How to source and style vintage furniture for your home
Soho Home experts share their wisdom on the best places to find retro, vintage and antique furniture and homeware – and the art of layering them into your space
Thursday 21 July By Megan Murray
We like to use a mix of old and new around the Houses to make each one feel different. Thoughtfully chosen pieces can help tell the story of a space. It could be an old sock machine-turned-lamp in Soho House Nashville in a nod to the location’s industrial past, or an Art Deco sideboard in Brighton Beach House as a way to emphasise the city’s period architecture.
Over the years, we have worked with a mix of brilliant vintage experts to help create depth and character in our Houses. Now we’re doing it with shoppable collections at Soho.Home.Studios, too. We asked interior designer Siobhan Farley, who is sourcing vintage pieces for our Soho.Home.Studio on the King’s Road, and stylist Anna Unwin, whose furniture curation is available from our Westbourne Grove store, for their advice on sourcing and styling vintage furniture at home.
Where should we look for the best vintage pieces?
‘In short: everywhere,’ says Siobhan Farley. ‘Local antique shops, auctions, car boot sales, markets and reclamation yards – there’s lots all over the country and you can get anything from a shed-load of tiles to garden furniture.
‘Try travelling to good hunting grounds: Lille in northern France and some of the market towns in the south are particularly good. Google is your biggest friend; and don’t forget to search eBay and antiques’ websites, like Vinterior or Decorative Collective. My advice is to find a dealer you like on one of those sites and then look them up separately – you might be able to strike a better deal or see more of their stock.’
What about markets, do you have any favourites?
‘If you’re from the UK, I would advise shopping here as much as possible,’ says Farley. ‘While markets abroad have some great pieces, the prices have gone up a lot, which is compounded with bad exchange rates and there are extra charges for bringing things back home now, too. Ardingly Antiques Fair is my favourite and I think Wembley Antiques Market is great for smaller bits, while Sunbury at Kempton Park is the most famous and therefore worth a look.
'Across Europe, there are some brilliant markets and warehouses coming out of Belgium, and France is a classic location for antique and vintage shopping. My favourite, though, is Parma Antique Fair in Italy.'
Are there any tips for getting the most out of an in-person experience?
‘Markets and fairs aren’t quite what they used to be,’ says Farley. ‘Sellers tend not to budge on their prices these days, but there are things you can do to improve your chances of getting the best stuff at a good price. If there’s a map of the space online, familiarise yourself with it before you go and mark down your route. Have in mind what you need and measure any spaces in your home before you go – bring your measuring tape with you to check. If you buy something that’s too big to carry around, remember to make a note of the stall on your map so that you don’t get lost later.
‘Most fairs are cash only, so while there are usually machines on site, I would always be prepared. If you know you’re sourcing large furniture, arrive with a van because arranging a courier can be stressful. When I’m picking up accessories, I bring a trolley with me and walk around with it!’
As a first-time buyer, what key pieces are never a bad idea?
‘It depends whether you are in your “forever home” or not, but I would suggest for most people, something moveable,’ says Unwin. ‘Of course, an amazing dining table will always have impact and I love vintage artwork (though it’s expensive), but as your first foray I would suggest vintage lighting.
‘You can’t go wrong, especially as there are so many options. I love a vintage desk light, floor lamp or even a pair of sconces. You can swap them in and out of a room, carry with you easily when you move and they can be layered up. I don’t think modern design even compares to vintage styles – it adds something a bit different to any room.’
Are there any eras or styles to look out for?
‘Of course, this depends on personal choice,’ says Unwin, ‘but two pieces that I think look incredible are Italian marble tables from the 1970s, or mid-century Danish sideboards. They will always look chic and can put style into most spaces.’
What should a first-time buyer watch out for?
‘One of our guiding principles, whatever we are buying, is that it has to work,’ notes Farley. ‘It’s no good having a table that you can’t get your knees underneath, or an armrest at the wrong height. Comfort is always key so don’t be afraid to test before you buy: we’ve abandoned everything from elegant French station benches to a set of beautiful but very upright chairs, all because they weren’t comfortable enough. Never settle for style over substance – it’s completely possible to have both.’
Any questions you should always ask a seller?
‘Find out the condition in depth – and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions,’ says Farley. ‘This way you’ll understand what work may need to be done, as well as knowing exactly what you’re getting. It’s fine to pick up something that needs reupholstering or a bit of love, but you need to weigh up what’s worth it.
'Always check measurements,' she adds. 'Photography can be very misleading on eBay, and things can turn out to be smaller than you expected. Always measure out the dimensions listed and mark them on the floor if necessary – before you bid or buy. Also, if you're looking for something specific, this might be a good opportunity to see if the seller knows anyone else who has it; they'll likely have a good knowledge of antiques in their area.'
Any tips on styling vintage homeware in an existing space?
‘Gorgeous interiors come down to playing with scale, tones and textures. I like to start with one statement piece and work out from that, usually something oversized with a focus on form,’ advises Unwin.
‘While I like muted tones, I mix different earthy shades together so that it feels warm and multi-faceted. Then, I put contrasting textures next to each other – I have some mid-century wooden chairs, which I reupholstered in recycled sheepskin, next to a 1970s marble and glass-topped table with a concrete ornament and a vintage brass light for a zing. You can use this kind of methodology and adjust it to your style – it’s about layers.’