinery. A lot of wood furniture made in the U.S. is embossed with the brand name somewhere beneath the visible surface.

Since the 1970’s, domestic and imported knocked-down furniture is becoming popular. Much of it is less-than-good—-even if you assemble it.

‘Vintage’—has many connotations. I use the term to describe ‘old’–but not yet old enough to have value as an ‘antique’.  But regardless of age,  if furniture is used —and if you suspect the quality may not be good,  give it a ‘rugged’ test.

What joinery is used?
If furniture has a dovetailed drawer, all of the joinery is probably good.  If drawers are not dovetailed, all joinery becomes suspect —and one has to guess what joinery has been used. If the furniture seems sturdy? okay. If it wobbles? pass.

If furniture has legs, there should be corner blocks.
Look beneath all furniture with legs to see of it has corner blocks where each leg meets the frame. Corner blocks are necessary for stability.

Don’t be afraid to be rough as you examine furniture to judge stability.  If furniture seems sturdy but has a loose spindle, simply use good wood glue and clamp the joined pieces until thoroughly dry.   But if many components are loose?pass.

Hardware quality?
If wood furniture has hardware, learn the name of the metal—and whether it is solid or plated. Plated drawer pulls or hinges are a wake-up call that shortcuts have been taken. If the quality of the wood and joinery are both good, hardware can be easily replaced.

Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY

My next post: UPHOLSTERED FURNITURE :  PART I