You may well have something stuffed away in your garage, basement or under your bed that’s worth good money as someone else’s home decor. If not on your turf, there are probably multiple items at your parents’ or grandparents’ house.
Spend a few minutes on HGTV or Pinterest and you’ll see that old is in. Wooden tennis rackets, metal fans, Mason jars of marbles, Viewmasters and plank-doors-turned-tables adorn gorgeous homes and hip restaurants.
Thousands of interior decorators buy these things on home decor sites such as Chairish.com or AptDeco.com as well as eBay. Architectural salvage stores are also a big source. Individuals can sell one or hundreds of items on these sites. Local salvage stores are always buying in person as well.
How Much Can You Get Selling Old Stuff for Vintage Home Decor?
Based on interviews with salvage sellers and online home decor sites, here’s what you might fetch for some of your old “junk.”
- Avocado green 1960s Corningware: $75 apiece
- Wooden ladder: $20 to $40
- 1980s push-button phone: $50
- Metal galvanized washtub: $20
- 1970s wooden tennis racket: $60
- Wooden crates: $5 to $50
- 1970s Smith Corona electric typewriter: $250
- Two feet of green plank fencing: $10
- Seven vintage books in the same hue: $100
Decor opens up new opportunities to sell things you think nobody wants. A slightly rusted outboard motor isn’t going to sell at a marina, but a salvage store owner with interior decorators as customers wants it. The motor will sell because of its look mounted on the wall of a beach house, not to power a boat.
Another example: Designers and decorators care more about color than content. A copy of “Reader’s Digest Condensed Books” goes for about $6 on Abebooks.com, a leading seller of used books. But a group of seven vintage books, including several copies of “Reader’s Digest Condensed Books” in an array of shades of blue, sells for more than $125 on Chairish.com.
Vintage Decor Is in Demand
“I think over the years it’s become a bit of a trend to create different spaces and clever spaces,” said Richard Hughes, chief creative officer with Clear ph Design in St. Petersburg, Florida. “I think the more we’ve seen social media come into play, the more outlandish people get with their ideas.”
His company creates digital marketing, develops brands and consults on interior design for commercial spaces.
Clear ph helped create the look for Salt Shack on the Bay, a waterfront seafood restaurant in Tampa.
“We had to find things like old crab traps, old shipping cleats and ropes,” Hughes said.
The proliferation of home decor TV shows has made vintage decor more of a mainstream trend. It’s not just decorators and designers who envision old stuff as fabulous accents and decor.
“I can always tell when something’s been on TV because all of the sudden everyone wants a funky door for their pantry or suddenly everyone wants a fireplace surround even if they don’t have a fireplace. These shows help drive creativity,” said Larry Schiller, owner of Schiller’s Architectural & Design Salvage in Tampa.
It’s not just the desire to be unique that drives vintage home decor; stories and sustainability are important, too.
“Designers are looking for pieces that start conversations, like ‘Where did you get that?’ or ‘That piece must have quite a history behind it,’ “ said Jesse White, owner of Sarasota Architectural Salvage.
Like Schiller’s, he sells mostly architectural salvage such as doors, windows, fireplace surrounds, lighting and lumber.
Here’s How to Start Selling Your Old Stuff for Home Decor
While there are a lot of home decor sites and brick-and-mortar stores, not all of them let individuals sell their own items. Here are some options that welcome outside sellers.
Selling Old Stuff to an Architectural Salvage Warehouse
Start by finding an architectural salvage store in your area. Most cities have at least one. While they focus on structural pieces such as bay windows or columns, they also want those unique items that become decor.
Find the architectural salvage outlet in your area, and check the website to find out if and when it is buying from the public. Then check out photos on sites across the country to get an idea of what they buy and sell.
In-person sales to a salvage store owner can sometimes offer more possibilities than posting things online. As you load your car with an old metal tricycle and a box of pool balls, you notice some old picket fencing in the rafters of your parents’ garage. Take it along and see if you can get $5 or $10 for it. That’s not worth the time and money to post online and ship, but if you are in person and already selling other more popular items, you likely can get rid of less trendy stuff, too.
The warehouse has to make profit on its purchases when it sells your stuff to customers, so it may pay less than a site such as Chairish.com. However, it’s usually cash on the spot without the hassle of posting, shipping and paying a cut to the site.
Sell Vintage Items Online
Here are three of the best options for selling that 1980s push-button phone or your grandmother’s wooden bowl that’s shaped like a pineapple.
Chairish.com offers cool pieces from furniture to vintage postcards. The company approves and touches up each listing you submit and handles payment and shipping. It charges an average of 30% of the sale price. Potential buyers can also offer less than the asking price so there is room for negotiating if your items don’t sell in the time frame you’d like.
AptDeco.com operates in the Northeast and San Francisco Bay area. Sellers can list items at no charge on AptDeco.com and the website takes 15% to 38% of the sale price. It handles the posting, payment processing and advertising. Sellers can allow purchasers to pick up their items or coordinate with AptDeco to make the delivery. The seller can offer to pay none, some or all of the delivery cost.
The site lists mostly furniture but also has categories for vintage decor.
If you list fewer than 250 items a month, there’s no fee to post an item on eBay. The online retailer keeps an average of 12.9% of the sale price and 30 cents per order.
“We definitely look on eBay sometimes,” said Hughes, with Clear ph Design. Many of the same things sold on Chairish.com are also available on eBay.
Beware that designers are often willing to pay more on Chairish.com than bargain shoppers looking for deals on eBay. A push-button telephone was recently listed on Chairish.com for $85, while a similar one on eBay cost $30. The asking price for a 1970s Chris Evert endorsed wooden tennis racket was $85 on Chairish.com and $17 on eBay.
But remember Chairish.com takes a bigger cut of your sale.
Katherine Snow Smith is a reporter and editor living between St. Petersburg, Florida, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She’s the author of “Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker: Missteps & Lessons Learned.”