It's an exciting time to shop antiques.

August 8, 2023

Whether you’re a collector or a new devotee, there’s a renewed energy in the industry and an explosion of interest as online auction shopping gives all the convenience of mass-produced decor without the environmental impact. The benefits of decorating with antiques are almost endless. They bring presence, even grandeur, while reflecting your style. There’s an endless amount of availability, (no wait times).

Whether you’re looking to throw in a hero antique for a vavoom effect, or to mix smaller pieces with contemporary furniture – here’s how to get started shopping for antiques, and master the deal-packed marketplace.


Auctions are often a middle-ground between high-end antique retailers and more mass market stores. Thanks to sites like LiveAuctioneers and Invaluable, which partner with auction houses around the world, you can access hundreds of sales any hour of the day. Such sales can be rich hunting grounds for vintage and antique furnishings, from majolica plates to well-made 19th-century French farmhouse tables and midcentury pieces that sell for three times the price on designer retail sites like 1stDibs and Chairish. Online auctions, such as Lawsons, are the cheapest and easiest, way of buying antiques – with pictures and descriptions of items posted before each timed sale.

You need to tap into your own sense of style. Vintage French bistro table and chairs are set with antique majolica and vintage champagne bucket at Melissa Penfold’s country house. Photo; Abbie Melle


To begin, you need to tap into your own sense of style and develop a keen eye, which will help you find your next exciting investment piece. Before sales, auction houses post catalogues with photographs, brief descriptions and an estimated market value of each item. Browsing them can be entertaining and educational. Watch for patterns emerging.

Find what gets you excited about living with, and buy the best quality you can.

The rise of curated auction sales has made antique online shopping more appealing to a wider range of buyers. For antique newcomers, check out in-person auctions to examine items in person and ask questions. This will build your confidence in knowing how to ask for condition reports and evaluating pieces.Entry-level furniture for antique lovers still finding their feet should include simple pieces, such as side tables with one or no drawers. It allows you to rely on whether it is “a wonderful oak colour”, rather than more technical knowledge.

A French provincial-style rush sofa like the one featured in her country house would go for around $1800 at auction. Photo: Abbie Melle


Do your homework. If you’re not sure of your taste, start learning. Browse auction catalogues to educate your eye and see what it’s all about. Learn to recognise good lines, perfect proportions and great patina. Study up to decide which category types you should buy vintage or antique – older pieces are more likely to feature traditional joinery techniques, better woods and less glue.  Even when you’re broke, it keeps your eye in shape. Look for hero pieces that will take a room from whatever to wow.

Buy antiques as sculpture. See it as building a collection. Opt for a mix of beautiful pieces rather than a single style. Research archive auctions for how similar items of interest are priced or have.


Design trends constantly change, and prices will reflect this. At the moment, dark wood furniture – mahogany and oak – is out of fashion, which is a good thing because it means you can pick up beautiful Georgian and Regency antiques for a bargain.  Seek out great-value chests of drawers, sofa tables, dining chairs, secretaries, and side tables – mostly English – very reasonably.

Make the most of the opportunity as they’ll be back in style soon. Clocks are a good buy right now. Timepieces such as stately, Empire-style gilt bronze designs offer a great return, and depending on the size, they can easily be moved from room to room. Think of them like a piece of jewellery for your interiors.

Vintage Louis XV and XVI reproductions of 18th French pieces, (particularly armchairs, sofas, and commodes) are another great option for collectors looking to begin investing in accessible items. You get quality at good prices. Vintage European paintings can also be a bargain, particularly when you consider the value of the framing.

Auctions are a great source of one-off candelabra finds and antique marble-top tables that add interest to rooms. Melissa Penfold’s Australian country house, photo by Abbie Melle.


Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’ve got to hang on forever to something you’ve bought. You can always trade up.  Whether you are buying for love or return, the fundamental thing is to collect things that work with your way of life.


Recognise love at first sight. Sometimes you’ll spot something. If it’s true love, and not just infatuation, and it fits your requirements exactly, do not delay. Make it your own. Nothing is worse than thinking about a beautiful antique mirror or ravishing French Louis XV armchair, you loved and lost. You’ll remember it more than the ones that didn’t get away. In addition to providing an investment, they are one-of-a-kind buys that contribute to the overall look and feel of your home.

If you know in your bones something is right, grab it. It won’t be there tomorrow. Don’t be afraid to make your purchases personal. Better to hang your clothes on rails, and eat off planks laid on trestles, until you find “the one”. Oh and never shop with an agenda. You find the best things when you’re not looking.


Right now, there is a huge appetite for opulent Baroque-era pieces from ornate oversized gilt mirrors to crystal candelabras and mammoth urns on plinths, that each feel like a work of art in themselves. Even the most modern of homes will benefit from bringing in these 18th-century items to create a one-of-a-kind design.

An 18th-century commode pairs with a 19th-century French rococo style mirror at Melissa Penfold’s country house. Photo: Abbie Melle.


The great thing about collecting is that you can do it for very little money. If you’re looking for vetted antiques, try sites like Lawsons, Australia’s biggest and oldest auctioneer.  My daughter Isabella Walker-Smith decorated her entire three-bedroom flat in 10 days, scouring Lawsons’ sales. Just go for what catches your eye. You’ll also get the most for your money by shopping within your own country – as shipping costs can be absolutely eye-watering.


You can give something a new lease of life with contemporary upholstery or adding a new lamp shade – but if a piece of furniture is structurally damaged, steer clear. Don’t be put off by slightly sticking drawers. Don’t worry about small surface cracking at the back of a chest of drawers, but avoid buying anything with one leg sticking out at an odd angle. Don’t reject a piece with small, dark circular woodworm holes: new holes will be light in colour, with sawdusty edges. Don’t be put off by a few stains on a piece – much better that than a shiny, over-restored look. Do ask for a condition report. Do your homework – vetted and curated antiques auctions are your friend. Enjoy the glorious patina of the timber on your new acquisition – and do use the word “timber” – dealers never call it wood.

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