Thursday, July 26, 2007

Live Well On Less: Secondhand Best Buys

My sofa was a wedding gift. Other than that, there is not a single furnishing in my home that was not bought secondhand!

True designers always incorporate items with age and from different sources. Even the Pottery Barn catalog displays pressed ferns and tobacco baskets among its new furniture!

Here's how designers find some of their fantastic pieces:
Pickers--people just like you and me--buy great-looking stuff at yard sales, auctions, and thrift stores. Pickers sell directly to a few dealers and designers--or, bring their wares to wholesale antique markets like Scott's in Atlanta. Antique dealers and designers all over the Southeast drive there to fill their shops back home. At that point, a lovely piece of furniture has been marked up as many as four times from its humble secondhand origin.

Here's a short list of what I consider some of the best buys in used furnishings--the things I stop and investigate whenever I see them cheap:

Custom-made draperies and hardware:
The fabric is usually expensive if someone has spent the money to have draperies custom-made, with trim, double linings, and weighted hems. Unlike ready made curtains, these are often the only way to find true floor-length panels. Use the voluminous yardage to cover tables, make pillows, or reuse hardware and trim for another project.

50's and 60's furniture:
The ubiquitous French Provincial and Modern furniture is usually made with real wood and dovetailed drawers. French Provincial has good grooves and molding for do-it-yourself glazers.

Real wood bookcases:
You can find sturdy bookcases for less than the cost of Sauder specials, and you don't have to put them together yourself. Paint them whatever color you wish, with contrasting interiors for interest. Link several bookcases together with molding across the top.

Lamps with character:
My favorite copper kitchen lamp cost $1.50. Unusual or antique lamps are elements which can lift a room from the ordinary Kirkland's variety.

One-of-a-kind pillows and artwork:
Look for the handmade touch and textures here--needlepoint, old tapestry, bark cloth.

Benches and chairs you can reupholster yourself:
Some chairs have seats which unscrew for recovering. An old remnant and a cup of paint can transform a plain chair in half an hour. Benches and pairs of chairs are extremely versatile.

New to Like Merchant Ships? Here are all the lessons in our Live Well On Less week of study!


Amy said...

Almost everything in our place is second hand as well, and it all adds so much character! New is not necessarily better. :)

One thing I wish people wouldn't rule out is sofas. Sure there are some bad ones, but we have three sofas (one 2 1/2 seater/sofa bed and two 2 seaters) all cramped in our place, but they're both so near new nobody would know! We've even been asked where we got them from! :)

The 2 1/2 seater/sofa bed I got from Ikea (where I used to work, years ago) from their Bargain Basement/Corner. It retailed new at more than $1600 and I got it for $200! So many people passed it buy thinking it was so cheap there had to be something wrong with it! There was nothing wrong with it, it had just been on display so after a wash of the covers and pillow cases it's now been with us for 6 years. :)

The other two sofas we got from friends who were moving back to another country and were wanting to get rid of their things - never be afraid to ask people who are moving for their things! I used to be, but I've now been given so many beautiful things by asking that I've learned the value! They had bought them new recently and when we visited I fell in love! They decided they were just going to give them to the first people who asked, and we did!

Anyway, that's enough of a novel, but never be afraid to get second hand sofas because usually there is nothing that a hand wash or cover won't fix! :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for such a wonderful series of articles here!!! We are moving in August from our 1000 sq foot home (including basement there) to a 2000 sq foot home, and I know I will be coming back to your blog for inspiration and ideas because I will be furnishing and decorating on a REALLY limited budget, and there is quite a lot that I need, furniture-wise... I keep reminding myself to take it slow, that we can just enjoy having empty space for a while, since we're really cramped in our current space.

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