Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Saving Upholstered Furniture

Many of our sales include upholstered furniture. Many times, that upholstery is outdated, worn, dirty or ugly. But that doesn’t mean you should take a pass on the furniture. If the frame of the chair or sofa is solid and the mechanisms like the rocker platform or reclining arms all work, the piece is probably worth salvaging. New upholstery and stuffing will give new life to these pieces adding value and comfort for you!
Sad, ugly upholstery!
For example, I have 2 La-z-boy swivel rockers that I call “Ladies chairs”. They are smaller than a typical recliner or oversized side chair and they have a short skirt that hides the platform rocker. A friend gave them to me about 15 years ago and they were covered in dingy velour fabric. It was the original upholstery and they were probably 10 years old at that time. But they felt so good when I sat in them and I knew they were good chairs so I lugged them home and promptly proceeded to use them as they were “for the time being”. LOL…till I decided what fabric to have them recovered in…
Cut to 2006…I happened on an unbelievable sale on upholstery fabric, really, really crazy prices! I bought quite a bit (ok, a LOT) and pretty much redid every chair in the house and made new curtains for every window including shower curtains (and closet curtains for a couple of small closets!). And I STILL have some of the fabric left! One thing I did do that made this all possible is I made sure all the fabric I bought coordinated with each other. Same colors, different patterns and shades. That way, I have been able to mix and match things and even change things out (like curtains) without having to do major remodeling. Anyway, I had those two rockers recovered and they look brand new even today. I get compliments on them every time someone sits in them and I love that they don’t overpower the room due to their small size.

Ok, I know your real question is how much to reupholster them. Kind of a lot, relatively speaking. If I remember correctly, it was about $400 per chair, including tax. That was using my fabric. So yes, it is costly but if you will allow me to, I think I can show you why it is still better than buying a new chair. 
1. Many of the chair styles that are sold at estate sales are out of production. I know the little rockers I have are no longer available. They have a similar chair but it is not as feminine as the ones I have, it is more sleek and modern. So if you are looking for certain styles, estate sales may be the only place to find them.
2. A new chair, similar style, in a solid color fabric retails for $759. Add the tax and delivery fee and you are well over $800. Buy a chair at an estate sale for $100, spend $200 on fabric and $400 on labor and you are $100 ahead. AND you have a custom chair! You don’t have to pick from the limited fabric choices the manufacturer has available, you can shop and find exactly what you want. And I quoted $40 to $50 per yard and 4 to 5 yards per chair. If you find some on sale, you could save even more.
3. Pieces you find at estate sales are perfect to practice on if you want to learn to upholster your own furniture. You can also learn to sew slipcovers for these pieces. You Tube and Instructables both have lots of video tutorials. While you’re at the estate sale looking for a chair or sofa to cover, pick up some vintage sheets and use them to practice with. That way, you don’t ruin expensive fabric while learning.  

4. Buying a chair at an estate sale for as little as $40 sometimes, then buying the fabric when it’s on sale and finally taking it to the upholstery shop allows you to pay as you go. You don’t have to come up with one big payment all at once, nor do you have to finance something that you might wind up paying for long after its useful life. This brings up my next point…
5. Some furniture today is not made as well as older furniture. When you find solid wood pieces and heavy duty springs and rockers that is almost always a sign of quality. These pieces will generally last much longer than a piece with particle board construction and/or aluminum mechanisms.
6. Finally, you get a totally custom piece of furniture when you go this route. Fabric choices are practically unlimited, you can find fabric to match paint or carpet or dishes or your eyes! You don’t have to take brown, tan or blue. So what if the furniture stores are all full of heavy velours and tweeds in dark fall colors, you’re free to go find some hot pink linen or bright orange canvas if that is what you want!

I hope you will consider used furniture the next time you need something. The thrill of the hunt for the perfect piece is all the more exciting when you get to make all the decisions instead of settling for whatever the retail stores say is in fashion right now. It’s just another way you can make your home reflect your personality and style. Most of all, it is a way to make sure that when you spend your hard earned cash it is going for something that you love! Don’t settle for something you think is ok, hold out for that vision you have in your head. All it takes is a little patience and some shopping.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Pricing Items for an Estate Sale

I’m sure some of you who come to our sales wonder how we arrive at our prices so I want to try to answer that question. The truth is, pricing is the trickiest part of what we do. Many factors are considered, things like condition, rarity, brand, and demand, among others. The most important factor is knowing what the market will bear and that’s where hiring an expert will benefit you the most.
I’ll start at the beginning: the condition of an item is almost always going to matter when determining the price. That doesn’t necessarily mean it has to work, it means it has to be in saleable condition. For example, a old treadle type Singer sewing machine in a wooden cabinet…if it has good paint on the machine, the wood is polished and not buckling, and the iron legs are black and not rusted (for indoor use) then it doesn’t much matter whether the machine works or not in terms of what we will charge. Most people who buy these don’t want to sew with them; they are using them as a d├ęcor piece. So in this instance, condition means appearance.  

Ok, moving on to rarity. This can be difficult to navigate also because being rare doesn’t necessarily mean valuable. An example of what I mean can be explained using soda pop bottles. Coca-Cola items are highly collectible but small regional soda pop brands not so much. So even though the small unknown brand might be rare in terms of sheer numbers available, it doesn’t mean they are valuable.
The brand of an item also helps to determine its price. For example, a vintage Singer sewing machine is worth more than a vintage Kenmore, a Coca-Cola sign is worth more than a Faygo sign and a Fiesta bowl is worth more than a Pyrex bowl. These are easy examples; most people are familiar with Singer, Coke and Fiesta…but what about Pfaff, Griswold and Texas Ware? If you’re not familiar with them you could make a serious error in pricing and leave money on the table by selling them too cheaply. For the record, Pfaff is a German company that makes high end sewing machines, Griswold was one of the preeminent manufacturers of fine cast iron cookware and Texas Ware bowls are highly collectible with prices that are generally higher than Pyrex but not as expensive as Fiesta.  
Finally, demand and knowing what the market will bear is probably the part of the pricing equation that makes hiring an expert a no brainer. Someone familiar with estate sales, garage sales, flea markets and antique stores will immediately know whether the armoire that you think is worth $1200 is sellable at that price in this area. We do this full time and are very aware of area prices, trends and supply. If you have ever watched one of the many television shows that show pickers, storage hunters, or antique appraisers then you know that prices around the country vary greatly. Furniture in the northeast sells for a lot more than it does here but I bet a good Magnalite pot brings a better price here than in New York City! Also, if you watch those shows, you may mistakenly believe that $400 for a medium size porcelain sign is what you should get for it. That $400 price is a retail price. Retail prices include the wholesale cost, the expense of getting it to the store, the expenses of having a retail operation (rent, salaries, advertising, etc.) and some profit. The price at an estate sale is going to be closer to $100-$150. The reason is two fold; the goal of an estate sale is to get rid of as much stuff as possible and to make the most money possible. Although those two things might seem to contradict each other, we have successfully joined them and do both to the best of our abilities! And in answer to any doubters, yes, you could hang on to said sign, advertise it on Craigslist, in the paper, and you would probably eventually sell it for more than $100 but considerably less than $400. But that is oftentimes a lot more hassle than most people have the time or energy for. Who has months to devote to selling off an entire household bit by bit? (Not to mention the desire!?)

I hope this has enlightened you some on pricing and helped you to understand exactly how important it is to have things priced correctly. I went to an estate sale last year that a family member of the deceased had done. It was beautiful! The house looked great, it wasn’t too crowded and there were some very nice things for sale. And everything was priced WAY too high! Not just a little on some things, crazy high on everything. People were walking through in 10 minutes and leaving! I asked the lady conducting the sale if she was negotiating on prices or if she was going to mark them down the next day and she said, “No, the prices are fair and if you are familiar with quality you will know that!” I smiled and thanked her and kept my thoughts to myself. But I was THINKING that yes, that cherry dining room table and chairs is Ethan Allen and it is in great shape, so if someone wanted an Ethan Allen cherry dining table and chairs, then $1500 was probably an ok price. Retail is probably around $3500 to $4000…the problem is there is no demand. Today’s families don’t do formal dining rooms with Early American furniture. You can sell a bar height table and stools that came from a big box store for more money than you can get for that cherry table and chairs. I know most people don’t want to hear that but it’s the truth and knowing that, is what makes us good at what we do!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Nippon Porcelain


Green and Purple NipponI have a sale coming up that includes an amazing collection of Nippon Porcelain.  The pieces are all museum quality and I doubt you’ll see a collection this extensive outside of a museum!  I’m doing lots of research because I want to make sure I know as much as possible about these rare beauties and I thought some of you might be as interested as I am to learn more about them. 

When we use the general term “Nippon porcelain” it refers to vases, bowls, plates, etc. that have the word Nippon stamped on them.  Nippon is the English spelling of a Japanese word  that means Japan.  In 1891, the McKinley Tariff Act said that all goods imported into the United States had to be marked “plainly in English” with their country of origin.  Then in 1921, U.S. Customs declared the word Nippon was actually a Japanese word so goods were then marked Japan.  So, that means these vases are over or near 100 years old.  And that is the least amazing thing about them!  Nippon mark

At that period in time, Japanese taste was very different from American and even English preferences.  The Japanese preferred a very minimal, spartan look while Americans were heavily influenced by Victorian trends and loved ornate, over the top decorations.  So the Japanese painted these objects for export and used several different techniques to achieve the sought after finish Americans loved.  One of these techniques is called Coralene.  This is an extremely labor intensive process.  First the object is painted with a thick enamel paint, then tiny glass beads are pressed into the paint and the object is fired again to make them a permanent part of the piece. Pink Roses Nippon Top The beads were often gold, white, opalescent or clear and would sometimes melt into the decoration.  Some think because this process resembles natural coral that the name comes from that.  Wares produced after 1921 would imitate the Coralene process by using paint instead of glass beads to build up a design. Yellow Rose Nippon TopAnother process they used is called moriage.  They used clay slip instead of glass beads to achieve a similar look. 

I think these pieces are works of art and hope you enjoyed learning about them as much as I did!  If you are in or near Lake Charles, Louisiana the 31st of July, please come see these incredible objects.  We’d love to have you!  Here are a few more pictures and you can see all of the collection next week on our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/southernestatesales

Yellow Rose NipponPink Roses NipponBlue Nippon Bowl

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I love small things: little trinkets that I find, tiny treasures that make me smile.  When I find them, I keep them and I like to be able to see them.  So I use jars!  I have jars all over my house.  

I keep everything from soap to Japanese porcelain to dice to tiny knives in them.  They are on display in a neat fashion, they stay clean inside the glass and I get great pops of color in every room they are in!  Here are some of my favorites.

What do you keep in jars?  I'd love to know!