We have all seen wrought iron patio furniture and many of us have fallen in love with the look. Whether the furniture is new or whether we select vintage wrought iron patio furniture for our special area, the look is often formal and all too often a little uncomfortable. That’s not to say that all wrought iron outdoor furniture is for looks only. Some of the newer styles are quite comfortable. Add a few cushions and the patio is ready to welcome family and friends.
Vintage Wrought Iron Patio Furniture
When we think of vintage patio furniture, we most often think in terms of wrought iron or wicker. Both have long histories. Finding a good selection of antique wrought iron patio furniture usually requires nothing more than a trip to a used furniture store or an antique mall during the early spring. Another good place to visit is the local auction. Most towns now have auction houses that sell everything from high end antiques to vintage collectibles and all the way down the spectrum to junk.
The Pros of Shopping for Vintage Wrought Iron Outdoor Furniture
- The older furniture is usually a little heavier than the newer.
- Quite often the designs are far more elegant and the patterns are more defined.
- Prices are often negotiable which means some outdoor sets can be purchased at a deep discount.
The Cons of Vintage Wrought Iron
- The entire setting may not be available
- There may not be a choice of colors or finishes
- There may be hidden stress fractures that will cause the piece to break easily when moved.
I still shop for the vintage wrought iron patio furniture because I have only had a few pieces break over the years. It can be quite frustrating but find a good welder and the piece can be repaired. Ordinarily, when a piece breaks, such as a leg breaking off the piece I chalk it up to experience and trash it. Of course, as I said a good welder can do the repairs.
About the colors — well, let’s face it, if it is wrought iron furniture or wood furniture or wicker furniture and it has some age on it, chances are it has been painted and more than once. This is nothing to be afraid of. Most of the time I use a little sand paper to smooth out any surfaces that have cracked paint or nicks.
If there is an excess of paint coats that has diminished the pattern I have taken the pieces to a sand blaster. Be sure to check them out before taking the pieces. A good sandblaster can knock off the excess paint without scarring the wrought iron. BUT, not just anyone can do this.
(If you buy or begin buying vintage furniture for the outdoors or indoors, you will soon learn from experience and references where to get the work done.)
Eaxample 1: What were they thinking when they picked this color?
I’m guessing this table and chair set is from the late 1950’s or 1960’s. The picture was taken at a home that is trying to sell off the furniture before putting the home on the market. I had to snap this picture because it is obvious that the owner painted the wrought iron to match the plastic covered back cushion that is visible beneath the table, resting on the chair seats. Personally, I don’t know which is worse — the plastic cushion or the color of the wrought iron.
As a stand alone vintage wrought iron table and chair set I would probably not purchase this set. There is nothing about it that really distinguishes it. Even with a good paint job, the set seems “thin” to me. But, the fact is the set is on the truck right now. I haven’t unloaded it because it is headed to my shop for a cleaning and painting.
Why did I buy it? Well, I bought several other pieces that are shown below. The estate sale people seemed a little desperate to get rid of the set and I had a little room left on one of my trucks. I paid $25.00 for the table, four chairs and the glass top.
Will I use it on my patio? Absolutely not! The style is not to my liking. As I said, it is a little too thin and without a good design. It will make a great table for someone, just not me.
What will I do with the set? I will clean it, paint it, and sell if for $150.00. Whoever buys it will be overjoyed to purchase a sturdy wrought iron patio set “at a steal”. Of course, it will be black when they buy it. And the $150.00 will cover the cost of all the vintage wrought iron furniture I purchased at the estate sale.
Example 2: To Buy or Not to Buy? A Small Stress Break
This is an example of what to look for when shopping for vintage wrought iron patio furniture. Note that the foot pad on the left is missing. This is an example of the typical small break that occurs with older wrought iron. There are any number of ways this could have happened.
Most of us think that wrought iron is as sturdy and as solid as anything in the world. This isn’t quite true. It is heavy and the newer pieces are usually pretty solid. But, with age stress fractures become more common. Just be aware that older wrought iron, in particular, should always be lifted when moving it. Sliding older pieces, even across a grass yard can cause a break.
The decision to buy or not to buy this piece would be a matter of personal preference. If you can live with the missing piece or if you have someone to repair it, negotiate for a better than good price.
Personally, I opted out. Although I loved the design of the set, there were problems that showed up beyond the foot. Chances are if the other piece had not been visible I would have taken this chaise lounge.
Example 3: Check What is Around the Piece You Are Looking At
Okay, so this isn’t real wrought iron, but it is a heavy metal that is the accessory piece of the chaise lounge and the sofa (broken foot in Example 2). Note the rusted through area. If the accessory pieces shown extreme wear and tear, walk away. If the lighter weight pieces are totally worn out, the heavier pieces are pretty well on the way to wearing out.
Again, experience will become your best guide when buying vintage wrought iron patio furniture. Just look carefully at every inch of the piece or pieces. Do not be afraid to take your time. If the seller tries to rush you, walk away.
Example 4: The Prize! Elegant Style in a Solid Selection of Antique Wrought Iron Furniture
What makes this chair so special? First of all, the condition is excellent for an old wrought iron piece of outdoor furniture. There are no stress breaks that are visible. Although the style and the weight of this selection indicate its age, it has been painted so many times that there is little — very little rust on the surface of the iron.
It is easy to see this piece has been painted white more times than I can count. And, it is easy to see that the paint is ready to chip off. In fact, if you look carefully you can see where I flicked a small portion of the paint from the wrought iron, just using a fingernail.
Also, there is much more detail than is noticeable at first because of the thick paint.
Besides all the quality points of the chair. It is one of a pair! What a buy! The size is perfect to fit on either side of my front door in front of the side panels. Perfect fit! (By the way, if you are shopping for vintage or antique anything, know your space measurements. You never know what you will find.)
Closing Comments on Buying Vintage Wrought Iron or Any Other Vintage Patio Furniture
Thanks to my friend Miranda who writes “Home Furniture and Furnishings” who helped with this article and who went shopping with me to find the pieces and take the pictures.
Over the years I have learned from Miranda and a few other friends that try as we might when shopping for vintage goods, we are going to get burned on price and quality from time to time. It is a part of the learning process. When bidding on an item at auction do not worry if you do not win the item at the price you bid. There is always another piece that will catch your eye.
Decide if you are buying the vintage piece for value alone or for personal use. Patina, even on patio furniture, has its value. If you are purchasing a piece to use daily, the patina may not have much value to you. So, decide if you want to keep the piece “as is” or if you want to “restore” it. Again, this depends on the purpose of the purchase.
Unless you are buying from a museum, do not pay museum or full price for an antique. There is old stuff and there are antiques. You are buying “old stuff” even if it is old enough to be an antique. Pay accordingly. Do not be afraid to negotiate. If the seller had a valuable antique he would not be selling in at the local estate sale or auction.
Buy what you like. Unless you are in the resale business, buy only what you like. It makes no difference if the piece is old or new if you like it and it suits your needs on your patio.
And…. by all means, enjoy the shopping experience!