You know by now that Instagram is more than just a tool for following your favorite influencers, friends from high school, and those cute dog meme accounts. It's also an easy way to shop for all things home—including furniture—no matter where you may be located across the country. With an influx of vintage retailers setting up shop via the social networking app, you can easily order a dresser from Texas and have it shipped to your home in New Hampshire in just a click.
But with all of the opportunity that shopping for furniture from afar brings, it also means that you need to be ultra-strategic before making a purchase, given that you most likely won't be able to view a piece in person before buying and are placing an order from a shopkeeper who most likely doesn't accept returns. So what are the key factors to keep in mind when using Insta as a tool to furnish your home with stunning vintage pieces? We spoke with four experts who weighed in on questions to ask before you buy that oh-so-charming wicker dining chair.
Meet the Expert
Is There Any Additional Damage?
"Of course, always look for hidden damage," advises Dominique Gebru, a home influencer and frequent vintage shopper. She notes that damage, of course, is "separate from patina, which gives vintage its charm." So what should one keep an eye out for in particular? "A lot of mid-century pieces are made with veneer, which isn't on its face a bad thing," Gebru says. "But chipped veneer usually isn't a good look and can lead to your new item wearing in a way that doesn't add character."
What Does the Back Look Like?
After gathering basic information including measurements, you'll want to do a full scan of the piece in question. If a seller hasn't posted pictures of an item from every angle, you may wish to ask for additional photos before finalizing your decision. Blogger and frequent vintage shopper Alex Yeske states, "I was looking at a cabinet and asked for a photo of the inside and learned that they had cut open a huge hole in the back, which ultimately made me not want the piece!" This question is of particular importance when it comes to mirrors, Mantel House DC owner Molly Acorn noted. "Ask to see the other side to see if it’s new or old.
What's the Upholstery Like?
Acorn shared a list of items to touch on with regard to a piece's upholstery. She suggests asking a seller about any smoke scents or odors, if there are any rips to a piece's seam, and what the filling is made of and if it's comfortable—since you can't sit on a chair yourself to test it out, after all! If you're particularly sensitive to odors, it may be worth asking questions beforehand regardless of the type of furniture item you're buying. Notes Gebru, "I once bought an incredible set of wood chairs that smelled like cigarettes, which I didn't realize was possible."
What Can and Can't Be Fixed
Of course, sometimes you may wish to purchase an item solely for its bones and recover it with new fabric down the line. But you're not entirely off the hook in this case, either. "It's helpful to know what can and can't be fixed with furniture," Yeske shares. Be sure to ask how stable a piece of furniture is, too, explains Anna Weaver, a vintage enthusiast living and Instagrammer. "Pieces can look beautiful in pictures on Instagram, but the stability of the piece doesn't show up in pictures. So you have to ask about how solid it is." She adds, "In my opinion, it's a positive sign when a seller voluntarily shares information about small defects on an item they are selling."
What's It's History?
You may also wish to inquire about the history of a piece while you're still in touch with a seller. "I like to know the history, because it adds to the story of the piece I'm buying," Weaver comments. "And if you are buying vintage then you know the story is up there in importance with sustainability. I like to know where they acquired the piece for my own information." Yeske agrees. "I love knowing a piece's history," she says. "Through asking, we learned our hutch was actually a cabinet built into a wall in the 1920s, which explained why one side was a bit more finished than the other.”
How Much Will Shipping Cost?
Note that shipping prices can vary from seller to seller, so it's best not to go in with any assumptions. "If the seller isn't nearby, ask about shipping costs up front," Gebru advises. "If you've budgeted $800 for your dream credenza, you don't want to be caught off guard with an equally high shipping fee."
Is This Negotiable?
File this under questions not to ask, Gebru says. "Unlike with Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, I usually don't ask for a lower price on an item—unless it's been listed for a long time," she notes. "Folks who sell on Instagram are often doing so as part of a business, and likely aren't open to negotiation." So save your bargaining skills for the flea market!