Quick Guide to Second-Hand Furniture
The coolest part of buying second-hand furniture is finding unique, well-crafted pieces at a fraction of the cost. These previously loved pieces have a few scratches and dings, but they tell a story. On the other side, it’s not a guarantee you’ll find something when you walk into the store. It can be extremely overwhelming, but totally worth it if you can sacrifice a little time.
Patience is key; check often. I knew my parents were buying Dom a TV for his birthday and I wanted to find something to put it on. I spent weeks rummaging through every thrift store I could find and passed up a few items along the way. Even if the price is a steal, it doesn’t mean you need to buy it. Take your time, and wait for the right item that fits your style.
Eventually, I saw it: a 1960’s mid-century, cedar chest. On the back of the chest, I found a serial number. It was crafted on February 15, 1967. How cool is that?! Best part: I paid $30 for it at Goodwill. Total score. I had been at that exact Goodwill the day before and it wasn’t there. Check your favorite thrift stores as often as you can. You never know what someone’s going to drop off.
Always look for quality. Try your best to stay away from particle board and other cheap materials. Look for real wood (cedar, pine, mahogany, etc). Many companies will have their logo engraved or printed somewhere behind or inside of the furniture. If you see a brand, do a quick google search. I discovered the cedar chest was built by a prominent company of that time. Sometimes you won’t see a brand and that’s okay. I have an antique writer’s desk that has no indication of who built it. An item can also appear to be vintage but it’s from Walmart. That’s a complete letdown.
Don’t be afraid of a little wear and tear, but always do a thorough inspection. None of my second-hand furniture pieces are perfect, but I think it adds to the character. Look for major issues that might need repair. It could cost more than an item is worth. Check to see if the table or chair is sturdy. Do you see any hardware missing? Has it been repaired before?
Wood can be sanded down and re-stained or painted; always bring an open mind. If the item has drawers, you might want to do a sniff-test to avoid frustration when you get it home. It’s near impossible to get rid of mothball scent.
Be ready to buy, but also ready to walk away. I’ve spent a decent chunk of change on dressers, tables and other pieces of furniture that I bought because of the price, not because it was my style or what I was looking for. If you’re unsure, it’s okay to pass up. It might be a great deal, but if that’s the only reason you want it, something else will come along. And trust me, there will always be something else.
A common question I get is, “How do I find better thrift stores?” My biggest tip is to find thrift stores in wealthier or older communities. In my experience, that’s where I find quality homeware and antique items. Big cities tend to have more trendy pieces, but I’ve also scored some cool finds at total dives. Thrifting is hit or miss, but that’s part of the fun (and frustration).
What’s your favorite second-hand furniture item? Mine has to be that cedar chest. I know we’re going to have it for years to come. Happy thrifting!