Buying used furniture of fairly recent vintage -- say 45 years old or newer -- is different than investing in fine antiques. The furniture brand, or maker, is less important than quality, design, condition, and the final cost after any needed restoration. Despite that, some furniture brands are more likely than others to meet the criteria, especially the first two on the list. Here are six of the best furniture brands to buy used:
Stickley furniture fans seem almost cult-like in their enthusiasm, especially for the signature Mission styles. Some boast collections of hundreds of pieces, and many make pilgrimages to New York for factory tours and visits to the Stickley Museum. The company even has an official historian. Though Gustav Stickley remains the most famous of the Stickley furniture makers, the current company was founded by brothers Leopold and John George.
Stickley enthusiasm is understandable. The craftsmanship and designs remain true to the values of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Stickley pieces tend to appreciate in value. Because they're highly collectible, you will see Stickley forgeries in the used market. Avoid forgeries by keeping a copy of the legitimate Stickley shopmarks in your flea market tool kit.
Henkel Harris makes investment and heirloom-quality wood furniture. The pieces are well worth their hefty price tags. If you're lucky enough to find a used piece of Henkel Harris at a price that doesn't reflect appreciated value, grab it -- even if the price seems high for used furniture.
Exquisite hand carvings and lustrous finishes distinguish Henkel Harris from lesser furniture. If you find a piece with drawers, run your hand along the inside. That satiny-smooth feel comes from waxing the drawers to protect your delicate clothing.
You probably won't find Henkel Harris at a garage sale. If you do, you've found the garage sale equivalent of a winning lottery ticket. You may find it at higher-end consignment stores or at estate sales where there are no heirs -- or where the heirs don't realize what they have.
Century Furniture makes wood and upholstered furniture in styles ranging from classic to uber-modern. Century is fine quality furniture, and the designs tend toward the sublime. If you find a piece in good condition and you like it, don't hesitate to buy. Damaged pieces are worth the time and money to restore, as long as they're not missing inlay or impossible to match hardware.
Century upholstery frames are definitely worth reupholstering, though the labor cost can get high on complicated styles. In many cases, the shapes are so fantastic that it's worth the investment on even the complicated styles if you don't spend a fortune on the fabric.
Much like Century, Drexel Heritage makes high-quality furniture in a wide variety of styles. The wood pieces are well made and well designed. The proportions tend to be exceptional. Even their trendier pieces have a certain classic loveliness. Some of their 1960's occasional tables look like sculpture in profile, and remain just as sturdy today as when they were made.
Wood pieces and wood-framed, upholstered chairs are particularly good finds.
Though Ethan Allen remains known for their Early American and 18th-century reproductions, they also make cottage, country, and contemporary furniture styles. Though the pieces probably won't appreciate in value until they become antiques, and some won't even then, buying wood furniture made by Ethan Allen typically means buying furniture that will last a lifetime -- even when you buy it used.
Wood pieces from Durham are actually made of solid wood. Though solid-wood furniture presents design and construction challenges, Durham works it out pretty well -- and their construction is sound. The main advantage of solid wood when you buy used is the ability to thoroughly refinish, more than once if you wish. Even the finest veneered furniture only has one deep sanding in it before you risk ruining the piece.
If you're looking for used furniture you don't have to refinish, Durham's light and medium finishes have more depth and luster than the darker ones.