This week I’m joined by a special guest, Paige from Farmhouse Vernacular. Paige’s content centers around a farmhouse she and her husband purchased four years ago, and they have spent the last four years renovating it to look as it might have looked when it was originally built. She has so many tips to share on how to incorporate historic pieces, without making a space look dated.
This episode, we discuss…
[2:43] Purchasing antiques and shopping secondhand
Paige loves antiques, but she shared that she never wanted to live in a museum. When she picks antiques to put in her house, her goal is to make sure they are functional and useful – they just happen to also be 150-200 years old.
Shopping secondhand started out as a way to save money. It took her a long time to figure out her style, and she felt better taking risks if she was buying secondhand. If she ended up not liking something, she could resell it without losing a lot of money while trying to find her style. The other advantage to buying secondhand, especially if the pieces are from around 1950 or earlier, is the higher quality of furniture pieces.
Prior to the industrial revolution of the late 1800s, everything was made by hand. There was one guy in a shop making a chair and doing it to the best of his ability. Up until around the 1940s or 1950s, things were still made with that level of quality – they were just made faster. The pieces were still pretty sturdy, and now they are a great value for the money. Paige would rather spend $50 on a side chair from a thrift store or antique store than spend $300 on a side chair from ikea.
When you are buying things secondhand, you are looking for quality and affordability. It also gives you that uniqueness that you don’t get from buying mass-manufactured modern furniture.
[5:51] Refurbishing old furniture
Sometimes when buying secondhand, you might wonder if the piece is going to hold up. There are some people who buy pieces that are completely trashed and totally redo them, but that is out of most people’s wheelhouses. Paige recommends avoiding anything with visible pieces of the furniture missing. The sweet spot for finding things secondhand is finding somebody who doesn’t know what they have and has taken good care of the piece. Things that are visible but not red flags are scratches. If you have a beautiful wood table with a big scratch down the top, but you can get it for $50, that’s a very fixable problem. A lot of antiques have wood and fabric together, and if the trim is there but falling off you can fix it with a little bit of fabric glue. If the surface of the furniture is dry, dull, chalky, or ashy, those are signs of dry wood. You can fix this problem with some Restore a Finish oil or stain. Old English is also a good product you can use for cosmetic damage, and you can buy it at big box stores and Amazon. If you put a little bit of that on the scratch, it will stay in the wood underneath it. The scratch goes away, and the wood is conditioned and stained as well. These products have different colors to choose from, depending on the type of wood.
Paige shares that another reason she buys antiques is because she won’t feel bad if she messes them up. Her house is to be lived in and enjoyed, and water damage and sun damage happen over time. In addition to Restore a Finish, the first thing Paige recommends is using orange oil. It’s a mild cleaner, and you might want to try that first on furniture pieces that aren’t super dry. You can put that on first, and if it still looks dry a day later, then you can elevate to a furniture wax which is a more concentrated moisturizer. If the wax doesn’t work, then you can use the Restore a Finish. You aren’t going to ruin anything with these products – it may just take you a couple tries to figure out which level of restorative product you need for each piece.
[14:00] Salvaging fabrics and upholstered furniture
When deciding which upholstered pieces are worth salvaging, this is very much a personal preference. Some people get really creeped out about the idea of buying vintage things with fabric, due to concerns with bed bugs and smells. Paige admits that she is often blinded by how pretty the piece is and how old it is, and she doesn’t think as much about the fabric. The biggest thing with fabric is that if you have a tear, there isn’t really anything you can do about it. You could put pillows over it, or you might be able to whip stitch it. If there is a tear, however, it usually means the fabric is brittle and it will probably continue to rip. Tears haven’t kept Paige from buying pieces, but it is something to keep in mind if you are getting into this antiquing or thrifting journey.
If a piece does have a particularly musty smell or the fabric is really dusty, Paige recommends using a small carpet cleaner. It’s not a full carpet steam steamer, but it is a little handheld one. You can put a little bit of fabric cleaner in the water, spray down the whole pieces, and then suck out that water. That will do wonders for getting the fabric clean. If you are really concerned about the fabric, you can always have it reupholstered. They aren’t pine frames like today’s furniture, but rather they are heavy oak and walnut frames. They can handle being reupholstered. If you start looking at what is out there, you can find some incredible pieces that really don’t need much work.
[18:08] Taking advantage of deals online
There can also be a lot of opportunities to find great deals online, but shipping can hold people back. When Paige purchased her dining room table, she discovered something called USHIP. It’s basically Uber for freight. People who are driving across the country and have extra room in trailers or backs of trucks will bid on jobs to move things for you.
Paige’s dining room table is actually called a “wake table” because of its dimensions. It is from the 1850s or 1860s, and the dimensions were appropriate for displaying a body at a wake. In a lot of these old houses, especially out in the country, funeral homes weren’t really a thing. Everything was done in the parlor, so you would have a table big enough to serve as the wake table and also to use as your dining room table.
The term “living room” actually came about because they were no longer using the space to have wakes or funerals in there. They used the new term to differentiate it from a parlor in contemporary homes.
Paige actually bought her dining room table for the kitchen, but it didn’t end up fitting there. She saw it online and it was in New Jersey, but Paige lives in Kentucky. It was a $350 six feet by five-and-a-half feet walnut table that seats eight people. It is a huge, amazing, gorgeous table. Paige had never seen anything like it, and she had been searching for a while. So she bought it online, and decided she would figure out how to get it later. That is when she found USHIP and made a listing there. She paid around $250-$300 for someone to pick it up in New Jersey and deliver it to her house, so for around $600 Paige got this table that was listed for over $1000 anywhere else. It was a steal, even with what she had to pay for shipping. So if you live in a big metropolitan area and you find something great, you can have it shipped for just a little bit more and offset some of the prices of buying new.
[22:40] Haggling on prices
When it comes to haggling, Paige says the biggest thing is being okay with the price. You have to have some knowledge about how expensive things are in your area. Around three years ago, Paige saw this chair that she still thinks about. It was probably from about 1840, and it was stunning. The seller had it listed for around $170, and Paige knew those chairs go for $30-$50. She didn’t even bother to make an offer on it, because she knew they would be too far apart and it would be insulting. She assumes that sellers post things about 20% higher than what they want to get, so she tries to meet them about 20% lower.
If she saw something she wanted that was listed for $200 and it had been posted for multiple weeks, she might offer $100. If they came back with $175, she would accept that. If it was just posted and she desperately needed it, she might not even haggle. When you haggle, you also have to be willing to lose it. You have to be willing to either pay their full price or risk that they won’t come down low enough.
In person, you can go up to someone and say something like, “I see you have $30. Would you take $25?” They might tell you they have had a lot of interest and want to leave it at the listed price. If you don’t want it for that price, you can just walk away. If they agree, then you pay cash, take your item, and walk away. It’s all about being polite and not being a jerk.
Paige also thinks antique and thrifting karma is a real thing. If she senses that someone has priced fairly, she will pay full price. In her experience, that comes back in ridiculously good finds later. The worst that can happen is that they will say no. If you’re not willing to pay the price, then that’s okay. You just weren’t compatible to make the sale. Keeping it respectful and friendly will take you far.
[30:20] Buying items at auctions
The difficulty with auctions is the risk of getting into a situation where you pay too much. If you’re willing to pay $100 and someone else is willing to pay the same, then one of you will pay $110 – so someone overpays. Paige will sometimes do eBay auctions if she is really committed to a piece. For example, she was willing to overpay for the perfect rug because she hadn’t found anything that worked.
Some people really like the thrill of the auction, driving up the price, and the emotion of it all. Paige prefers to thrift and antique in order to save money, and auctions are not always the best place to do that.
Paige keeps about five things in her head at once that she is looking for. She spends about five minutes a day looking on Facebook and Craigslist, just in case something comes up that she really wants. At an auction, you lose that ability to really hone in on what you want, because of all the emotional and psychological aspects going on.
[33:53] How to follow along with Paige’s farmhouse renovation
Paige has a podcast called The Vernacular Life Podcast. She talks about antiques and a lot of old-fashioned handicrafts: sewing, cooking, food preservation – anything that might go on in their turn-of-the-century farmhouse. You can follow along with their home renovation on Instagram and on YouTube.
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