Thursday, June 13, 2013

Finding Quality on Craigslist

Stickley rocking chair $500
Those of you who have followed my blog for years know that most  of my current furniture has come from craigslist. Since learning the hard lesson of selling nearly perfect almost new furniture during our move in 2006, I learned the value of buying used. So, over the past few years, I've managed to buy high quality, style appropriate furnishings for a fraction of their original retail price.

Another reason to buy used furniture is if later you find you have to sell a piece because you want to rearrange a room, or you'd like redecorate—if you've been careful to find good deals—you can usually resell the piece for close to or more than the original price paid. (That has been our experience, anyway.)

When I'm looking for a piece of furniture I tend to make a list including the relevant measurements, i.e. looking for a dresser than can not be wider than 48" or taller than 40". I also have a list of "keywords" that I enter into craigslist. I actually write them down on an index card so I don't have to keep trying to remember them every time I do a search.

One good strategy I have found for picking keywords is to know names of some of the high end furniture stores in your area that sell the furniture you're looking for. For instance, in the San Francisco bay area where I started my mission furniture collection, I knew that "Fenton McLaren" sold a lot of high quality, solid oak furniture that would be perfect for us. So, I would also search on "Fenton" and "McLaren" because sellers don't always know what the furniture style is called, but they might remember where they bought it and put it in the ad.
This roguewood solid oak dining set was $1500. Retail for the table alone is more than $2500.
Another strategy for picking keywords is to use brand names of quality furniture, such as "Stickley," "Bentwood," "Roguewood," "borkholder," and "amish." And don't forget the list of relevant styles, such as "Craftsman," "Arts & Crafts," "Mission," or "Shaker." 

Another advantage of finding a brand name is quite often you can find pieces from different sellers. For instance, I have 7 matched Cost Plus World Market mission style mahogany bookcases! Their retail price was $225 each and they came unassembled. I was able to buy 7 matched bookcases, already assembled, from 3 or 4 different people and I never paid more than $75 each.

If I'm looking for furniture, I like to limit my search to "Furniture—by owner." I do this mostly because in my area the antique stores do a lot of listings and their prices are very often well above what you would find offered by owners. I figure it's better not to fall "in love" with the piece that's twice as expensive at an antique shop.

It seems like I spend a lot of time haunting craigslist, but I really don't. When I am on the hunt, I  do some quick searches—usually once a day when I'm watching TV in the evening—for items I am looking for and then email the sellers with questions or if I want to go see the pieces. 

Sometimes I find good pieces where the seller is too far to travel to or the price is too high, so I bookmark the ad (or save a copy for my files) but not contact the seller. Then, if the seller continues to place the same ad for several weeks, or months, I feel justified in writing them asking if their price is firm or if they'd consider a lower offer. I might point out I've seen their ad listed for XX weeks. Because of the long listing time, many are receptive. If they aren't, I move on.
This solid cherry bedroom set by Stuart David was $2000 (retails for $5000).
Given one of our lessons this past year, not all sellers are honest. (Most are, luckily.) Those wicker chairs we bought for the front porch—broken and surreptitiously repaired. So, make sure to thoroughly inspect any furniture before taking it home. Sit in chairs, see if they rock. Look to see if the pieces are good and solid. 

One last comment about buying good quality furniture on craigslist—don't expect to take home a truly solid cherry bed for $50. Veneers are very well done these days, so if someone is selling a "solid cherry" piece for $50, I'd be skeptical that it truly is solid. Write the seller and ask for a brand name and research the company if they send you a name.

For modern reproductions, I stick to listings that tell you the brand name, or tell you what store they were purchased from, so I try to shop on name reputation. Unless the item is truly an antique, then you have to use your judgment a lot more. 

Sometimes the trip to see the furniture is wasted, but over time the savings can be truly inspiring. In my experience, you can expect to pay one-fifth to one-half the original retail price, but usually closer to one-fifth.

I'd love to hear from you all about your successes or failures on craigslist, or any further tips I missed.


  1. My mom has a beautiful chair much like that Stickley piece. I love it!

    1. I felt really fortunate when I scored that off craigslist. The seller had mis-spelled Stickley, so it had been on there for a while.

  2. I find estate sales very good for lower prices on furniture, I got a cherry secretary desk through a written bid (for the asking price), with a glass doored upper cabinet, that is wonderfully made. I use it for a china cabinet since my space is small, and it works very well, I prefer the drawers for the dishes to the open spaces with shelves in many china cabinets. I just kick myself that I didn't feel I had the money to try for the bedroom set also, the quality is just so much more than our set.

    I'm wondering if you have tried the auction in Portland or I think there may be one in Camas/Washougal? I've bought antiques cheap in auctions elsewhere and am considering selling at one.

    1. I have not tried auctions. I've not been able to figure out when and where they are. Is there some website you recommend?

  3. Thanks for the tips. I think I am going to re-start my quest for a bigger dining room table. Thanks for all your help looking for one a year or so back-guess we just weren't ready :)

  4. I've been reading your blog for a while now and love your posts! And your home is beautiful! We just purchased a 1908 Foursquare and you've inspired me to start my own blog!