Classic Car

Everything bought for the home, like furniture, rugs, lighting and artwork can be placed on some form of a timeline and affixed with labels like contemporary, antique, vintage or retro. An item’s age is not a key determinant of its value because other variables must be taken into consideration, such as condition, quality and demand. The age of an item is evaluated not only in terms of its actual date of origin but also in the context of contemporary fashions and social and economic trends. 

Not everything for sale has a certified date of origin. Sometimes, we have to rely on the claims placed by the seller. A quick scan of Craigslist or eBay reveals that terms such as “antique” and “vintage” are often used interchangeably. Some use the term “antique” for almost anything that belonged to grandma.

The term “vintage” is often used by sellers to indicate something that is too old to be considered used, but not as old as our grandparents. “Retro” to a seller might mean something is outdated and out of style. By calling an item “retro”, a seller hopes to place sentimental or historical value on something that is no longer cool. These are what sellers want us to think – but the official definitions are more nuanced. 

An antique has to be a minimum of 100 years old. If an item is not definitively datable to 100 or more years, it cannot be referred to as antique, unless it is a car – then, 25 years classifies it as antique. 

Denoting an item as vintage is trickier. The term can be used for an item that was produced from a certain period, as in vintage 1950s. Still, it can also mean that it exhibits the best of certain qualities associated with that specific era. In other words, vintage items should be somewhat recognizable to the era in which they were made. The term “vintage” should not be used for objects less than 20 years old.

The term “retro” means “reviving,” or made in the styles and fashions of the past: fashionably nostalgic or old-fashioned. Retro furniture may not be old, but it references styles of the recent past. “Retro” can also mean something that is not old but is old enough to be more than just something made new from last year. 

Today’s retro items convey thoughts of mid-century modern style furniture such as Heywood Wakefield or the many reproductions in today’s market. Vintage items conjure up images of faded, lacey fabrics in beige or off-white that adorned dresser tops and backs of chairs.

Your current car may be an antique, the sofa vintage, the marble top parlor table an antique and the chrome and Formica table with the four plastic covered red chairs retro. All of these terms make up the eclectic look in most homes.

— Contact Jeff with questions: or send your letter to 5525 N. 12th St., Phoenix, AZ 85014.