6 Tips for Finding and Styling Thrift Store Treasures

Words & Images by Arielle Goldman

I’ve always enjoyed the occasional rainy Saturday thrifting, but it wasn’t until my husband and I bought our first home that it became an obsession. We had a house to fill, and thrift stores allowed me to satisfy my desire for decor with character that also fit our budget. If you come into my home, you can be pretty much guaranteed to be regaled (or, um, bored) with stories of my favorite finds. I love bringing pieces into our home that have a history, that might have otherwise been trashed or forgotten, and that give plenty of bang for the buck. Today I’m sharing my tried and true advice for buying and decorating with thrifted items.

• DO YOUR HOMEWORK

This is way more fun than it sounds. Peruse your favorite home design magazines, and take notice of both individual pieces you love and how they fit into the context of their room. I love vintage sites like 1stdibs and Chairish for this task. They have beautifully curated collections and frequently include descriptions with more information on year and maker. Familiarize yourself with the styles and names you’re drawn to; don’t worry about the prices. Yet.

• MAKE A LIST

Thrift stores are overwhelming. There are rows and rows of... well, junk, and you’ll make yourself crazy inspecting every last object. I keep a running list of items I need for the house that goes from the specific (patio bar stools) to the general (art). You’ll have better luck and more fun if you’re able to gloss over some items at the store while you search for what you actually need. That said, always keep an open mind. I went out one day looking for a planter, and came home with a dining table. What can I say? That’s the magic of thrifting.

• EMBRACE THE HUNT

It can be difficult to train yourself to look past the inevitable dust and poor lighting of a second hand store. So this is where your homework pays off. Keep an eye out for the lines and finishes you like. Don’t be afraid to move other objects out of the way to get a better look at something, and be sure to mentally dust and polish while you’re at it. I once almost walked right past a gorgeous burl wood and brass Milo Baughman-style table that was hidden under a pile of tchotchkes. I’d done my homework, so I knew that similar tables went for ten times the price they wanted for this one. I brought it home, treated it to some much-needed TLC, and it’s been looking great ever since.

• BEWARE THE LAST STOP OF THE DAY

You’ve done the homework, you’ve hunted, and you’re starting to see the diamond-in-the-rough possibilities of countless items. Hold your horses. After all that time and effort (and trust me, any successful thrifting trip will include both), it can be tempting to bring something - anything - home. If I’m empty-handed after a long day of thrifting, I can start convincing myself of some strange things. Like that old print just needs to be rematted and reframed and maybe repainted a smidge to look perfect. Or that maybe I need a second set of dining chairs just in case. So before you buy, be brutally honest with yourself. Is this faux malachite tray really going to clean up splendidly and look great on your coffee table, or is it just the best option in the red tag basket by the counter? Avoid making exhaustion purchases. The thrift stores will still be there next week, with new items to boot.

• HAGGLE!

I know it’s uncomfortable, and trust me, I used to hate it too. But most thrift stores are ready and willing to drop a price if you ask nicely. I always start with a simple, “Is that the best you can offer?” If you’ve done your homework, you’ll have a better idea of what’s fair and what’s unreasonable, but at the end of the day you should be prepared to walk away from anything that’s not in your budget.

• STRIKE A BALANCE

Once you finally hunt, haggle, and clean that thrifted treasure, it’s time to give it a home. To avoid turning my home into a thrift store reproduction, I mix old and new with high and low. That might mean hanging a classical painting next to an abstract on a gallery wall, or setting a rustic plaster sculpture on a refined brass table. The goal is a layered, purposeful look. Because those thrift find stories are way more fun when the finds don’t look so thrifted.



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