These designers source and restore vintage furniture every single day – here are their top tips for shopping and reviving

Joe McGuier and Megan Prime – architects and co-founders of Brooklyn-based JAM and JAM Shop – share their best advice for finding, refurbishing and styling antique home goods

Three rooms featuring refurbished vintage furniture
(Image credit: Gieves Anderson / JAM)

Vintage furniture brings charm, class and character to any space, and there's a nearly endless supply on the market. But knowing where to find the best pieces, restoring them to their former glory, and styling them within your space are essential skills. Without careful consideration, a selection of vintage pieces can leave your home feeling museum-like, and an antique that's been neglected won't allow any room to reach its full potential.

Joe McGuier and Megan Prime of Brooklyn-based architecture and design studio, JAM, know their way around vintage furniture – they've built a career upon sourcing and restoring gorgeous antique pieces. Alongside their multidisciplinary firm, the pair of architects founded JAM Shop, an online storefront and brick-and-mortar studio in Brooklyn's Dumbo neighborhood. There, they embrace their passion for bringing life back to well-loved vintage goods, refurbishing and reupholstering unique finds.

Joe and Megan sat down with H&G to share their top tips for finding, restoring and styling vintage furniture – and developing an eye for antiques is simpler than you may think. Here's what the designers behind JAM had to say.

Joe and Megan's top tips for sourcing, restoring and styling vintage furniture

A room with a vintage leather chaise, a large wooden console table and a piece of abstract art

(Image credit: Gieves Anderson / JAM)

Joe and Megan scour stores and sales for unique antique goods often, so they know what to look for. But if shopping for vintage furniture isn't your day job, it can be hard to know where to start. Even when you have an idea of what you're looking for, the wide array of choices can be quite overwhelming. Joe says the key to the process is keeping an open mind.

'We often go on sourcing trips both for our projects and for JAM Shop – our very own destination for one-of-a-kind vintage furniture, lighting, decor, and art – so we’re always juggling both. When we’re on the hunt for our projects, we’ve always got specific pieces in mind, but are constantly surprised by amazing design finds and have totally reworked design schemes around unique pieces or art – serendipity is a huge part of the fun,' says Joe.

When sourcing furniture for the shop, there's a bit more room to experiment, so Joe says he goes with his gut. He usually ends up with a 'wide range of styles and pieces,' which then go back to the shop for a bit of TLC.

'Sourcing for vintage furniture is full of surprises and unknowns. We like to go in with an open mind, and we’re never disappointed!' he adds.

Two interior designers
Joe McGuier and Megan Prime

JAM, a full-service architecture and design studio based in Brooklyn, was founded in 2014 by architects Joe McGuier and Megan Prime. They also own JAM Shop, 'a destination for one-of-a-kind vintage furniture, lighting, decor and art.'

A leather swivel chair and ottoman

(Image credit: Gieves Anderson / JAM)

If you don't have loads of experience hunting down antiques yourself, Megan suggests starting by buying vintage furniture online. She points to sites like Chairish and 1stDibs, noting their wide selections from vendors worldwide.

'Instagram has also broken barriers for vintage lovers as a marketplace, and to highlight incredible design – once you start digging in on social media you realize just how much love for vintage is out there!' Megan adds.

For a more hands-on experience, she suggests exploring 'large, well-known fairs like Brimfield or Round Top, where tons of dealers from across the country are at your fingertips.' That way, you'll get the chance to absorb all there is to offer and learn a bit more about your personal design style.

'This is a great way to see, touch, and experience the quality and style of the various dealers and pieces from a range of periods. After you have a sense of what’s out there, you can start focusing on following specific dealers and/or styles that really speak to you, and reflect your own design sensibilities,' Megan says.

A dark blue velvet chair in front of an artistic painted room divider

(Image credit: Gieves Anderson / JAM)

Even when they're going in with an open mind, there are a few key features Joe and Megan keep their eyes out for when searching for the perfect vintage pieces. Megan says that truly one-of-a-kind pieces often come from lesser-known makers, and adds that studio-made pieces are usually high in quality.

'These tend to have incredible craftsmanship or special details that would not be possible with large-scale production runs. It’s easy to find the iconic pieces made by well-known designers, which we do buy, but we tend to gravitate toward undiscovered gems with incredible details and craft that deserve a spotlight,' she says.

No matter the source, keeping a critical eye is important when searching the market for antique goods, says Joe – especially if you're shopping online. He recommends being 'exacting in your assessment of a vintage piece' prior to buying.

'Lots of items can be photographed or photoshopped to highlight the best parts of each item while glossing over problem areas, but better dealers will be more forthcoming to indicate any areas of wear or damage,' Joe says.

A large wooden console table with a black leather chair and a large piece of abstract artwork hanging behind

(Image credit: Gieves Anderson / JAM)

When you've found a stunning piece you can't wait to take home, the next step is assessing whether or not that slightly worn-done armchair or table with a select few scratches could use a repair – there's a fine line between well-loved and damaged, after all. Joe says that at JAM, they love a natural patina, but sometimes there's no getting around the fact that 'a piece needs refinishing or repair.'

'For chairs and vintage sofas, we insist on sitting on the piece before buying it to make sure the joints feel solid and to truly assess the upholstery and underlying cushions. We love to find vintage pieces with original upholstery if it’s still in great condition, but with leather pieces, we prefer an amazing worn-in patina. But it needs to be just right, like a perfectly worn pair of sneakers,' says Joe.

With wood pieces, Joe suggests staying away from 'too much wear or sun fading,' but adds there's a way to address this damage as well. 'Occasionally we have the tops or the entire piece refinished by our amazing refinisher; we have him on speed dial at this point!' he adds.

A light wooden console and a vintage dining chair with light green cushions

(Image credit: Gieves Anderson / JAM)

After deciding that a vintage piece could use extra care, Megan says they assess which features of the item are 'already successful' while also taking note of the features that might need a bit of attention. While often a piece just needs to be cleaned, sometimes 'a complete overhaul is needed' she says. Though it's not the only way to restore antique goods, updates often consist of reupholstering worn-down furniture.

'With upholstered pieces, if the original fabric is beyond saving, we usually select a more modern fabric to freshen the piece. With a sculptural chair, we would lean towards a solid or textured fabric so that the shape of the piece is maintained as the focal point. If it’s a clean-lined chair or sofa frame we might look at using a fun modern print, possibly organic shapes, to offset the clean lines of the wood or metal frame,' says Megan.

For JAM, bringing vintage furniture back to life is about more than just the aesthetics. Reviving long-lasting goods is a surefire way to ensure your space is timeless and trend-proof, but it's also good for the planet, says Joe.

'Saving and reviving vintage and antique furniture is a great way to get heirloom-quality pieces that will last another lifetime. The strong old-growth woods and fabrication techniques that were used are generally unparalleled today. And the inherent sustainability that comes along with the re-use of these pieces is also a core value for us,' he adds.

A large leather armchair and ottoman in front of a light wooden console table and a large piece of artwork

(Image credit: Gieves Anderson / JAM)

The process of restoring a piece of antique furniture can be a bit intimidating, and sometimes it's best to turn to a professional, says Megan. Not only will you save yourself time and stress, but you'll be able to rest assured that the storied piece is in good hands.

'Restoration techniques can be employed by anyone who is willing but depending on the task at hand or tools needed a professional may be a better choice, especially if the project is complex or requires a set of tools that aren’t on hand. If the piece that’s being restored is of a certain caliber or known provenance it may be best to seek out a professional so that the piece is cared for properly,' she adds.

If you're interested in restoring these goods yourself, Megan suggests starting small with inexpensive pieces: 'There may be a good trial and error phase to get through before success is achieved. It’s not an exact science!'

A room with wooden paneled walls and two vintage stools in front of a framed piece of artwork

(Image credit: Gieves Anderson / JAM)

Taking your refreshed vintage pieces into your space can present a whole other set of worries – though transitional spaces are all the rage these days, getting the balance right can be tricky. But JAM has advice for decorating with vintage, too. To get an 'eclectic feel' in your space, Joe suggests blending different periods and styles, not sticking too rigidly to a set aesthetic. Otherwise, he looks for contrast in color, shape and texture.

'At a more basic level, we look for items that juxtapose the shape, color or texture of the piece we’re styling. For example, if a piece has sleek clean lines we’d place a sculptural pottery piece with a really textural glaze on top. If a piece is a strong color, like a rosewood credenza, we might look for soft neutrals or greenery to offset and balance the strong reddish wood tones,' says Joe.

A light-colored living room with a large window and vintage furniture

(Image credit: Gieves Anderson / JAM)

Megan says JAM currently has a set of pine dining chairs that they're obsessed with at the minute: 'We sourced them at the Paris Flea, and the maker is unknown, but they’re such an amazing brutalist alpine folk style, and they’re incredibly comfortable! It’s hard to find that combination, so we know these chairs will find the right home soon,' she says.

She adds that other recent finds include a Brazilian sofa and matching ottoman with 'original citron fabric and sage suede straps' – an 'unconventional but amazing combination.'

'I like being surprised by the inventive color and material combinations of previous decades – it’s really an amazing source of inspiration for our current designs as well,' says Megan.

JAM Shop offers a unique opportunity to admire a curated selection of restored antiques – no more sifting through dusty bins at the flea market, if it's not your cup of tea. Either way, Joe says the in-person experience of shopping for vintage goods is unbeatable.

'Vintage should be experienced in person. They are pieces to live with for a lifetime, so we really encourage everyone to come in and see, touch, and feel things in person  – it’s the best way to discover the unparalleled heirloom quality, craft, and details that keep us going out and hunting for more!' he says.

Vintage furniture is more accessible than ever. And with Joe and Megan's expert advice, you'll be well on your way to crafting a transitional space that'll truly last a lifetime.

Abby Wilson
Interior Design News Editor

I am an Interior Design News Editor at Homes & Gardens. Most recently, I worked with Better Homes & Gardens, where I wrote and edited content about home decor, gardening tips, food news, and more. Before that, I studied Journalism and English Literature at New York University. I’ve moved around quite a bit in the last several years, most recently making the trip to London, and love transforming each new space into a comfortable retreat that feels like home. When it comes to decor, I’m most drawn to unique vintage finds and calming colors.