Chairs, decor, tables

6 Antique Furniture Buying Tips

Elsa Young

If you own a copy of our April 2016 issue, you'll remember the elegant Johannesburg home of Carmit Bamberger, which is dotted with furniture and and finishes from days gone by. Antiques is what Carmit does - she and her husband Saul own the family firm Miller's Antiques, which specialises in classic and French reproduction furniture, and she has a deep passion for tables, chairs, cabinets and more that come from the past. 'Antiques are full of mystery with regards to where and when they were made and the person whose history they were part of. They are silent witnesses to many stories and their scratches, dents and quirks stoke the fire of the imagination,' she explains. 'When you become the new owner, the story continues. You are the next installment in the saga and the next curator of a piece of history.' Naturally, she's in a good position to tell us a thing or two about buying vintage pieces. Here she offers up tips to keep in mind when shopping for antique furniture.

1. pick a reputable store

Experience will eventually be your best guide in this market, so until you're more familiar with antiques, seek out a store with a track record of selling quality. Usually such shops are owner run by people with passion and years of experience and you can build a relationship with them. Remember that some stores specialise in certain types of furniture by period or country of origin; some specialise in architectural items or collectibles; and some stores deal in just about everything - pick the ones that suit you.

Read up on 7 reputable antique shops in South Africa


2. obey your instincts

Trust your gut and buy a piece because you find it beautiful, quirky, zany or unique as well as functional. Occasionally beauty is enough and it's okay if you don’t know why you like a piece but you just know you have to have it. When in doubt though, leave it out.

3. go bidding

Auctions can be daunting at first but are great fun and offer access to a large variety of pieces. Go to the viewing before the auction date to give yourself time to inspect the article you want to bid on. At the auction, stick to your budget and let the piece go if you are outbid. There will be many other opportunities.

4. wax it

When caring for your purchases, avoid silicone-based spray polishes and oils, such as teak or linseed oil. They eventually break down the polish and the surface of the furniture becomes sticky. Generally, you only need to apply a soft wax sparingly every four months and buff well. One of Carmit's favourites is Woodoc Antique Wax, which comes in a round purple tin, but there are many other fine products to choose from. antique3

5. if it's broken, fix it

Chairs endure a lot of punishment. They are probably the most used items in your furniture collection and will therefore require a lot of maintenance. If an antique chair frame is loose when you buy it or becomes loose over time, have it fixed. If you leave it, it may break irreparably.

6. choose the right restorer

If you buy or have an antique piece that needs restoration, choose a restorer who knows what to do. Don’t be seduced by cheap prices and jargon. Restoration of antique furniture is a fine craft and needs to be done properly. At Millers Antiques, for instance, they do everything the old-fashioned way, by hand, use the correct tools and materials and treat clients' pieces with love and care. If you don't know of any restorers in your area but you know of other collectors, ask for a recommendation.

View all the antiques in Carmit Bamberger's home in our April 2016 issue.