A Practical Guide to Decorating Your Home With Second-Hand Furniture

What's old is new again in the world of interior design.

Original design and sustainability are two ethical pillars that are extremely important to consider when choosing to furnish your own home. While there are knock-offs popping up in every bargain store across the country, it's always more rewarding to end up with pieces that tell a story and are built with quality craftsmanship that's lasted decades already.

The best way to achieve this is by scouring your local vintage stores and online auction sites like Gumtree to decorate your rooms with unique second-hand pieces that will make your place feel like a home instantly. There's even a community of vintage sellers on Instagram (see our faves here) who do the hard work for you so you can simply shop the most interesting chairs, travertine tables, and shell lamps from the comfort of your sofa.

Before you race out and grab every single Thonet chair in sight, consider the following guide for effortlessly styling your place with exclusively second-hand finds.

Mix and match eras

While there are really no rules at all when it comes to vintage shopping, a good tip to keep in mind is that mixing and matching design styles and eras is actually a good thing. Of course, you'll need to use your eye to discern what looks best paired together, but don't be afraid to take inspiration from mid-century modern and combine aspects of art deco, for example.

Otherwise, if you stick to one single time period, you may end up with more of a shrine to a bygone decade than a well-rounded home that feels fresh and curated. Who says you can't have a Noguchi coffee table from the 40's combined with a 70's shag rug? Not us.

Skip the trinkets

If you're anything like me, a trip to a vintage furniture store is akin to a kid in a toy shop. It's not easy to keep your eyes focused when there are shelves upon shelves of stunning coloured glassware and handpainted artworks that are begging for you to take a closer look.

When you're starting out on your vintage design journey, try to focus your attention on items that serve a function first. These are your larger furniture pieces, rugs, and lamps. After you're happy with how the foundation pieces are looking, then you can go crazy with accessories and smaller decor items once you know what surfaces you have to work with. If you start there first you might find yourself with too many ceramic vases than your home can hold.

Keep your palette in mind

When some people think of a vintage interior, they picture several shades of brown, dusty bookshelves and a—for lack of a better word—granny aesthetic. Look, there's a lot we can take inspiration from when it comes to our grandparents and their homes, but you'll want your home to still feel like it's set in the new millennium.

An easy way to keep a fresh perspective on a second-hand scheme is to have a think about the colours that a) make you happy and b) you'd like to be surrounded by on a daily basis. If it's shades of green, keep that in your mind as you browse and begin to gather your pieces. It'll help you narrow down your selections and ultimately leave you with a space you're happy with and that looks like it's been curated by a professional.

Avoid trends where possible

I love a rattan chair as much as the next person. I'm even loving the newest wave of Mediterranean-inspired interiors that make you feel like you've stepped off a plane in Crete. When it's time to decorate your own home though, it pays to have a broader approach that takes in all design styles and trends to assess the ones you think you'll love forever and those that might need updating in a few years.

The best interiors and homes are timeless in their appeal, meaning that you can't pinpoint exactly what year it is solely by looking at the furniture and object selection. To keep your own home feeling timeless, stick to the tried and true shapes, colours and textures that have remained in style for decades.

Look for quality

How is it that armchairs designed in the 50's are still as strong as ever? It comes down to craftsmanship and the quality of materials used. Comparing these sturdy original designs to the discounted options out there (sorry Kmart) will help you to realise that quality is everything when it comes to planning your interiors. When you're in a second-hand store, make sure you sit on every chair, assess every lampshade and inspect every marble table to assess whether it needs some work or whether it's stood the test of time and will be a welcome addition to your living room.

The best vintage-inspired interiors are those that incorporate items that have been living for many years and that have the capacity (when cared for) to live on for many more. If you're tossing up between an unstable but beautiful sofa or a sturdy option that's not the right colour, always opt for the latter. You can always have a piece of furniture upholstered in a fabric that's more fitting for your life and then you'll be left with a custom, well-built piece you'll cherish.

More vintage decor tips? See what an expert has to say.

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