A Guide To Antique Shopping: Where To Go & What To Look For
I think most people are put off by antique shopping because at a first glance it seems like a lot of junk that someone else didn't want. BUT since we are chronic antique lovers and shoppers, we must change your mind. It is true that you must walk around a lot and dig through piles sometimes but the finds are SO worth it.
For example, if you've been keeping up with the Lawless Log Cabin IG or TikTok, you know that all of our décor is second hand! And it is also true that it's some of the most unique and beautiful pieces so stick with me today and I'll give you some pointers on what to look for and list our favorite go-to spots at the end.
If it looks new, it most likely is.
Pay close attention to the nails: Newer, shinier nails indicate newer construction.
Look for dovetails. The presence of dovetail joints, which hold wood furnishings together without the use of nails or other hardware, is a sign that a piece was made by a cabinetmaker as opposed to being mass-produced or factory-made. Generally, the thinner the dovetail, the more skilled the cabinetmaker (and the higher the quality of the piece).
Inspect the hardware. Be sure to get a good look at drawer pulls and any other hardware. For pulls, the inside of the drawer should reveal a post-and-nut construction if it’s truly vintage. Look for dirt, dust, and wear around the pulls too; these are signs that the hardware is original to the piece.
Rethink shine and polish. A refinished piece might look clean and shiny, but updating wood furniture in this way can diminish its value, as collectors often prefer the original, more weathered finish of a piece. That being said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it’s up to you which look you prefer.
Look at the knots. Origin, style, dye technique: A lot of factors can affect the price of a vintage rug. One feature that can help you determine quality without the help or knowledge of an expert is knot count. In most cases, a tighter knot—meaning more knots per square inch—translates to higher quality (and by extension, price). Flip a rug over and check the back to get a clear picture of its knotting.
Check for fraying. As a rule, steer clear of untied edges and excessive fraying. Handmade rugs are woven, so it’s likely that once a loose end exists, it’s only a matter of time before the entire thing comes undone.
… But don’t be afraid of imperfections. Unless it’s been locked up in storage for years, a vintage rug is unlikely to be in perfect condition. Think of uneven piling, discoloration, or slight wear and tear as beauty marks that only add more charm and history to it.
Have a function in mind. Where are you planning on putting the rug? If you’re placing it in a busier space, be sure it feels sturdy enough to stand up to foot traffic.
Give it a wash. Don’t walk away from a rug just because it has that dusty antique smell (remember, the fibers are at least decades old!). A professional cleaning will make it feel new again, and airing it outside once a year after that will keep it fresh.
Discern paintings from prints. Print reproductions are made with tiny dots (very tiny, so get up close) meant to imitate the painterly brushstrokes of original artwork. This isn’t to say prints aren’t worth buying, but it’s good to know what you’re getting to avoid overpaying.
Seek out craquelure. The web of fine cracks that appears on the surface of aged paintings is called craquelure. Trust us when we say it’s something you want and not in any way indicative of poor condition; craquelure means authenticity and is highly sought after by art collectors.
Check out the frames and nails. The quality, condition, and appearance of a work’s framing can help to date the piece. So take a look at the back of the work: If the wood of the frame is dark or stained, it’s likely been around for some time. For gold-tone frames, the darker and more bronze-looking the gold is, the older the piece is likely to be.
Porcelain and Ceramics
Conduct the light test. To figure out if a design is true porcelain, take out your phone, hold it up to the piece, and see if the light shines through. If it does, then the piece is porcelain. If it doesn’t, the item is likely stoneware or earthenware.
Discern transferware from hand-painted pieces. Take a close look at the edges of a piece. If the pattern is cut off at the lip of a dish, then it’s likely transferware, which means the design was printed onto the piece and not hand-painted. Designs done by hand will have a more fluid pattern, complete with brushstroke details and little imperfections.
Below I've listed some of our favorite antique shops:
Brimfield (Brimfield, MA)
Something for Your Dust (Plymouth, MA)
Cambridge Antique Market (Cambridge, MA)
Reside (Cambridge, MA)
Canal St Antique Mall (Lawrence, MA)
Lawless Design Shoppe (On-line only)
Happy treasure hunting!