Design Hints

5 Hints for Savvy Antiques Shopping

Score better deals and build better collections with these expert tips for making the most of your next antiquing excursion.

Parkesburg, Pennsylvania, primitives lover and antiques dealer Holly Pfanders, whose home is featured in the January 2009 issue of Country Sampler, believes that now is a great time to start buying antiques or add to your collections. In this economy, she says, you don't have to be an expert to get a good deal. Here are five tips to help you get started:

1. Set a budget. If there is a certain item you want and you have a set budget, it pays to be patient. "I have found more than one thing that way," says Holly, noting that the unique pie safe in her kitchen was such a piece. She passed up several more-expensive options before finding the right one. "I was willing to wait until I found it at a price I could afford."

2. Use your imagination. Even if a piece has some damage, you may be able to repurpose it into something else by pruning the broken parts or painting over unwanted marks. For example, if you find a dining table that has damaged legs, Holly says, "Don't dismiss it, just think of trimming its legs down and using it as a coffee table."

3. Look off the beaten path. Dealers sometimes end up with things they don't usually carry, and you may be able to get a bargain because they are eager to part with an item. "Just pop your head in the door, even if it seems like the place carries a different style of antiques than what you're looking for," Holly says. She once got a great deal on an 18th-century Perry County, Pennsylvania, two-door cupboard that a glassware dealer was using for display. "It was just utilitarian to him," she explains.

4. Get educated. There are a lot of reproduction items out there with a primitive look. If you're after the real thing or want to make sure you get what you're paying for, Holly recommends educating yourself by reading books or collector's guides and perhaps even visiting a museum for a firsthand look. Examine primitive furniture for signs of wear. "It should be in logical places -- authentic, not contrived," Holly says.

5. Be inquisitive. Reputable dealers should be willing to share their knowledge about their wares. Most will label an item indicating whether it is reproduction or has other than an original finish. "Don't be afraid to ask, 'Can you tell me what you know about this piece?'" Holly advises.

Written by Lisa Sloan
Photographed and Styled by Franklin & Esther Schmidt