Furniture Thrifting Guidelines

It’s no secret I love hunting thrift stores for hidden gems.  Those dusty, dirty, seen-better-days pieces that make the perfect ugly duckling to beautiful goose transformations.  Far more often than not, I leave empty-handed or maybe with a small trinket, bowl, or more likely, a book or two.  Stumbling on those big furniture pieces is exciting, of course, but not too frequent.  But before I make a large (in terms of size) purchase, certain rules/criteria must be met:

  1.  Will this piece satisfy a need in our home?
  2. Do I have a place in mind for it?  Can it also work in other rooms?
  3. Do I like the shape, size, lines, style of this piece?  If not, can I change that?
  4. Is it sturdy and in good condition?  If not, how difficult it is to fix?
  5. Is it worth the price?  How much will I have to put into this piece to make it what I want?

I’ll get into each point as I go, and of course, for something I’m absolutely gaga over, I can make exceptions, usually in the need department.

First and foremost, do I need this?  I do realize I have a very small furniture hoarding problem, but mostly because we still have two large areas to furnish: the basement and pool house.  So, when I see something that might work, especially at a reasonable (or great) price, I get it.  Worst case scenario, I put it on Craigslist or donate it and eat the loss.

Two years ago, I scored a pair of chairs, which by the way, pairs seem incredibly elusive in my thrifting adventures, for ten dollars.  The petite size was surprisingly comfortable, yet lightweight enough to move easily.  After a thorough sanding, a couple of coats of polyurethane, and new fabric, they rounded out our family room seating arrangement.


Flash back to a fateful day this past November and you would have found me standing in a thrift store, staring at another pair of chairs, internal debate running through my head.  To buy or not to buy-that is the question.  I loved the lines and shape, the frames were in good, solid condition despite needing a refresh, and only $5 each.  People spend more than that on a specialty coffee, at least I’d have something to show for it, right?


In my mind, I knew they’d look great by the fireplace, in the exact spot I already had chairs.  Did I need this new set?  Nope, technically I didn’t.  Even so, I bought them with plans to use the previous set in the basement.  If they don’t work down there, for the two years of use we got out of them, I haven’t lost anything.  After my standard refinish + new fabric combo, the pair cost me roughly twenty dollars each.  More than anything, the size and style of these chairs works better in our family room.


Do I have a place for this?  Can it work in more than one room?  If you habitually change your mind, move things around, or just like a change of scenery, this is a big question.  Of course, the larger the item, the more difficult it will be to move around to different rooms.  This little dresser, a hand me down that previously belonged to my grandfather, has lived in several rooms and in both houses.  It can function as a dresser (duh) but could also work in a small nook, in an entry, or mini desk surface in a pinch.


Do I like the size/shape/style/lines of the piece?  Occasionally, friends will ask me to keep a look out for a specific piece they need, say, a dresser.  I’ll send pictures of anything that might work, and if I get the go ahead, I’ll buy it.  When I found this beaut, it also came with a mountable mirror.


Lucky for me, my friend didn’t need it, and I desperately wanted it for my main bathroom.  The size was perfect, the simple brass details were lovely, and I had wanted to add more wood tones.  A quick strip and oil coat added the warmth this bathroom needed.


Is it in good shape?  If not, can the damage be fixed?  I think Ben (and perhaps several others) thought I was nuts when I dragged this small orange sofa (settee?) home with me.  Right away though, those gorgeous legs had me interested.


Then I turned it around and saw the exposed wood frame detail on the back and that was it.  I had. to. have. it. Despite the loose joints, because wood joints, unlike the human variety, are typically very easy to fix with a little wood glue.


Since scratchy, smelly, 70’s fabric isn’t my bag, I followed my standard fix up recipe of refinished wood and new fabric for a look I love.


Fixing the frame was as simple as applying wood glue in the dowel holes, clamping, and letting it dry before sanding and staining.  Pieces with serious damage, like a missing leg, shouldn’t be passed over if all legs could be replaced.


Is it worth the price?  I feel like I’m notoriously cheap with my thrifting, but it really irks me when stores ask near full retail price for something that was donated.  I think the most I’ve paid for something from a thrift store (this does not include Craigslist) is this Drexel dresser, snagged for $67, originally priced at $90.  At the time, I was searching for a wooden dresser to fit between the beds, below the window.  Measuring about three feet wide and in very used condition, the $90 price tag seemed steep.  After a 30% discount, the price was more in line with the quality, considering I still had a full refinish before it looked nice.


Then, when the stars align, there’s the lucky you’ve been very patient, once-in-a-lifetime deal, such as the case of our Craigslist leather sofa.  Simple lines, beautiful leather, and listed at $220?


Throw every damn rule out the window, quickly contact the seller, and arrange to pick it up pronto.  Then thank your lucky stars you saw the beauty first and lovingly pet it while you watch tv.

3 thoughts on “Furniture Thrifting Guidelines

  1. Thrift shopping for Vintage furniture can be so much fun and you’ve found so many fantastic gems over the years, love all your shopping tips and seeing your pretty makeovers! Also, your new design looks so fresh, love it!

Now it's your turn! Share your thoughts and opinions, stories and links. We love hearing from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s