There have been many unexpected and unintended consequences of the pandemic, that much we know. One we might not have been prepared for? A surge of interest in vintage and secondhand furniture. Says Anna Brockway, Chairish Co-Founder & President, “we're seeing continued interest in our 'ready-to-ship’ furnishings due to the supply chain snarl that is impacting the availability of newly made goods.” 1stDibs Editorial Director, Anthony Barzilay Freund, has observed the same phenomenon, noting, “we’ve seen an even stronger turn toward vintage pieces, in large part because they are on the dealer’s floor and ready to be taken home.”
The market can be daunting, though—especially as a beginner in the world of vintage furniture. Dealers can significantly mark up prices, and if you’re not sure what you’re looking at (or know if it’s legitimate), it’s enough to throw in the towel and run right back to a big-box store, cross your fingers, and hope the armchair (or sofa or coffee table) arrives in the quoted 6-8 weeks.
Fret not—you’ve probably seen a number of the most popular pieces already, and even though you might not know them by name, you know that they’re iconic and often recreated. The trends certainly change, according to Sarah Swan, owner of the vintage furniture and home decor store The Swan’s House, who notes that as of late “our clients are looking for pieces with bright, clean elements to add light and airiness to a space as opposed to the heavier, mid-century wooden pieces that were popular up until recently.”
Regardless, in any market or time period, well-made, statement-making pieces of furniture (for their appearance and their functionality) will always reign supreme. With that in mind (and with the help of the aforementioned furniture experts), we’ve rounded up some of the most sought after pieces and designers right now, so the next time you’re in over your head in a secondhand shop, use this as your guide and move forward with knowledge!
Designed by Marcel Breuer, the intention of the Cesca chair (much like a lot of mid-century furniture) was to combine form and function. The rights of the cane and cantilever combination, originally named the B32 chair, have changed hands multiple times over the 90 years since its inception, but the name Cesca (after Breuer’s daughter Francesca) was the one that stuck. Today, you’ll be able to find countless reproductions of this silhouette, but the real deal can be found with Knoll.
Maker of timeless and bespoke upholstered furniture, George Smith furniture is consistently popular across all categories on Chairish. Each piece is handmade, employing traditional techniques and natural materials (like horsehair and hardwood), so it’s no surprise that they retain significant value.
Established in 1966 by Piero Ambrogio Busnelli, B&B Italia is home to furniture designs by some of the most renowned names in design, including Zaha Hadid, Gaetano Pesce, and Mario Bellini. You’re likely to have seen the bubbly Cameleonda Sofal (by Mario Bellini) in the home of many an influencer.
Similar to B&B Italia, Ligne Roset is a furniture company that collaborates with designers to produce some of the most compelling furniture out of France. You may have seen Michel Ducaroy’s Togo sofa, a cushy, low-to-the-floor seating solution that’s basically the adult version of a bean bag chair.
Ever a master of tubular steel and a cantilever design, Marcel Breuer crafted the Wassily chair with the same design principles as the Cesca chair, but this time the frame was inspired by the humble bicycle. While the black leather chair is certainly the most popular, I myself am partial to the cowhide version.
You know it, you love it, you’ve seen it a million times (even if you didn’t, in fact, know it). The Eames Lounge Chair is a bentwood beauty, designed in 1956 to resemble “the warm, receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt.” It’s possibly one of the most influential furniture designs of the 20th century, and if we had a nickel for every time someone recreated it or was inspired by it, well...
Named for the shape of the chair’s back, the wishbone chair can be found in many a home, and has been remade many a time. The real deal (designed in 1949) requires over 100 manufacturing steps (most of which are done by hand), with a steam-bent backrest and a seat handwoven from durable paper cord.
Whether they’re clear cases for curiosities or big old wooden things with lots (and lots) of drawers, old timey apothecary-style furniture has made a massive comeback.
With all the time spent at home in the past two years, it’s no surprise that demand for desks and vanities (doubling as workspaces) has skyrocketed. And not just any desks, either, according to Swan, who says people are on the hunt for desks “not only for their functionality but also as strong design elements that add a lot of personality to a space.” This particular nesting vanity (which comes in a variety of hues) has been on her list for some time now, and probably a lot of other people’s lists, too.
Given that the current trend leans away from heavy wooden pieces and into more light and airy items, lucite has found its way back into the mainstream, and all the better if it’s vintage. Mid-century style folding chairs, waterfall coffee tables, and lots of little decor items keep things light in a home otherwise grounded by wood and stone.
Sarah Swan is on the hunt for one of these chairs, which was designed in 1963. The cocoon-like seat and swivel base make the chair exceedingly comfortable, and its enduring modern looks make it quite pricey—some available online go for upwards of $10,000.
Utterly charming and totally unique, these face chairs are synonymous with designer John Risley, and difficult even for experienced dealers to track down for a reasonable price.
I might go so far as to suggest that the popularity of this mirror may have been responsible for the comeback of '80s-style squiggles and curves in home decor, given how many times I’ve seen it crop up in the last five or so years. The original mirror was designed in 1970, lights up pink, and goes for a staggering $10,000 on a good day.
Burlwood is absolutely everywhere, that much we do know. This unique material is actually a cross section of a tree growth (known as a burl) and is sliced into thin sheets of veneer to be adhered to anything and everything. The one-of-a-kind grain patterns of burlwood make it a classic material, and the multitude of hues and applications mean it has a place in any home.
Take a peek into any neutral-loving designer’s home, and you’ll likely spot one or two heavily-patinated wooden stools that appear carved by hand. The eponymous Senufo stools are named for the people in Mali, Ivory Coast, and Ghana who make them out of a single piece of wood. Antique milk stools add a similar warm touch to a room, usually made with three legs and instead of being used to milk cows, are now found holding plants or magazines.