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Your Ultimate Guide to Antique Furniture

Updated: Mar 21

What really makes a house a home are the furnishings you put inside it. Antique furniture provides not only the beauty, luxury, and unique look you’re desiring, but it’s also a choice that has positive ripple effects on the environment and economy.

The world of antique furnishings can feel overwhelming and confusing in terms of where to begin or what to know. However, with some knowledge under your belt, you can feel confident as you hunt for your perfect antique furniture treasure!

What is Antique Furniture?

The first thing to know about antique furniture is that it must be more than 100 years old. If a home furnishing is less than 100 years old, it still may have a lot of charm and history but is considered vintage. When thinking about antique furniture, it really is anything that supports the body, like an antique chair or desk, or something that provides storage or holds things off the ground, like an antique dresser or table. Antique furniture also encompasses more decorative home furnishings like antique lamps or mirrors.

Besides age, for something to be a desired antique furniture piece, it usually is in excellent condition, is rare, has different functions, and/or is unique in design. Antique furniture reflects the era and style it was created in and has one-of-a-kind attributes and craftsmanship that truly make it stand apart.

Why Are People Choosing Antique Furniture?

Dark wood accent table with carved detail

The popularity of buying antiques and vintage items has grown substantially in the last few years. While “used” furnishings used to have a negative stigma attached, shopping antique and vintage has now become more mainstream and even cool. The attitude towards antique furniture has definitely changed in all the best ways!

With people sharing their whole lives on social media, it can quickly feel like everyone has the same things, and many people want to stand out and be unique. Choosing antique furniture is a perfect way to do this because you are stepping away from mass-produced items into one-of-a-kind, limited antique furnishings, like an antique desk, dresser, or chair.

Not only is the population choosing antique furniture to get out of cookie-cutter home design, but they are also making choices to buy an antique lamp or antique dresser because it is an environmentally responsible choice that reduces waste and is one of the most sustainable purchases you will ever make. Not only will buying an antique desk bring that pop of unique design you need in your home office, but it is also helping the planet!

Three words: Supply. Chain. Issues. We all know that in this day and age, the wait times for brand-new items can be lengthy. This is especially the case with new furniture items. And let’s not even get started on shipping times. Investing in antique furniture is simply the smarter choice. What is easier, more convenient, and more satisfying than shopping at your local antique mall and driving away with your perfect antique furniture purchase?!

Where Can I Find Antique Furniture?

There are a variety of places to shop for and buy antique furniture. While thrift stores, antique stores, flea markets, estate sales, and online platforms are all available to browse for your perfect antique lamp or antique chair, none of these establishments come close to the treasures you can find at your local antique mall.

At America’s Antique Mall, we have an expansive and unique selection of antique furniture in our clean and bright building that is full of friendly and knowledgeable staff and vendors. With hundreds of booths to choose from, you are sure to find the perfect treasures to furnish your home with!

Benefits of Buying Antique Furniture

  • Own one-of-a-kind furnishings

  • Have well-crafted furniture of excellent quality that has stood the test of time

  • Environmentally responsible and sustainable

  • Preserves history and heritage

  • Usually more affordable than new furniture

  • Never goes out of style

  • Can be extremely valuable

Popular Types of Antique Furniture

  1. Antique dresser

  2. Antique lamp

  3. Antique chair

  4. Antique desk

Function and Flair: Antique Dressers

Antique dressers are a perfect way to start out your antique furniture collection if you are a novice. They provide as much function as they do unique detail and craftsmanship that make antique furnishings stand out.

Antique dressers are usually made entirely of wood, providing a lot of lasting durability and sturdiness. Depending on the era it was made and the antique dresser’s style, many also have additional materials like marble tops, inlays, or mirrors.

A tell-tale sign that a dresser is antique is the joinery. If the front and back of the drawer are connected to the sides of the drawer by a dovetail, there is a high likelihood that it was handmade and is antique. You can tell a dovetail was handmade if there are only a few, and they are not exactly even. Machine-cut dovetails are more precise and spaced close together.

Antique Dressers Through the Ages

  • William and Mary dressers – date back to the 1600s and are extremely rare

  • Hepplewhite dressers – hale from the 1700s, known for their oval, brass hardware

  • Sheraton dressers – very similar to Hepplewhite but usually have small dresser drawers on top of the main chest

  • Empire dressers – have one large drawer on top with recessed drawers below

  • Victorian dressers – usually have many carved or applied details on the dresser like flowers, birds, animals, or angels

  • Antique dressers from the early 1900s – known for simple wooden knobs and straight frames.

Light Up Your Space: Antique Lamps

Orange antique lamp with floral painted details

There is nothing like the beauty and warmth that an antique lamp can bring to a room or entire home. Antique lamps date back to the 17th century and come in all types of shapes, sizes, colors, textures, and more. Antique floor lamps can be very sought after and often carry great value!

There are not a lot of resources to help identify antique lamps but looking through old catalog images or historical museum photos may help provide a rough estimate of era and style. You can also always look for a manufacturer’s mark, which can be words, letters, numbers, or a logo. This mark can be on a label, on the antique lamp fixture itself, or on the lamp’s base.

If you see a mark on a lampshade, it may not be authentic to the actual lamp itself since lampshades are frequently swapped over time. If you do find a manufacturer’s mark on the lamp, start googling or talk to the expert antique lamp vendor at your antique mall!

Energy Sources of Antique Lamps

The fuel design of an antique lamp is one of its most unique features. Early lamps used kerosene or paraffin oil to provide a flame. They had chambers to contain the liquid fuel. An antique lamp with this type of fuel source is truly a treasure!

Electricity is the obvious other way antique lamps give off light. Lamps that use electricity are from the 1860s and after. The cable and plug of an antique lamp can help to determine if it is antique. Antique lamp plugs typically have two prongs of the same size.

Antique lamp cords often have studs and visible connections where the cord joins the base. Before the early 20th century, lamp makers used cables and prongs that were wrapped in cotton. It is important to note that many lamp cords and prongs have been replaced, and not all antique lamps have these original features.

Sitting in History: Antique Chairs

There is a great variety of antique chairs that come in all shapes, sizes, and functions. Antique chairs can be padded and upholstered, or they can be wooden and function as a dining or desk chairs. Some types and styles of antique chairs are:

  • Bergère

  • Chaise longue

  • Corner chair

  • Curule

  • Fauteuil

  • Klismos

  • Morris

  • Ribbon-back

  • Savonarola

  • Shaker

  • Side chair

  • Windsor

  • Wingback

Identifying Antique Chairs

There are a variety of ways you can identify an antique chair. The first is to look for manufacturers’ markings, which are usually on the underside of a chair or beneath upholstery. Markings may be carved or burned but can also be paper or metal labels.

Looking at the construction of antique chairs can also provide some insight into the time period of the furnishing. Looking for handmade dovetail joints is an indication you have an old treasure! Symmetry is also something to be on the lookout for. Chairs became a lot more symmetrical after the Industrial Revolution due to technology allowing more precise cutting. Handmade chairs have asymmetry, which indicates a chair may be older.

A third way of authenticating an antique chair is by considering the material it is made from. Certain woods were used a lot in certain time periods, which can help provide a context for dating an antique chair. The materials in seat fillings, coverings, or upholstery and finishing hardware can also indicate age. For example, we would not find screws used to fasten antique furniture.

Work Like a Boss: Antique Desks

Ornate dark wood antique desk

A desk is one of the most distinguished and classy pieces of furniture you can own. Whether in your office or at home, an antique desk provides a stately presence like nothing else. We’ll even go so far as to say you’ll get more work done and be more productive when working from such a regal piece of furniture!

Antique desks were originally called bureaus and date back to the 17th century. At first, they were modified dressers where a “writing slope” had been added. Bureaus were specifically built so that you could open and close your writing surface. Between 1704 and 1714, desks with knee holes started to be built, providing a hole in the middle with drawers on either side of the structure.

In the 1750s pedestal desks were created, and this style of desk is still popular today. The Industrial Revolution streamlined furniture production, allowing more than the wealthy to have desks in their home. Because of this, furniture makers started creating a lot more different styles and sizes of desks to fit different home needs.

Library desks became very popular in the late 18th century and featured up to three drawers on one side as well as a writing surface made from polished wood. In later years, the library desk started to have the writing surface be leather.

Popular Antique Desk Styles

  • Bureau Mazarin

  • Bureau À Gradin desk

  • Butler’s desk

  • Cheveret desk

  • Davenport (ship captain) desk

  • Secretary desk

  • Fall front desk

  • Kneehole desk

  • Library desk

  • Partner desk

  • Pedestal desk

  • Roll top desk

  • Wooton desk

Choosing the Right Antique Desk

Antique wood secretary desk

With such a plethora of antique desks to choose from, it can be hard to know what may work best for your needs, space, style, and use. It is important to consider the size of the room the antique desk will be placed in, the shape of the room, and how much storage you need.

If you want an antique desk as more of a decorative piece that will only be used occasionally, it is a good idea to pick something that isn’t too large. However, if you want an antique desk for your office and to complete your work from, you may want one that is bigger and can fit all our modern-day work accessories like a laptop, additional computer screens, printer, keyboard, and mouse pad.

Some antique desks provide a lot of storage and organization spaces, while others are slimmer with a simple writing surface. Some antique desks also feature unique embellishments, inlays, carvings, and designs, as well as a comfortable and elegant leather writing surface. Knowing if these characteristics are something you desire or want to stay away from can help narrow down your antique desk selection.

Tips for Shopping for Antique Furniture

Whether you are in the market for an antique lamp, chair, desk, or dresser, here are some tips to make your antique furniture shopping experience a success!

  • Examine the furnishing closely, paying attention to how it was made, the materials used, and the condition of the item

  • Try to locate a signature, marking, or stamp

  • Assess if the antique furniture piece will fit in your space

  • Take your time and buy what you love

  • Shop at an antique mall where only upscale, quality antique furniture is sold

Come see us at America’s Antique Mall! Whether you are on the hunt for an antique desk for your office, an antique lamp for your entryway, an antique desk for your reading nook, or an antique dresser for your bedroom, you are sure to find the perfect furniture piece of your dreams at America’s Antique Mall!

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