the online thrifter

How to Shop for Furniture on Instagram

A pair of Ettore Sottsass for Knoll chairs. Photo: Home Union

Business is booming for the city’s vintage-store owners and amateur thrifters who are using their Instagram accounts to sell secondhand housewares. We spoke to both shopkeepers and buyers (who are busier — and more exhausted — than ever) on how to navigate these unwieldy new virtual flea markets.

First, there are two kinds of Instagram furniture accounts: Those run by brick-and-mortar vintage stores that have their own showrooms and e-commerce websites and those run by individuals whose businesses live on Instagram only and whose wares are sold from their homes or storage units. In both cases, sellers post photos of their items for sale on Instagram and often caption the picture with information about dimensions, the designer of the piece, and pricing.

DM to buy. Send a direct message to the seller saying you want it. How you’ll pay for the item depends on whom you’re buying from: If it’s from an independent seller, you can expect to use PayPal or Venmo, whereas a more established store may take your credit-card info on its website or over the phone.

The brick-and-mortar accounts tend to have more range. The Dobbin St. Vintage Co-op, for one, has almost 70,000 followers and is as likely to have a pleasantly austere marble coffee table ($375) as it is a nearly six-foot decorative pencil ($225). Home Union has 152,000 followers, and while it is most popular for its colorful Memphis-esque pieces (like a pair of avocado-green Ettore Sottsass for Knoll chairs, $500 each), it also stocks a wide variety of mid-century, Danish, and post-modern — recently, a 1960s Laurel mushroom lamp ($550). Lichen, a store with two locations in Bushwick, carries modernist pieces, like a Poltronova Stringa sofa. Lower East Side furniture shop Coming Soon tends to have a healthy collection of burl and chrome pieces (right now, a lacquered sideboard à la Milo Baughman). Humble House, which is followed by costume designer Miyako Bellizzi and candle artist Janie Korn (and stocks a varied mix — warm cane pieces alongside a “Wes Anderson–esque” kelly-green cabinet, $1,800), and the Somerset House, which was founded by designer Alan Eckstein (currently for sale: a $1,900 Art Deco shearling chair and a pair of $1,485 cowhide-upholstered ottomans), both opened in 2020 and have become quick favorites.

But the online-only shops are good for specifics. For instance, if you want a chair, designer Onea Engel-Bradley recommends Places & Spaces (@placesandspacesny). “They recently had a vintage Knoll Risom side chair I just missed,” she says.

For a couch, Rose-romaine, owner of home-goods store @shopmeroon, suggests @re.newfinds. The sofas, she says, are “reasonably priced” (she currently has her eye on a blush-pink leather love seat going for $350).

For lamps, home decorator Carrie Carrollo likes @carpenter.studio: “A gorgeous ecru Michael Taylor–style twist lamp that was served to me on my IG Explore page was in my home a week later,” she says. (Others recently sold include a pair of Max Blumberg Urn lamps, some tall tessellated plaster lamps, and a Memphis-style lamp with squiggly brass legs).

For all things pastel, Jennifer Simons, owner of the homewares store @snugdepot, turns to @ninefrtn, an online shop run by Jonathan Coney — it is, she says, the place to look for “postmodern pieces from Miami” (including a pink laminate étagère she bought recently).

And if folk is more your style, Engel-Bradley suggests @southroadantiques, which stocks things like a framed felted hopscotch game and — recently — a hand-painted decorative miniature blimp.

Ask to see the item photographed indoors. “A lot of Instagram sellers photograph their pieces outside because it makes it look nicer,” says Alison Abrams of midtown’s Furnish Green. “One color outside is going to look totally different in your apartment with two lamps on either side of the room.” Also be sure to ask about any damage or stains.

But if it’s a pink velvet sofa, you may not have time. Pieces for sale on Instagram often sell just minutes — if not seconds — after they’re posted, so prepare to be nimble once you get a notification. “Blue, green, or pink velvet sofas are something you have to jump on, and the competition for marble coffee tables and cane Cesca chairs is always quite fierce,” says the Dobbin St. Vintage Co-op’s Courtney Wagner. “If it’s something you’ve been dreaming of, take the leap of faith and buy it sight unseen.”

Make a plan for getting it home. Most shops expect that you’ll handle the pickup. Eckstein uses C.C. Rental (the day rate for a cargo van is $99; a pickup truck, $199). If you want to hire someone to do the schlepping for you, try uShip: Simons, as well as Chickee’s Vintage owner Kathleen Sorbara and Rosemary Home owner Rosemary Blanch, all use the site, on which you create a listing for the item you want to move, and carriers bid to do your job. You can then pick the mover based on their offer and past reviews. Or just use Uber: “I’ll send an Uber to get the lamp, then the lamp will travel back to me — it works really well, and no driver ever complains, because a lamp is a great passenger,” says Eckstein.

*A version of this article appears in the February 1, 2021, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

How to Shop for Furniture on Instagram