The Top Furniture Designers To Look For At Estate Sales, According To Our Antiques Expert

Estate sales are gaining popularity among bargain-seeking homeowners, flippers, collectors, and designers. Their allure is so potent that people check for scheduled events, clear their calendars, and drive miles to snap up the most wanted items at estate sales at a fraction of their retail prices. While art, vinyl, and antique jewelry are some of the most sought-after objects, many have gotten lucky with furniture, too. However, if you aren't familiar with the work of era-defining furniture designers, sifting through them can feel inane since you won't know the difference between a steal and a rip-off.

So, to save you some labor, House Digest caught up with Lori Verderame, Ph.D., an appraiser and media personality featured on the History Channel and Netflix, for an exclusive interview. With over 40 million views on her YouTube channel, she has been enthralling and teaching fans how to spot treasures for years. Her take on the furniture debate? Look for "Harry Bertoia, Ray Eames, Heywood Wakefield, [Hans] Wegner, and Knoll International to name a few in the popular midcentury modern realm."

Storied furniture finds

Blame it on "Mad Men" if you like, but it's undeniable the bug of midcentury modern furniture caught us all and never left. Embodying elegance, functionality, and durability, these furniture designs — ideated in the 1930s through the 1960s — have become mainstays in countless households, albeit costing dearly. However, with recycling and sustainability becoming the go-to mantras — and the knowledge that almost 80.1% of furniture is landfilled (via EPA) — eco-sensitive consumers have shifted to thrifting designer pieces from estate sales. Lori Verderame, Ph.D., shared an instance of one of her followers finding an original chair designed by the iconic Charles and Ray Eames duo for as low as $2 when its asking price hovers at $1,200, based on its condition.

Of course, authenticating a designer furniture piece can be challenging, especially with estate sellers incentivized to maximize revenue by spewing the "inspired from XYZ designer" narrative. In her exclusive interview with House Digest, Dr. Verderame proposed to "look for solid hardwoods, manufacturer's marks/logos, quality materials, and innovative designs" as a way out of the predicament. 

Manufacturer's marks are your gateway to learning about key style pointers, current going prices, and reproductions on Google or eBay. Similarly, Chairish, 1stDibs, LiveAuctioneers, and personal brand websites provide succinct information about memorable styles. Harry Bertoia's latticed diamond chair, Hans Wegner's sculptural wishbone chair, the timeless Eames lounger, French deco-inspired Heywood-Wakefield's sleepy hollow chair, and Knoll's classic Barcelona chairs are some must-have options.

Price it right

Assuming you found the rare designer furniture piece, authenticated it, and matched the listed price to your budget, should you take the plunge? It depends! Lori Verderame, Ph.D., explained, "Condition is vital when assessing value." She continued in her exclusive House Digest interview, "If it is in poor condition or bad shape, consider the restoration cost before buying it at an estate sale." 

This is critical, as sometimes the repair cost can significantly outstrip the furniture's current value. To illustrate her point, she talked about a 19th-century chair, originally valued at $500 but needing $200 worth of re-caning to restore its functionality, in one of her YouTube videos. Since the cost can be recouped, it was still a good buy. "If you think it can be saved, save it,"‌ she told House Digest.

She concluded the interview by encouraging buyers to haggle for prices. "When it comes to hunting for bargains at estate sales, always negotiate on the asking price." Inspect the piece for damages or defects to figure out if the price is fair. That being said, don't forget to bring Post-it notes to the estate sale to claim designer furniture in peace without worrying over a fellow thrifter lugging it out while you close the deal.