6 Estate Sale Tips to Find the Vintage Mid Century Modern Furniture You Crave

by Nicole Hodsdon

6 Estate Sale Tips to Find the Vintage Mid Century Modern Furniture You Crave

Estate sales are the place to be if you’re looking for vintage mid century finds directly from the loving homes they’ve lived in.  Depending on where you live, the estate sales could be flooded with well-priced, genuine midcentury pieces just waiting for their next forever home.  In the Detroit area for instance, the sales around Bloomfield Hills are great for finding that authentic, designer-labeled midcentury treasure.  Not only are the things for sale gorgeously mid century, but many times the homes themselves are worth the trip as well.  Estate sales in mid century modern neighborhoods near you are where you need to be if scoring a vintage treasure is your quest.  

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Here are some tips to consider before you go:

1. Pre-screen the sales and put together a game plan.  

Craigslist and EstateSales.net are the two tried-and-true sites for new estate sales.  Look at the preview pics of each sale to see if they have the mid century modern masterpieces you’re looking for - there’s no need wasting your time going to a sale that advertises in it’s title or description “mid century” items only to find a sale full of traditional-style furnishings that just happened to be made in the 1960s.  Once you have your list of sales to check out, decide on the one you need to go to first thing on Thursday morning to snag that one of a kind piece you’ve been craving.  Then make a list - or better yet, a map - of the other sales you want to visit.  There you have it - your game plan is set.

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2. Go early and be ready to wait in line if there’s an item you decide you must have.    

At the very least, get there 1 hour before it opens.  It might seem crazy, but how bad do you want that vintage 1968 Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman?  Some sales that have trendy items (hello, vintage mid century modern things) will have lines starting 3 hours before they open on Thursday morning.  I’m serious.

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3. Always be ready to pay with cash.  

The first stop on your estate sale hunt shall most definitely be the ATM.  Estate sales are essentially full-house garage sales, so cash is king.  Some pro estate sale organizers will accept credit cards, but the best deals can be had if you’ve got cash to fill their pockets.

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4. When a piece of furniture catches your eye, you really should inspect it thoroughly. 

Keeping in mind that the worthiness of a furniture piece is all about what you’re looking for and your expectations.  If your obsession is authentic vintage mid century pieces then you absolutely need to do your research and learn how to identify the real things.  Buying what you think is an authentic, vintage mid century piece only to learn later that it's actually a reproduction from the 1990s because you didn’t look close enough is the worst.  Alternatively, if you’re more interested in the style and don’t care so much about the designer name, then still know of how to spot a quality piece of furniture. 

So, whether it’s a sideboard, table, desk, shelving unit or chair, look it over closely from every side - including the bottom and the back.  Does it have a manufacturer label (if you’re looking for one) that identifies it as authentic?  Is it the quality you expect and want?  Is it made from durable materials?  Is it real wood or a wood grain laminate?  Does it feel solid?  Are the joints tight?  Are there any dents, scratches, rips, or stains?  Will it need to be refinished, recovered, or fixed in any way?  Know what you’re looking for and what you’re looking at and you’ll do great!

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5. Stand your ground with the pro resellers.  

Many people at estate sales are there to score a deal on a piece so they can re-sell it in their store or antique show booth.  They’re pros at this game, and while you’re looking for beautiful things to accentuate your home, they’re looking to make a profit and a livelihood.  They’re probably really sweet people in real life, but be prepared for their pushy and sometimes rude behavior around quality pieces.  You have every right to stand your ground and not let them bully you.

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6. Be prepared to leave with your purchases.  

Sure, most sales will put a hold sign on your newly purchased sideboard and let you come back and pick it up at the end of the day.  Just know that it’s going to sit there all day with a lot (hundreds or thousands!) of people shuffling past it.  Most will be nice, responsible, respectful adults and leave it alone in spite of their disappointment that it’s already spoken for.  But then there’s the select few who leave their sweating slurpee cup on it’s impeccable top - without a coaster *shudder* - or let their kids stick their gum to the bottom.  If you buy it and cherish it, be ready to drive home with it right away.

That about covers what I’ve learned so far.  Hopefully these tips help you on your next estate sale whether it’s your first or twentieth.  Happy hunting!

Nicole Hodsdon
Nicole Hodsdon