The Kind Of Furniture You Should Always Check Out At Estate Sales

There are two main reasons you'd be looking for furniture at an estate sale. The first is that you're looking for pieces for your home without worrying about their value. Say, for example, you're looking for a desk for homework or crafts; the value of the desk to you is whatever you decide. The second is that you're looking for vintage, antique, or collectible furniture, either as a collector or to flip it for profit. These treasures can often be found at estate sales. While you might hope the organizer has committed the common but crucial estate sale mistake of underpricing the goods, odds are the prices will be fairly high and won't give you much of that giddy glow (or profit margin) that you get from real bargains. But, three types of furniture are better bets for collectors and resellers: vintage couches and chairs, solid wood furniture, and pieces from sought-after designers and brands.

Look for quality construction and good condition. When it comes to solid wood pieces that aren't from well-known designers, quality joinery is the first thing you should verify, and many of the construction basics discussed below for solid wood also apply to sofas. Unless you're planning to respring or reupholster, you should also look for fabric that's in good shape and free of intractable odors (like cigarettes, pets, and mold), creaky or squeaky springs, and any sign of sway in the frame.

Look for solid wood pieces

A piece made of engineered wood or furniture-grade plywood might be perfectly acceptable for your kids' craft table or a foyer key-catching table, but vintage and antique pieces should be solid wood (unless, of course, they're not made of wood to begin with). Solid wood furniture is an ideal estate sale bet because the material tells you something about the durability and quality of the piece. Solid pieces built between the 1940s and 1970s are often a good find. Beyond that, look for quality joinery, usually meaning dovetail, dowel, mortise and tenon, pocket-hole, or finger joints. If the piece is veneered, it should be veneered over solid wood, and the veneer should be high-quality and intact. Bookmatched veneers are particularly prized and signify the high quality of the original piece. (But even the best furniture can fall apart if not properly cared for.)

There are many crucial tips for buying quality wood furniture at an estate sale. Check all moving parts for proper function and alignment, including mechanisms like hinges and latches. If you can't identify the cause of the problem and determine that it's a sensible repair to take on, you should walk away. Avoid anything assembled with staples and any piece to which someone has added a faux finish. Inspect all pieces carefully for pinhole woodworm damage, and steer clear if you find any.

Seeking the sought-after designers and brands

Those tips will help you find good furniture, but for the most estate sale fun, you should be on the trail of designers and brands everyone covets. These are the Knoll tulip chairs and Pearsall gondola sofas that keep things exciting and find you showing up early to the sale or trying to charm a preview visit out of the organizer. Designers are undeniably important, but you might also hope to find brands (collections of designers) or authentic pieces from movements (collections of designers and brands). You might even find yourself staring speechless at a period piece that belongs in an auction house rather than an estate sale ... but those are, by definition, rare.

Part of seeking out popular vintage brands is keeping up with trends. But some pieces are timeless, such as the exquisite dental office stylings of Le Corbusier or the midcentury space cave cabinetry of Adrian Pearsall. You should know about Pearsall's walnut bases (and that they might carry the Craft Associates label), the Andre Bus-designed two-tone faux dovetail inlay, and the spindly Danish legs of Lane Furniture's Acclaim line. But your biggest win will probably be the knowledge you acquire, which will bring you more happiness and comfort than even the famously cozy Finn Juhl pelican chair ever could.