I’ve long been skittish about buying vintage stuff online. But my taste has been skewing more antiques-y over the years, and lots of older furniture is built better than the stuff you can get at a reasonable price point these days. So I’ve been slightly emboldened lately.
I read tips from savvy bloggers like Emily Henderson and Jenny Komenda, and I see loads of curated collections on sites like Chairish and One King’s Lane. I feel like I’ve done my homework. But it’s not enough, people. It’s never enough.
I’m picky, you know? I’m a former software tester. I’m an online dating coach now. I’m paid to notice the little details other people aren’t bothered by. I often see new products online that look great, but prove disappointing in person. (This is so often the case with Target furniture—little stuff like side tables are fine, but anything you need to sit on or open/close doors/drawers on is worthless.)
So buying a vintage chandelier online was kind of terrifying. But it had to be done! Grant and I have been trying to agree on a new lighting fixture basically since the day we bought our house in 2011. Nothing that we both like was ever in a reasonable budget.
When I spotted this mid-century gem on One King’s Lane for $200-ish, I fretted and dithered, tried to buy it and couldn’t because it was on hold, and eventually managed to snap it up. (I actually researched the brand, Laurel, and saw loads of Laurel Lighting pieces for thousands of bucks on 1st Dibs. So I figured if it didn’t work out in person I could always resell it.)
Looks fine, right? Clean and modern and masculine and a little space-agey and mid-century, but not so aggressively so that it feels like it needs a home full of Eames chairs and those retro offset legs I hate so much. Unique but not in-your-face spiky-Sputnik weird. And while the fixture is brass, it’s a soft, brushed brass that fits in with our 1946 home’s hardware without clashing with the adjacent stainless-steel-filled kitchen.
I went out of my way to create contingency plans. I asked One King’s Lane what would happen if the fixture arrived broken, and whether I would in fact be stuck with a no-refunds purchase in that instance. (They said no, though I imagine it’s a real bitch to sort out after the fact.)
I even emailed One King’s Lane for more details about the fixture, since the listing didn’t tell me what size bulbs it took, nor did it show me the top of the fixture (thought it said it was “plug in”). One King’s Lane reached out to their vintage vendor, who took several days to reply, and all they said was that it took “standard” bulbs and clarified that it had no canopy. They also sent this photo, which I guess was somewhat helpful, maybe? I felt better seeing another shot.
When I actually unboxed the thing and put it together (amazed that it arrived in one piece), I discovered that “standard” 60-watt sized bulbs don’t fit under the glass shades. This is *exactly* the kind of shit I emailed about, you know? ;) But 40-watt bulbs with the same “standard” (Type E26) base type fit just fine, so that’s OK.
(However, it *is* harder to find LED bulbs in that size, but I’ve done it before so I know I can do it again, even if I don’t have as much choice regarding LED color temperature at that not-that-standard size. Fine. I’m picky, but I can live with that, even though I still think “standard bulbs” would have been an insufficient/misleading reply for some customers out there. Google a fucking bulb type like I did, ya know?)
The thing is a little less pristine than I’d hope (pardon the cat, who insisted on being in the shot)—two of the legs are wobbly but I can’t figure out where there’s any hardware to tighten them, so I’m not sure if that will annoy us or need tweaking once it’s in place.
The whole thing is covered in a slightly sticky residue on all the metal and wood veneer parts, which is fine, probably, but kinda ew. You couldn’t clean it *before* selling it?
The glass shades have some minor damage/dark gray marks that are not visible in either of the pictures, but they’re subtle enough for me, even with the chips around the top which are more visible in person. The shades are more frosted and less opaque white, but OK. All in all, I think I still like the thing.
The brass chain (not shown to me super well in either pic) is unlacquered, whereas the brass on the actual fixture and most of its pole appears to have a lacquer finish that has protected it from aging. I actually *prefer* the natural patina of unlacquered brass, but it’s kind of annoying that it isn’t consistent, you know? And that that part of the equation really wasn’t clear before making this non-refundable purchase.
I’ll sort it out—I have to buy a canopy anyway, and the gal on Etsy who’s selling me mine gave me the option of buying an untreated brass one and she even said she’d burnish it a bit on her end to get the aging process going. I can look up tutorials and do some weird science experiments to alchemize it into a color that hopefully matches both areas well enough. That actually sounds fun. :)
The quirks, in the end, are acceptable to me. Especially since Grant and I have learned over the years that lighting fixtures are really hard, as evidenced by my overly exhaustive Pinterest lighting board—I dislike “boring” fixtures, Grant often dislikes “interesting” ones, and the only ones we agree on are super weird and like a thousand dollars. So this mid-century Laurel thing is a winner, warts and all.
I’m excited to get my canopy and get this sucker installed—getting this new fixture is the domino that set a bunch of other home improvement projects into motion. Yippee/goodbye money.
But I thought the buying experience kind of sucked, you know? And I just don’t think I’ll be comfortable buying anything again that’s “expensive” vintage if I can’t see it in person. No eBay rugs or Chairish sconces or 1st Dibs furniture (like I could afford it anyway).
Case in point:
The other vintage piece I had my eye on from One King’s Lane is this ridiculously cool-seeming pair of Milo Baughman swivel chairs that are bafflingly well priced. We really need chairs that have a small footprint and low back, swivel to face the TV or the rest of the room as context demands, and are comfy enough for our giant bodies to sit and relax in. And ideally, you know, look amazing and coordinate with our existing stuff and don’t cost a ton.
Here’s how much help I got (same One King’s Lane form response as with the chandelier; emphasis mine:)
I have contacted the vendor and requested more information about the Milo Baughman Swivel Chairs, Pair. I will contact you as soon as I hear back from them, but it may take more than one business day. Please keep in mind that our sales typically last 72 hours and quantities are limited.
We want you to love every purchase you make at One Kings Lane. Unfortunately we are unable to cancel orders or accept returns on nonreturnable items.
I get that their hands are kind of tied here. I get that vintage reselling is hard. But that policy just feels like I can’t ever buy anything that needs to be sat in or messed with or tested, you know?
The chairs I have in mind are listed as being brown, but they look sort of red-orange to me. Red-orange we kind of like; it matches our rug. Brown we don’t; it doesn’t. A swatch would be amazing, but I’d settle for being told the fabric name and manufacturer so I can track down my own swatch (which takes time).
They’re listed as having all new upholstery, but it doesn’t specify if the foam/springs/etc. was also replaced or just the fabric. A chair with new foam/padding is probably comfy. A chair with 1960s foam and janky old springs probably isn’t.
The site lists their overall dimensions, but it doesn’t list the height, width, or depth of the seats, nor the heights of the armrests. We of House Roberts are giants, with tall bodies and wide asses. Dimensions matter a lot for us.
My first email about these chairs was March 27th. I don’t expect a reply that fully satisfies my every picky question within a time frame that would allow me to purchase these chairs, which I’m not sure I’d be comfortable doing sight unseen/ass unsat even if all the answers pleased me. Sigh.
I can’t shake the feeling that I’m the weirdo here. It sort of feels like how I held off on depositing checks with my phone until just a few months ago. Is buying old/nonreturnable stuff online just something everyone else is comfortable doing, and I’m the old-school brick-and-mortar holdout here? Or is it only fancy design bloggers who feel comfortable taking these retail risks?
If you care a lot about interior design, would you buy that perfect vintage piece online if you couldn’t inspect it in person, knowing it wasn’t returnable? Under what circumstances? Humor me! :)