/ Home & Energy, Shopping

Does brand new always beat second-hand?

Two old chairs

Apparently, brand new furniture sales are going out of fashion in UK homes, with more of us turning to second-hand sources. So is the reclaimed, retro look your thing or do you prefer to buy new?

Are you sick of the words ‘the age of austerity’ yet? It definitely seems to be the phrase of the year so far, and one I’m already getting a bit bored of hearing bandied about.

But then it popped up in a little press release about how ‘millions of homeowners are looking to embrace the age of austerity by furnishing their property with second-hand furniture, electronics, white goods and other household items’ and I perked up a bit.

It’s not that I’m pleased that everyone has to (apparently) tighten their belts this year, or that I don’t get excited when I get a shiny new gadget. But I am keen on mixing old with new, and finding beauty in things with age.

Older products that still live

And I’m not alone. Our deputy head of home research, Ali Eastwood, recently sang the praises of older products, like a 58 year-old fridge that’s still working perfectly.

‘I’ve worked in product testing at Which? for nearly 10 years and, while I’m always excited to find out about new home products being released, the romantic in me loves to hear about these valiant old workhorses still in regular service,’ she enthused in a previous Conversation.

And your positive responses came flooding in – from Beehive03’s 43-year-old Kenwood Chef to Stigw’s 1984 Philips microwave, both of which are in daily use and ‘still going strong’.

Reuse and re-love

So there may be some truth in Santander’s research, which suggests that more than one in four home furnishings are now purchased second-hand, borrowed or handed down. They reckon only 58% of homeowners now choose to buy their living room furniture brand new.

One look around my house confirms this – much of our furniture has been found from old skips, Freecycle, charity shops and vintage fairs. And I have to say, all these places had rich pickings up until a few years ago, but it does require some serious dedication to get ‘a find’ nowadays.

While I’m sad that more people are getting to the best stuff first, I’m equally glad that older items are regaining their value, being reused and being loved. If this is the age of austerity then bring it on.


Like my 50+ year old vac and 26 year old washer, both mentioned on the previous conversation that you refer to in the Intro, Hannah, older products are certainly made to last.

It depends what you want. My partner has recently bought a new house and has fully furnished throughout with Art Deco originals that he’s bought for a song and most items are in immaculate showroom condition after 80 years of previous ownership.

But Art Deco is not to everyone’s taste and nor are other styles from the time when furniture was made to last.

Personally I don’t much care for most, but by no means all, modern styles so I am happy with furniture that has been passed down the family, but I do like some modern things and if you can afford the higher prices you can still buy decent quality.

The greater difficulty, I would suggest, is for people who want modern quality but cant afford it.

And from a “green” angle I am all for re-using items with life left in them where ever it is safe to do so.

I guess the other consideration is whether you are a “fashion victim” (I don’t mean that unkindly at all, I am sometimes a fashion victim too!) – if you want to always have th latest styles, you can’t really afford to pay the premium for the higher quality I don’t think.

I checked my house and it is a mish mash of styles old and new. The furniture ranges from 200 year old tables and other antiques to a modern office chair. However much of the rest was built by me as I like fitted custom furniture and have a very comprehensive work shop.

White goods are bought new – because I choose them for their new facilities – which you can’t do easily second-hand. But the vast majority have never gone wrong – so many are 25 to 50 years old. The only item that has needed regular replacement is the electric kettle – say every 5 years..Only the fridge went wrong after 30 years – and washing machine breaking down after 10 years.

Electronics goods such as TVs are bought new normally to update them – several of the old ones still work but are the large box design – so are relegated to the spare bedrooms.. Most of my PC’s I built myself (still working) except the laptops, Even my music centre is over 25 years old and working perfectly – except it doesn’t play vinyls – it never did.

I buy for function not looks, .

I *love* old furniture, as I think it’s a bit more personal than the usual bulk-made things. When I lived in shared rented flats there seemed to be a ‘rented flat’ Ikea pack that included all the same furniture. It was pretty sturdy and good value, but depressing to see your friends’ homes furnished in exactly the same way as yours.

Now I collect random bits and pieces of antiques/junk/whatever you want to call it. My favourite bit of furniture is a fitted bookshelf/sideboard thing (it’s so original it doesn’t even have a name) that my Dad made from mahogany science benches. They were going to be thrown in the tip, but they look awesome in my lounge. If you look closely you can still see the students’ graffiti.

Interesting – a lot of the wood for my furniture came from old school furniture when my school had a make-over. In fact I cleared the old damage furniture store out. The wood was delightful – superb hardwoods from teak and mahogany to oak – even some pear.

Jacqueline Pye says:
11 January 2011

Buy new, except for occasional antique pieces. Makes no sense, this, not buying anything which is just slightly or fairly old. But that’s how it is.

Been a long time since I last had the money to buy furniture, but when I did I got some really interesting pieces from down the road at the second-hand/house clearance store. Nice to be able to haggle as well.

On a related note, this Christmas I did something I’ve not done for years and wrote out a Christmas list of books I’d love to recieve, more than I could be it made it easier for people to buy gifts. Only thing I asked from everyone was that they only bought them second-hand, either through Amazon or ebay or the like. Meant I’ve now got a pile of vastly over-priced texts to get through, all that cost a pennyworth compared to their RRP.

And there’s nothing better than turning a page and seeing someone else’s view hastily scribbled down in the margins 🙂