What Qualifies as Vintage Furniture?

Just Being Old Isn't Enough

1960s style lounge
Steven Taylor/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Shelter magazines promote vintage furniture in gorgeous displays, illustrated with interesting rooms that exude one-of-a-kind charm. But what is vintage furniture exactly? How is it different from antique furniture?

Basically, what is labeled vintage furniture is any piece that is between 30 to 100 years old. Furniture that is at least 100 years old is classified as antique. Newer vintage, like anything from the 1950s to 1980s, is generally thought of as retro within the vintage category, and any piece that dates from the '80s or later is just simply used furniture.

Furniture in the mid-century modern style has been enjoying a moment since the aughts of the 21st century; this would be correctly labeled both vintage and retro.

Simply being old does not make any furniture vintage in the technical sense, even though most people use the term old and vintage interchangeably. To earn the title "vintage," the piece should also be an example of what defined a style of that period. For example, an Eames chair is a good example of vintage (or retro) furniture of the mid-century modern era. The piece does not have to belong to a well-known line or the best-known manufacturer. It simply has to exhibit the best characteristics of that era.

Vintage furniture is currently on trend, and there are several reasons for its popularity.

It Gives Your House a Unique Look

Vintage pieces become less commonly seen as time goes by, even pieces that were mass-produced and ubiquitous when they were new.

As a result, they become more unusual and give your decor individuality and style, maybe even a cool factor, that can't be achieved in a room furnished entirely with new pieces.

Since the vintage category covers several decades, you can either choose pieces all from one vintage/retro era, like mid-century modern, and re-create that style, right down to the accessories, or you can carefully curate a collection of vintage pieces from different eras that combine to make a harmonious and cohesive look.

If you combine pieces from several eras, tie the room together with color, and level of formality so that even if the pieces are from different times, they all share certain visual aspects.

It Is Budget-Friendly

If you appreciate fine quality furniture but your budget does not support it, buying vintage pieces gives you the ability to indulge your fondness for the better things in life. It is less expensive than buying new furniture of the same quality. Additionally, you will often find that older furniture was better made and used finer materials than new pieces many times the price.

It Is Earth-Friendly

You are being a friend of the planet when you buy vintage pieces. It is one of the environmentally conscious methods for furnishing your home because you are saving furniture from going to the landfill. It is healthier for your home because the furniture has finished off-gassing. Even toxic finishes and glues are not off-gassing any longer. If these pieces need to be refinished, you can use finishes that are non-toxic.

Where to Find It

Shopping for vintage is an adventure. You just never know what you are going to happen onto. If you shop online, be sure to add in the cost of shipping and do all the research you can before you buy. Here's where to look:

  • Hand-offs from older family members
  • Edgy retail stores
  • Online stores
  • Estate sales
  • Live auctions
  • Auction websites.