When I bought my house last year there were many items of furniture that we needed for our new, bigger space. One trip to our local furniture stores told me there had to be a better way since everything was either of poor quality or very expensive. I found the answer to my problem during a girls' day out when we stopped by an antique store and I quickly learned all the reasons why vintage and antique is the way to go:

  • As much as I love IKEA, I just hate the idea of bringing particleboard into my home because it just won't last. Older, vintage pieces are often of higher quality and made of solid wood.
  • Antique does not always equal rare and valuable, which means there are many quality pieces that can be had for less than the price of IKEA, especially if you’re good at haggling.
  • Reusing old pieces is more eco friendly than buying new.
  • Styles and trends repeat, so whether you like country casual or sleek and modern, it has all been done before. Don’t assume you won't find pieces that fit your taste before you look around.
  • It’s more fun to shop vintage. My mom and I often turn antiquing into a fun day out, and even on days where we don’t find a special piece, we still have blast. Best of all almost everything in my home has a memory and a story.

So where do you find these treasures? Read on:

1. Estate sales

Estate sales are treasure troves of vintage and antique pieces. Usually an entire house full of items is for sale, so you can find something in just about any category you may be looking for. If the thought of going through a deceased person’s things creeps you out, it may help to know that estate sales are often used to help someone downsize when they move into a smaller home or a nursing home. To find sales in your area, check Craigslist, EstateSales.org, or use Google to find local estate sale companies and sign up for their mailing lists.

2. Antique stores

Every store will be unique and not all carry high-end collectables—many just have reasonably-priced old stuff. Even higher-end stores will sometimes have a bargain piece, so make sure to persevere and check out the whole store. I recently saw a set of four bentwood café chairs just like the ones at Crate & Barrel for only $75 in a local shop. Since a set of the new chairs goes for over $500, this is a huge savings for an on-trend look.

3. Antique malls

Antique malls are much larger than typical antique shops and are made up of individual dealers who rent booths. In my experience they tend to be worth driving to since you can get some great deals. I scored some Danish lounge chairs similar to the ones at Room & Board on my last visit to an antique mall. Getting this style new was out of the question since they go for $900 each, but by shopping vintage I got an almost identical look and only spent $60 for a pair.

4. Antique fairs

Antique fairs offer a great opportunity to get quality items at rock-bottom prices. Since dealers drive all their merchandise in, they are often willing to negotiate the price to avoid taking it home—and the closer you get to the end of the fair the more this holds true.

5. Thrift stores

Trying to find something that fits your taste at a thrift store is an exercise in patience, but when you do find that magic piece, you may get a better price here than almost anywhere else. You can find great items because some people just don’t want grandma’s couch in their own home and don’t want to deal with selling it, or don’t realize that they have a valuable piece. Be sure to visit often since thrift stores get new stock daily.

Here’s what to keep in mind before you head out:

Patience is a virtue

You can furnish a whole house with quality furniture for less than the cost of IKEA if you have time and patience. When dealing with antiques and vintage items, you have to let the pieces come to you, especially if you want to score great deals. This can mean settling for hand-me-downs or just living with a little empty space until the perfect piece comes along. I fell in love with a slat bench that goes for over $200 on overstock.com, but by waiting to find a vintage one I was able to pick it up for $10—the only catch is I had to wait six months instead of getting it right away.

Know yourself but embrace the unexpected

Sometimes you can suffer from sensory overload in an antique shop, which can lead to bad purchases. Before you buy anything, you should ask yourself if it fits the style of your house and if you have a place for it. It turns out that the amazing deal on the set of four bentwood café chairs I found would not have been a good deal for me since my home is decorated in mid-century modern. Even though I needed dining room chairs, I would have regretted buying them at any price since they aren’t my style. The other side of the coin is knowing when it’s time to seize an unexpected opportunity. Last year I stumbled on the most amazing chrome and glass bar cart. I had no plans of getting a bar cart, but it fit my style, I had the perfect place for it, and it was only $50. I did not hesitate for a minute, because even though it wasn’t planned, it would have been the one that got away if I had passed it up.

Know what can and can't be fixed

Sometimes it is hard to recognize the potential in an antique or vintage piece, so it is helpful to have a basic knowledge of what can and cannot be changed. In general there are a lot of things you can do to alter and modernize a vintage find. Usually the only unchangeable feature is the silhouette of the piece because you can always update with new hardware, slipcovers, paint or stain. Before you go this route you should really think about the limits of your own handiness. I am perfectly comfortable doing upholstery jobs and stripping layers of paint away, but most people I know limit themselves to new knobs and a slipcover. Think about what your limits are so you don’t get in over your head. Another good rule is to make sure everything you buy was constructed solidly and is sturdy. Anything that seems rickety or wobbly is not worth your time, and you should likewise avoid anything that you would be afraid to flop down on for fear of it breaking.

This is a guest post by April of Grand Blanc, MI
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Get High-Quality Furniture for Less by Buying Vintage