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A big mistake a lot of people make when decorating their homes is they buy what they can afford, thinking they won’t find something they love… Not true!

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A big mistake a lot of people make when decorating their homes is they think shopping on a budget means buy what they can afford, thinking they won’t find something they love,  just something that works and is in their budget. Not true!

antique furniture key

If you spend $200 on a kitchen set at Ikea, you might as well throw that money out. It’s Ikea, everyone has it. Maybe you can sell it for $75 in 3-5 years, or maybe it winds up on the roadside for the first person looking for a freebie. If you spend the same amount at a flea market, second-hand shop, or estate sale, you’ll find something that’s likely unique and possibly underpriced, being far more likely to recoup your money when you do eventually sell it.

The same principle goes for everything from dishes to art. If you have a discerning eye and the time to scour for interesting finds, you might not just find great pieces, but things you’re able to sell for more in the future. We all have that Antiques Roadshow dream, don’t we? But I’m talking practically. Your goal should be just to get what you paid for, or 10-20% more, down the line. Hey, an investment that gets you 10% gain after years of use? Okay.

Here are things to look for.

Artwork

From the Salvation Army to estate sales, you never know what could be hiding. Not every shop knows the value of what they’re selling, so sometimes a good one slips by ’em. Yard sales are a terrific place to look too but I find estate sales are best, since they’re often pieces that belonged to a single owner for 10, 20, or more years. Estate sales can be sadbut when it’s elderly people who lived a good life, it’s not the sorrowful experience you might expect. Often the survivors have the items they love, and the rest is just being sold to divide the cash after.

Look for original works with neutral subject matter — animals, landscapes, active scenes — and avoid portraiture. Who wants a painting of someone else’s creepy dead great-aunt? Also make sure any animal paintings feature the head and not the, ahem, “business” end. Be wary of aboriginal art as many are replicas, but oftentimes replicas are still worth a respectable amount.

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Pottery & dishes

I have a friend who scours everywhere and buys every piece of colored Corningware or Fiestaware she can find. They continually increase in value, but it’s still possible to find them underpriced because they’re in single pieces as opposed to groups. Condition is very important with any such finds, so if you do decide to invest, look out for “crazing,” chipping, fading, and staining. Look for anything from porcelain to raku and clay, because they all have their devotees.

ceramic pots

Antiques

You might think “an antique is an antique, so just invest,” but it’s complicated. Here are some often-but-not-always true rules that can help you out. Stay away from huge pieces, like giant sideboards, armoires, oversized beds and the like. As dramatic and beautiful as they can be, so many homes aren’t large enough for these grand pieces anymore. Gone are the days of 4- and 5-bedroom farmhouses. If you live in a city, this rule is doubly true. Unless you plan to love it for the rest of your life, the oversized pieces can be very hard to sell — and very hard for you to relocate.

Refinished antiques might look nice “updated,” but you’ll generally lose a ton of value. You know how it’s sometimes riskier to buy a home that’s been renovated, because it’s harder to fix? Same thing with refinished/restored antiques. Restoration work is hard to do well, and a serious collector would rather buy something they have control over restoring rather than something that was refinished poorly and may not be reversible.

old comfy couch

 

Another thing to avoid is anything overly ornate. You might love the swirly, mad, crazy decorations all over that hall table, but it might make resale a tricky matter, unless it’s a known and popular maker. Not everyone can just slip a wildly decorative table into their living space.

Area rugs & tapestries

Rugs and tapestries can be amazingly good investments if you have a good find, especially antiques and with beautiful patterns and colors. Interior decorators can pay top-dollar for these. It’s possible to get large area rugs for prices comparable to what you’d pay for new, but they can be extremely expensive to clean (my 6×8 rug was quoted at nearly $200 to clean, since it’s Persian, handwoven wool) so if buying wool, ask if it’s been cleaned first.

Some can only be beaten or aired out, since colors can be damaged with modern cleaning agents. Thus, only work with well-regarded cleaners, and not, say, someone like Sears who may not understand the challenges.

Persian rugs

Look at the whole rug or tapestry under good lighting. If there are areas of obvious wear, that’ll get worse throughout the time you own it, and you see your investment unravel right under your feet. Check the back to look for quality weaving and not some “new backing” that’s been added.

Look for any sign of fading, especially in comparing one end to the other — if it’s been on a floor in the same direction for many years, one end is likely to be more faded than the other, which would impact value with a savvy buyer down the line.

And much more

From lighting to knickknacks, avoid mass-produced pieces because you’ll seldom if ever get the purchase price back. I don’t like throwing money away; do you? If you can buy a cool new mass-produced guitar for $600, but there’s a great vintage one with unique sound for $700, get the retro one for more, because it’ll likely hold or increase its value as it gets older. This is true of nearly anything you bring home.

Value aside, you’ll simply love your home more if it’s filled with unique pieces that you’re not seeing anywhere else. You’ll feel like it’s truly yours and you’ll love what you’re surrounded with. Isn’t that the whole point?

Next time you’re shopping, get out of the big box store and get onto the road less traveled. I hear it has some pretty great little finds along it.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.