Why would anyone buy a second-hand chair?

Halabala Chair before reupholstering

Why indeed? Second-hand chairs might be a necessity when you’re a student, or don’t have much money, but as soon as you are able, it’s off to a big furniture retailer to treat yourself to something new. This isn’t usual and I did it myself for many years. Nothing wrong with it either, but I want to try and persuade you to at least think about a different approach. Buying vintage (as opposed to just second-hand) could be one if the best purchases you ever make!

What’s vintage, what’s not?

Firstly, let’s define vintage. One of the definitions in the Cambridge English Dictionary is as follows

of high quality and lasting value, or showing the best and most typical characteristics of a particular type of thing, especially from the past:

  • a vintage plane
  • a vintage comic book
  • This film is vintage (= has the best characteristics typical of films made by Disney.)
  • She loves buying vintage furniture.

Vintage isn’t just about buying anything old – vintage is about quality.

For me vintage also means a particular era too, 1940 to 1970. There are plenty of others who include earlier and later years, but this for me is the apex of the best in chair design.

Vintage small chair generic before reupholsteringVintage small chair generic, reupholstered in grey and black fabric

Good looking

For me the first and most important reason to buy vintage chairs is style.

Vintage chairs has so much swag it’s untrue! Angles, curves and swoops with detailing that you just don’t see on modern chairs. It doesn’t really matter if you’re a minimalist, or someone who prefers a more flamboyant style, there’s so much variety on offer, once you start looking, you’ll undoubtedly find something you love.

Moreover, their beauty is more than just skin deep. The construction of old chairs is often unrivalled. Most have a solid wood frame, made from ash, beech or teak for example. This means that they are strong sturdy frames to start with, and if necessary can be repaired relatively easily. It also means the ‘show wood’ (the bits you see like legs or armrests) can be revived by sanding, waxing or French polishing, over and over.

Your vintage chair might already be 55 years old, but with love and attention, it can easily last another 55 years.

Vintage G Plan, E Gomme large armchair in blue tweed fabric - detail
Vintage G Plan, E Gomme large armchair in blue tweed fabric – detail


A unique investment

We all like to show off our individual styles and tastes in our homes, and when you buy something vintage, you can create something truly bespoke. An old chair can be recovered in the most amazing (or the most simple) fabric to create something only you will have. Good reupholstery can make almost any frame comfortable and totally safe for modern living with fire retardant and even environmentally friendly fillings and fabrics.

Admittedly, trying to see beauty in an often smelly, lumpy and creaky old chair takes some doing. But a bit of internet research and a chat with me can give you an idea of how that old thing could look.

Oh yes, people often say to me, ‘vintage chairs are too big/small/high/low/deep’ for me. I say nah! You can find tiny Chierowski chairs from Poland, made to fit compact communist era apartments. They are ingenious too, wasting no materials, as waste or extravagance wasn’t an option then, perfect for a small room with not much wriggle room or in a corner for extra seating. Contrast that with a large deep club chair, roomier and heavier. These are big enough to hold their own as a stand alone piece in any room.


If you chose vintage and let your imagination run wild, you’ll have a unique piece of history If you buy wisely, you could have something that is potentially worth more as time goes on. Fashions change, but truly iconic mid century pieces have staying power and are becoming more sought after. The rarer and older they are, the more they could be worth. You could also be making a smart investment.

So the next time you want to buy a piece of furniture to sit on, don’t automatically assume you have to go and buy something new; you could buy something old that’s custom made to suit, that is beautiful to look at and that you can pass on to the next generation.

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