Buying used furniture of relatively recent vintage—up to 60 years old—is different from investing in fine antiques. Certain brands and makers have developed devoted followers as a result of their unique design and extraordinary craftsmanship. Buy a piece of used furniture from one of these makers and you'll have an investment that may well increase in value over time. It's important to keep a careful eye out for scams, though: flea markets are notorious for selling look-alike items worth far less than the real thing.
Though Gustav Stickley remains the most famous of the Stickley furniture makers, the current company was founded by brothers Leopold and John George. Stickley furniture was never inexpensive; for most people, buying new Stickley furniture is prohibitive.
Stickley furniture fans seem almost cult-like in their enthusiasm, especially for the company's signature Mission styles. Some boast collections of dozens of pieces. Others make pilgrimages to Manlius, New York to tour the factory and visit the Stickley Museum. Stickley enthusiasm is understandable: the craftsmanship and designs remain true to the values of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Stickley pieces frequently appreciate in value, especially older pieces and limited edition introductions.
Because Stickley furniture is so collectible, you will see forgeries in the used market. Keep a copy of the legitimate Stickley shop marks in your flea market toolkit so you don't get scammed.
Henkel Harris makes investment-quality and heirloom-quality wood furniture. The pieces are well worth their hefty price tags. If you're lucky enough to find a used piece of Henkel Harris, buy it—even if the price seems high for used furniture.
Exquisite hand carvings and lustrous finishes distinguish Henkel Harris from lesser furniture. If you find a piece with drawers, run your hand along the drawer interiors. That satiny-smooth feel comes from waxing the drawers to protect your delicate clothing.
You likely won't find Henkel Harris at a garage sale. If you do, you've found the garage sale equivalent of a winning lottery ticket. You may find it at higher-end consignment stores or at estate sales where there are no heirs—or where the heirs don't realize what they have.
Drexel Heritage makes high-quality furniture in a wide variety of styles. The pieces are well-designed and well-made, and the proportions tend to be exceptional. Even the trendier pieces have a certain classic loveliness.
Some of the Mid-Century Modern pieces from the Profile, Projection, and Declaration lines appear sculptural, especially in profile. The short 881-435 bookcase is a good example, as are the step end tables in the Projection line. Danish Modern proponent John Van Koert designed the Profile line, and many attribute Projection to him as well. Stewart MacDougall and Kipp Stewart designed Declaration. Drexel wood pieces and upholstered chairs with wood frames are particularly good finds.
Century Furniture makes wood and upholstered furniture in styles ranging from classic to uber-modern. Century is fine-quality furniture, and the designs tend toward the sublime. If you find a wood piece in good condition and you like it, don't hesitate to buy. Cosmetic fixes are worth the time and cost, as long as the pieces aren't missing inlay or impossible-to-match hardware.
Century upholstery frames are usually worth reupholstering, though the labor cost can get high for complicated styles. In many cases, the shapes are so fantastic that it's worth the investment as long as you don't spend a fortune on the fabric.
Though Ethan Allen remains known for its Early American and 18th-century reproductions, they also make cottage, country, and contemporary furniture styles. The pieces probably won't appreciate in value, but buying wood furniture made by Ethan Allen typically means buying furniture that will last—even when you buy it used.
Company founders Theodore Baumritter and Nathan Ancell started a home furnishings business called the Baumritter Corporation in 1932. They bought a bankrupt furniture factory a few years later. By the end of the decade, they launched an Early American furniture collection called Ethan Allen. Decades later, they changed the company's name to Ethan Allen as well. With that in mind, in addition to furniture marked Ethan Allen, keep an eye out for pieces branded Ethan Allen by Baumritter, Furniture by Baumritter, and Viko Baumritter.
Wood pieces from Durham are made of solid wood. Though solid-wood furniture presents design and construction challenges, Durham works it out pretty well—and the construction is sound.
The main advantage of solid wood when you buy used is the ability to refinish, more than once if you wish. Even the finest veneered furniture only has one deep sanding in it before you risk ruining the piece. Durham's light- and medium-colored wood finishes have more visual depth and luster than the darker ones.