Vintage + Antique Items + What’s the Difference?

Many love to use old items in their decor, and this would definitely describe my style. I have been asked many times about vintage and antique items and what’s the difference? Let’s chat about what’s considered antique and what vintage refers to.

mantle with demijohns
beadboard ceiling and hutch

How Old to be Vintage?

Many antique dealers would agree that in order to be considered vintage items need to be at least 40-50 years old. The term vintage is sometimes tossed around a lot and used more as a reference to a vibe as well as an age. Especially when discussing clothing. No one ever says ‘antique clothing’, as you normally hear the term ‘vintage clothing’ a lot more. People tend to actually wear vintage clothing, where I would see the fashions of antique pieces better for decor or displayed in a museum.

In the home decor trends world, we use the word vintage many times over without mentioning a piece’s actual age. Vintage as a description is more than an age, it’s a vibe. But true vintage does have an age and when that needs to be remembered, it is a definitive distinction.

quilts considered vintage

What is Vintage Age Versus Antique?

Now that we know what vintage means, let’s talk about the word antique. The difference between vintage and antique is, again, about the age. Antique is much older. Antique means something is more than 100 years old. Does that mean it is automatically worth more? Not necessarily. Furniture that is considered genuinely antique is still subject to its value and condition.

Consider vintage cars, for example. Not every old car is a keeper. Some may be ready for the junk pile. But those that are restored, are highly sought after and have high collectible values, are expensive and worth it. Furniture is similar. True antiques will always hold their value when cared for, but just because it’s old doesn’t mean it holds a high value.

vintage vs antique

Collecting Vintage Items

My true self wants to tell you to collect what you love! Just because something is popular doesn’t mean you should start collecting it. That’s usually the time that I STOP collecting, because prices usually go up dramatically.

Back when I began collecting milk glass in about 1979, I could find pieces for a dime or a quarter anywhere. Then in the early 90s, Martha Stewart featured milk glass on the cover of her magazine, milk glass became in fashion, and prices dramatically skyrocketed! What I could once get for a dime was now $8 a piece. Thanks a lot Martha! And the prices have continued to rise over the years.

breadboard considered vintage

I still buy milk glass occasionally but am very picky about the style and price. I remember ‘splurging’ on a large bread board from France back in 2002 at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, where my purchase was $45. Now you couldn’t touch those for under $200, and the size I have (which is quite large) would probably be a lot more.

So I would always suggest to buy what you LOVE and would USE. Generally speaking, that will create a look that is a bit more classic and stands the test of time.

shelves added for cabinet makeover

Buying From Different Antique Periods

Buying antique and vintage items can be the main thing that really sets your personal style in decor. I tend to favor a much more eclectic look, so I’m definitely not a purist when it comes to style or period of vintage pieces. Again, always buy what you love, what speaks to you, what brings you fond memories and your look will always be authentically you!

Feel free to mix Art Deco with mid century modern. Even a victorian antique can work with a bit of boho, it’s all about the scale and vibe. One main antique item coupled with vintage furniture of a more retro style creates a space that is unique to those that live there. Try different things, mix and match, and even mimic styles you love from a room you’ve seen on Pinterest. The more you work at it, the sooner you will create that fresh style that is completely yours.

over decorating is okay

What are Considered Retro Items?

Speaking of retro, what is considered retro vintage? That would be items that aren’t necessarily old but made to pick up that vibe of a vintage item. Popular retro items can range from clothing to accessories to a piece of furniture, with everything in between.

Current reproductions can mimic the look from a certain period. If you are looking to create the look of vintage but with more modern sensibilities of function, then retro goods give the vibe of the past with function of the future. Don’t get hung up on a set age when buying a retro item, focus more on the feeling you want the room to have. Your own past will lead you to the specific era that speaks to you.

retro goods

Just What Vintage Goods Should I Buy?

For me the list is long! But these are my favorite vintage items I am always looking for:

vintage art – I prefer original oils or water colors

paint gingham

quilts – the difference between vintage and antique in this category will always affect the price. So will the condition. Consider the smell too. I have been to many estate sales that I would not purchase a quilt from due to the house conditions, yuck!

example of collections from the past

glassware and dishes – this is two categories you do want to consider how they will be used. If you are only using for decor, then buy whatever strikes your fancy. If you want to actually eat off of them, stick to those considered vintage and not antique.

wood items – wood is always about the patina and the older it gets, generally speaking, the better the patina. Many vintage items such as bowls, boards, boxes, and frames are super useful and will add a depth to your decor.

clothing – if you can wear it and rock that vibe, go for it! Clothing can also be easily cleaned, so no worries for a vintage item.

Vintage Items to Love But to Carefully Consider

These items are common favorites, but best to know where they have been. Also vintage vs old is a consideration. Proceed cautiously or have them throughly cleaned:

rugs – I love me a good vintage rug, and I don’t even mind the wear. But before incorporating them into my home, I take them straight to a local rug cleaner. They really are not that expensive to clean (less than $100 for a fairly large rug) unless you are dealing with a legit antique and an item that is silk.

pillows – a good feather pillow is almost the definition of vintage, but I have nightmares about bugs and stuff. It is easy to carefully open a seam, remove the filling, and replace with a fresh insert. The pillow cover can be hand washed at this time as well.

vintage vs old

piece of furniture with upholstery – in the age of bed bugs and such, I’d rather not bring any home with me. If the exact origin of antique furniture is not known, I would remove the upholstery and filling and wait until I can reupholster it. If you have someone who can do this for you, take it right to their shop. Frankly, and old fashioned piece of furniture looks much more modern with updated fabric and new upholstery.

Classic Vintage Items

Whatever you decide to look for, whether it is considered vintage, retro, or antique, buy what speaks to your soul. Vintage items that create your classic look will not be out of style when the next vintage trend comes along. I have had many vintage goods for 3-4 decades and they still feel timeless, even if they aren’t currently collectible.

As far as furniture goes, don’t feel bad about wanting to make a vintage piece yours. Many old items that aren’t worth much are commonly confused with antiques that should never be painted. If you aren’t sure if your furniture is considered vintage or from antique periods that have produced true antiques that should never be painted, have an expert look at it.

demijohn blass and basket

Honor the Past

When we had a shop with tons of vintage furniture, I cannot tell you how many times someone exclaimed that their grandmother would kill them if they painted her dresser. But if grandma has passed, you can honor her better by loving her piece, making it yours, and using it everyday.

If grandpa’s antique desk has seen better days, and isn’t museum quality, paint or stain it and allow it to live out and proud. You will think of him each time you sit at it. That won’t happen if you are only hoarding it in the basement. I want to honor those I love by using items that were theirs.

vintage photo of my parents

In the recent past, I gifted my son my dad’s antique desk accessories. He is his namesake after all, and the only grandson who could be his twin. Although they are Art Deco style and maybe wouldn’t be the vintage antique he would buy for himself, he loves them more because of who they came from.

Incorporating items that are considered vintage or antique into your home is rewarding in so many ways. Whether it be a collectible you love (such as art) or useful items like quilts or baskets, vintage will add a layer to your home decor like nothing else. For tips on collecting vintage, check out this post.


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