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How to Find the Best Antique Chairs

I get asked all the time, “Where do you get your chairs?” There’s a few different answers to this, but if we are talking about my antique chairs that I customize for clients, I’ve got a pretty good system down. You have to know what to look for in a chair with regard to size. You also need to understand where to shop for them. And finally, you have to have a vision for what the chair can become. Let’s look at each of these individually.

Before buying, think about the size of the chairs. Many antique chairs sit very low to the ground, so be aware of the height of the seat if you have tall people in your family. A short chair won’t be comfortable in that case. If you need the chairs to work at a dining table, this is also something to consider. The chairs on the left below are a good example of stunning chairs, but definitely too short to work at a table.

Some seats from antique chairs are tiny like the ones in the middle picture below, so your oversized teenage son may not find it to be very comfortable (or even fit!). And some settees are too short lengthwise to work at a table because the arms can block you from getting in and out from the table…go for a larger settee and a round table to make it work better.

Next, you have to know where to shop for these chairs. Of course there’s always the flea markets, antique shops, and yard sales. But I prefer to shop online. Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are my two top places where I frequently search. I spend most of my time hunting through the antiques and furniture sections of Craigslist using search terms like antique chairs, French chairs, and Victorian chairs.

One of the absolute best places to find antiques are online auctions. I only search my local ones since I don’t want to pay to ship the chairs to me. If you live in the states, you can search liveauctioneers.com and find a local auction your area. Everything is online…the pictures, description, and the bidding. Check them out; you won’t be disappointed.

Finally, to get the best antique chairs, you need to be able to envision a chair’s potential. You have to look beyond the appearance and see what the chair could become if you made it over. Ignore the stained fabric and finish…you can totally transform the look just like I did with this chair below. It had pealing paint and stained fabric and I just stripped the finish off and used a blanket from the Middle East.

Know that you can always turn a so-so traditional chair into a showstopper, just like this set below. They weren’t bad, but merely outdated. The bolder you go with the fabric, the better the look!

You can turn any fuddy-duddy chair into something pretty spectacular. With the chairs below, I stripped down the mahogany finish and spiced them up with some Mexican textiles. How amazing are these?

You have to be willing to see beyond what is in front of your eyes. I do this by focusing on the shape of the chair, since that is the thing I can’t change. Do I love this shape? If the answer is yes, then I go for it! With a new finish and fabulous fabric, the sky is the limit.

By thinking about the size of the chairs you will know if they can work for your needs. Having a few good places you frequent online is a great way to score some great chairs. And having a vision for what the chairs can become is everything. It’s why I do upholstery…for the transformation.

Me in my workshop (photo credits Hector Sanchez)

If you also love the transformation and want to learn upholstery, get on my DIY Upholstery course waitlist. It’s the perfect course for beginners. I only open it a few times a year and by getting on the waitlist you’ll get the emails telling when it’s open. Click here to join!

Wendy Conklin

I'm Wendy Conklin, The Chair Stylist.

What brings me joy is helping others live more creatively. I design antique-inspired, boutique chairs, and I teach others how to do what I do. Check out my shop, services, and courses to bring more whimsy into your home and life!

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Styling Guide

Bring the Chair Whimsy aesthetic into your home with our styling guide!