As a designer, I have an occupational hazard.
Perfectly good furniture items on mass-market sites like Wayfair, West Elm or CB2 is not good enough for me. Since a few years ago, I have gotten into a vintage mid-century modern and post-modern aesthetic and couldn’t turn back.
The problem is, most of the items that are “good enough” for me are either no longer in production or extremely expensive.
After all, I am looking for unique, designer items — without a designer budget.
What’s the solution? I turned to Facebook Marketplace, a venue that I once thought was the bargain hunter’s playground for things like a 10-dollar crockpot.
My first experience with Facebook Marketplace happened back in New Jersey, where I sold my first home before moving across the country to California. I was in a rush to get things out so I priced items very competitively. I was anticipating having to wait at least a few weeks for items to be sold.
Little did I know that every last item was picked up by buyers within 48 hours — a full one-bedroom apartment of furniture and decor items, gone.
Needless to say, I was impressed, but I thought this had to be a fluke.
When I moved to LA during the pandemic, my real estate agent from Beverly Hills mentioned that she had been enjoying furniture shopping on Facebook Marketplace, which surprised me. I couldn’t understand why someone from a wealthy neighborhood like Beverly Hills would be interested in cheap crap from the Internet.
In the meantime, as I evolved in my design career, I decided to put my growing passion for interior design and furniture into action — I started working on designing my own line of furniture and fully immersed myself into the world of midcentury modern.
Soon enough, I was no longer able to find anything interesting on major retailer’s sites. The more I read about the history of furniture, architecture and interior design, the more I found myself gravitate towards an aesthetic that isn’t available in “mainstream” stores.
I started to realize I could only find them available in extremely expensive high-end furniture stores, which is out of my budget and most likely, out of most people’s budgets.
One day, I decided to check out Facebook Marketplace again and stumbled upon a whole new world.
The Quality and Variety of Facebook Marketplace Items Varies Greatly By Location
In the LA market, there is an abundance of unique-looking vintage furniture being listed on Facebook Marketplace every day. Even though I did run into certain weeks of “dry spell” without seeing many interesting items, in general, at least a few great items will appear every week.
In contrast, the Facebook Marketplace around the smaller city area in New Jersey where I used to live was much different. Most items are bargain hunts and rarely anything unique. This was also confirmed by friends who live outside of major metropolitan areas.
From my extensive scrolling through different locations, I found the following Facebook Marketplace patterns that may be relevant to unique vintage hunters:
- If you live near New York, LA or a major metropolitan area, there will always be something interesting to look forward to on Facebook Marketplace. Keep looking and curate your feed by entering keywords such as “vintage” “MCM” “mid century modern” “post modern” etc., if you are also interested in these styles of design like I do.
- In general, I found that the California market has a great variety of unique items even outside of Los Angeles. In fact, you will most certainly score better deals if you are willing to go outside of LA to other areas to pick up furniture. For example, I scored 2 great items for much less than they would have been sold in LA that were located in a vintage shop in San Diego.
3. Certain vintage dealers from areas outside of major metropolitan areas will offer bi-weekly or monthly “delivery trips” to big cities. I have encountered many dealers who offer delivery to customers located in major cities for a reasonable fee because they are able to gather several sold items together to justify the trip.
4. Some vintage dealers will sell nationwide or even worldwide and list their items on Facebook Marketplace outside of their location in attempts to attract more customers outside of their smaller regions. For example, I have seen many dealers from Florida or Texas that list their items available for LA, with mentions that they can be delivered nationwide. It is usually not worth the cost because delivery fees can be the same as the cost of the furniture or even more, but if you see an item that is absolutely unique and you cannot find it anywhere else, you may consider this an option.
From my experience, it’s rarely worth it. For example, I was hunting for a Jack Haywood Cobra Floor Lamp that I couldn’t find anywhere but from a vintage shop in Florida. However, the price was already high even without considering delivery fees. I decided to wait on it. A few weeks later, I found the same lamp being sold via auction in a nearby city and scored it for much less — more on that later.
How to Score Quality Vintage, Affordable Items from Facebook, Every Time
After discovering the “brave new world” of Facebook Marketplace for vintage modern furniture sourcing, I worked hard for a month to furnish my entire new apartment in LA. Through this process, I learned a few lessons that may come in handy for someone who are looking to do the same.
- If you see something you like — I mean really, really like — and the price is within your acceptable range, you will need to make a decision within 5–10 minutes or less. Unique items sell very, very fast. I messaged a seller within 15 minutes of him posting a bar table and chair set. Imagine you waited a few hours — it would have been gone.
2. If you see something you are mildly interested in, save it to your list and come back to it later. From experience, half of these items will no longer look that great to you. If you are putting an item to the “save list”, know that it may be gone before you have time to revisit it and that you have to be okay with that.
3. If you see a good amount of positive reviews for the seller, it should be okay to pay them to hold the item. There is still a degree of risks paying someone for an item sight unseen, but in a competitive market and especially if you cannot drive to the pickup destination immediately, this is a way to make sure no one else gets your item before you. The bottom line is — take calculated risks based on your research. In my case, I have paid most sellers sight unseen and never had a problem, but I always recommend doing your own due diligence and know your risks. Remember that Facebook does not provide any protection for private transactions.
No Car? Use This Service for Delivery
It may sound crazy to live in LA without a car, but many still do it successfully. I do plan on getting a car at some point, but in the meantime as a self-employed individual working from home most of the time, I enjoy the occasional Uber rides as well as utilizing the bus system, walking and biking when I do need to go out.
Without a car, local furniture shopping seems like an impossible task — but it doesn’t have to be.
On Facebook Marketplace, there is a button to arrange local delivery. There are a few companies that provide this kind of service but the one that I used with the most success is called Dolly.
The fee isn’t exactly cheap, but it is not exorbitant, either. Compared to their competitor Lugg, Dolly provides a set quoted price as soon as you enter your pickup and delivery information, which keeps you in the know of what you are paying for exactly. Due to the unpredictability of waiting time and local traffic, I personally felt uneasy about the “labor per minute” model on Lugg.
If you are using this type of delivery service, make sure you get the phone number and address information from the seller as soon as possible because the delivery drivers will need that.
Depending on where you live, this company may not be available to you. If you live in a smaller area, research other companies that may offer local furniture delivery or you will have to call up a friend for the pickup.
One thing to note is — even if you do drive, sometimes you will be buying items that are very bulky or too long to fit into your car. Delivery service will save you from a lot of hassle trying to figure out logistics.
Etsy Is A Solid Option If You Curate Your Feed
In between my Facebook hunts, I occasionally had good luck on Etsy. Many sellers on Facebook also sell on Etsy and Instagram — so never stop at just one platform!
Many years ago, when I first started using Etsy, I was quite disappointed. The items appeared on the feed didn’t seem interesting to me, but when I revisited it years later after a long hiatus, I started to realize the more items I browse that are close to my style, the more items in that style I see. This is true for most platforms that rely on algorithms.
Know your keywords and start searching for them on Etsy. You will start to see your feed being curated towards your taste very quickly.
Most items on Etsy are from all over the world. In the case of mid century modern, many great items come from shops based in Europe. This means that it makes more sense to source smaller items that can be shipped via air courier rather than large and bulky items unless the shop address says it is located in your area, in which case you can arrange a free local pickup.
Auction Is An Overlooked and Sometimes Affordable Avenue
Weeks into my new Facebook Marketplace scavenger hunt, I encountered my first “dry spell”.
All of a sudden, I was not seeing anything I liked.
As I later learned, this is totally normal. Not every day and every week will be filled with tons of things I find appealing. The best strategy is to keep looking every day and remain patient.
When the mind starts to drift, it sometimes discovers new things.
That’s when I stumbled upon auction — more specifically from a website called Live Auctioneers.
I have never thought of auction as something I would participate in. Movies and TV shows misled many of us to believe that auctions are only for the mega rich who have the resources to bid off art work for millions of dollars.
I was thrilled to learn that it’s not always the case. On Live Auctioneers, I researched items with keywords I’m interested in — primarily famous mid century designers whose styles I admire, such as Karl Springers, Milo Baughman, Charles and Ray Eames, Raymond Loewy, and found that some vintage items from these designers were auctioned off for quite affordable prices.
I quickly proceeded to register for an account and started to roam around the auction world. It wasn’t without trial and error until I found out how exactly to win an auction. Here are a few things I learned:
- In the first couple of days, I was hitting brick walls left and right. When I registered for auctions, I set up alarms to wake up early to attend the live auction as it says that attending the live one improves our chances of winning the item. Once I bid on an item, I realized something seemed to be off. Some items I bid on were sold to other bidders at exactly the price I thought I entered 1 second before the lot ended! Being on the West Coast, I was also frustrated by the fact that I had to wake up at 7am and wait hours online for my item’s turn to be auctioned just to be outbid by a mysterious party with the same price I entered.
- After some research, I learned that I had been going about it the wrong way. It turns out that the auction system is more advanced than I had imagined — bidders can enter a bid in advance of the live auction with the maximum amount they can afford to pay. However, they will not always have to pay the price they entered if during live auction, nobody else bid close to that price. For example, let’s say a person’s maximum price is $500. If the highest bidder puts in only $350 at the live auction before time runs out, then this bidder will still lose to the $500 bid that they did not know about. On the other hand, the person who bid $500 before the live auction will have won the item, but only need to pay $350 because that was the final price that the other bidder stopped at during live auction. This was probably what happened to me a couple of times — an advance bidder exceeded my price but the system will only show my final price, which will then become that person’s final price.
- To summarize, if you want to save money and time and still have a good chance of winning an item at auction, simply make up your mind about the maximum price you are willing to pay for an item, put in the bid before the auction and wait for the results. As they say — set it and forget it. There is no need to always attend the live auction and wait for hours. Remember, you will have to pay your maximum bid if a live bidder comes very close to your bid, which is risk you should be prepared to take. Only bid what you can afford.
- They do have an app to help you do live bidding anywhere, any time. I have read some reviews complaining that the app isn’t in sync with the live bidding process and that resulted in the person missing their items. I’m not sure if it’s true, or if the person made the same mistake as I did not knowing that even if it appears that someone else had the same bid and they won, it could be that they bid higher in the advance bid and not the fault of the app or the system.
- There are 2 additional types of fees you need to calculate before setting your highest bid price. One is called “buyer’s premium” and the other is shipping. Buyer’s premium is usually between 25% to 30% of your final bid price, which is the auction house’s commission. This can increase your final paid price pretty quickly especially if your item is not cheap. Another consideration is shipping fee, which is not included — make sure you check out where the auction house is actually located. Once, I bid on a chair that I really liked and won it at a relatively good price, only to realize that shipping itself cost half of the price of the item. Try to bid on auctions near your area so you can arrange affordable local delivery or pick up yourself, unless that item is so rare you are willing to pay a premium for shipping.
Estate and Yard Sales Can Work, But Good Items Are Hard To Come By
I’ve long heard about how some people score amazing deals and find hidden treasures from estate sales. The problem is — where are these “estates”? Do we have to know celebrities and the ultra, mega wealthy to score a “deal” when they move?
It turns out there are a few websites dedicated to this type of sales. One is estatesales.org, where people can find all kinds of estate sales.
What surprised me was the fact that not all of the sales on these sites are in fact “estate” sales. Some of them are actually just moving sales from regular residence. They don’t necessarily all come from big mansions.
I proceeded to subscribe to their newsletters.
After a few weeks of scrolling through available items announced by newsletters daily, I have come to the conclusion that great, unique items are hard to come by the vast majority of the time.
Most items, even from big estate sales from actual mansions, are mediocre at best — at least for mid-century collectors like myself. If you are looking for something more along the lines of art or antique style furniture that is more traditional-looking, you may find a bigger inventory than I do.
Another quirk is, some estate sales would not have photos. All that is available is the description, the date, time and address of the sale. Use your imaginations! For someone like me, I would most likely skip because if there aren’t items that I know I’d be interested in, it would be a waste of time to make the trip.
Shop Locally, Especially in Palm Springs
One of the last channels I sourced my vintage furniture is through random local picks. Being in Southern California affords me with the luxury of making a trip to the mid-century modern heaven of Palm Springs whenever I want.
The abundance of mid-century modern design is one of the reasons that drew me to California, despite its many other shortcomings. I started attending the Palm Springs Modernism Week twice a year, when ultra exclusive and luxury mid-century estates are open for public tour. There is also the Palm Springs Vintage Market that is open the first Sunday of every month that I usually find great items in.
Shopping locally through flea markets, vintage shows and perhaps making a trip to mid-century hot spots like Palm Springs require us to be without expectation and enjoy the random discoveries that may just surprise us.
Hire Local Crafts People to Custom Make Your Dream Furniture, In Some Cases
Another rarely-attempted avenue is hiring local makers to custom make furniture you want — with some very big caveats I learned in the process.
When I was furnishing my previous apartment, I wanted a tiled table — the kind that were blowing up interior design feeds on Instagram, which was simultaneously ridiculed by my mother who thought it was the ugliest thing she’s ever seen.
There was just one problem, the shops that were selling them charge well over 5-figures, which is way beyond my budget.
Since it’s such a simple design, I thought I could try to ask a local crafts person to replicate it. A quick search on Google Business yielded a few results. I proceed to hire a craftsman who charged only $200 for the job. He was brand new to the trade and still practicing. I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect but with the extremely affordable price, I decided to take a chance on him.
The result turned out to be fine — there were things that are rough around the edges, such as some grouts turned out bigger than others, but all in all, I achieved what I needed with much less money than I would have had to pay for trendy IG shops.
Not all furniture can be easily custom made affordably — otherwise everyone would be doing it. As I started to design my own furniture line, I learned about the immense complexity of manufacturing and logistics, which is story for another day.
The kind of furniture that can be custom made easily include any item that has just a few straight lines, not too many components and without curves. Most furniture with curves will likely need large industrial CNC machines, which independent crafts people don’t have access to.
Next time you are trying to source unique items that may be out of reach for you, make a judgment on how easy the design can be carried out by independent crafts people. If it contains simple parts and lines, you may just scoop up an incredible deal by commissioning it yourself.
Of course, not all independent crafts people are affordable — in fact, most do charge a premium for their custom service. But if you identify someone who is relatively new to the trade and looking to build up a client list, you may be able to negotiate a reasonable price.
Keep Discovering Instagram Shops
Despite my love/hate relationship with Instagram, it is a great place to discover new design and now, shop unique design directly from independent merchants.
Some of the smaller items in my apartment come from Instagram shops from all over the world — acquired when I was casually browsing and not looking for anything in particular.
For example, I discovered a small Instagram shop based in Spain that does these incredibly unique and beautiful vases in the same of a heart. They are reasonably-priced and the shipping was really fast, which exceeded my expectation.
In another occasion, I discovered a really beautiful duo color wavy vase from a shop based in Amsterdam, which I also gladly purchased for a reasonable price.
There are many, many more incredibly unique pieces that we can source from all over the world, with the tap of a button from Instagram.
The Gap In the Market Inspired Me to Design My Own Furniture Line
My journey of sourcing and collecting unique furniture and home decor items inspired me to start designing my own furniture, despite my lack of a background in industrial design or interior design.
Having been a designer in the digital world, I was growing out of the virtual world where things are only temporary. No matter how great a website or an app is, it will be replaced by an updated version sooner or later. While I still love my digital and graphic design crafts, I started to develop more enthusiasm for the design of physical objects, which can be passed down from generations.
Through my painstaking search for affordable and unique items, I learned that there is a gap in the market — there is simply not a lot of unique home furnishing items that are “within reach” but also design-forward.
Coming from an urban environment where living space is often limited, I saw a need for more multi-functional furniture that can be doubled or even tripled used as different items.
That is when Bezier Home was born, my new furniture brand launching this summer. We are still in pre-launch and pending the filing of design patents, which is why the site is password protected, but below is a sneak peak of my design.
The first collection consists of three items — 1) a vanity table with 2 levels of storage, a built-in, collapsible mirror that uses a specialized material that is virtually unbreakable, and extremely low assembly design which requires only 6 screws to put it together. The table, when closed, can easily be converted to an elegant writing/computer desk or used as an entryway console. 2) A half-moon shaped coffee table with ample hidden storage and a tray that can be lifted up for easy cleaning. 3) A extendable display shelf that can be positioned horizontally or vertically and convertible to a writing desk when positioned horizontally.
After two years in the work, with a myriad of manufacturing and logistical mishaps, I’m excited for a new chapter of my career beginning, along with my growing design education business.
As I reflect on my experimentation on entrepreneurship in the past two years, one thing stood out to me — being relentless resourceful when things aren’t readily available and dare to create your own when you can’t find what you need.