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August 22, 2013

My 10 Thrift Store Shopping Tips: How To Decorate on a Budget

10 Thrift Store Shopping Tips: How To Decorate On A Budget! Great ideas for creating a stylish home on a small budget.

By now, most of you reading my blog know that I love thrift stores.
My thrifting began out of necessity, but over the course of the past few years, it's truly become something I do for fun. I realize I'm kinda weird, and I'm cool with that.

Thrifting is basically a beautiful synergy of my two favorite things: decorating and treasure hunting.

I've been a thrifter for so long now, that when I need something for our house, I almost always try to thrift it first. It's really hard for me these days to spend the big bucks on something at the real store when I know I can put in a little extra effort and find something I love for $5 at the thrift store. That being said, I can't find everything I need at a thrift store. Some things have to be new. Like my couches, my mattress, and my toothbrush. But, I've learned that I can buy what I need to at retail, and then fill in the gaps at the thrift store. 
Thrift store's got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps. 

So, today's post is about the 10 basic home decor items you can find at thrift stores. Before we start, you need to know that the thrift stores in our area aren't anything all. They are absolutely filled to the brim with junk nobody wants. 99% junk, 1% awesome. The key is frequency. I have about 5 local thrift stores I like, and I try to check them out once a week. I've been gathering photos for this post for over a month, so I didn't just walk in one day and find all this stuff at once. It took a lot of time. 

This post is to show you that the good stuff exists. 
It's out there. 
So, if you get discouraged because you're coming up empty handed in your thrifting adventures, don't give up. 
 You've got what it takes, girl.

Now that we're done with the pep talks and prefaces, let's get started with the 10 basic items you can find at thrift stores. I'll give you some ideas of what I would do with each one, but the possibilities are truly endless.

#1. Dressers
Dressers are a great item to thrift. I usually see 2-3 dressers every time I go to our local thrift stores. Most of them aren't anything special, but every so often you can find an amazing one for $50-$100.

Here are a few great examples that I found.
I love this french provincial dresser. It's like the sassy little sister to my older and wiser bedroom dresser. This dresser would look amazing in distressed dark grey chalk paint with the existing hardware spray painted gold.

This mid-century modern dresser would be gorgeous in a fun color (maybe coral or aqua), with the existing hardware spray painted gold or silver. I love the wheels on it, too.
Just squint your eyes until those lamps disappear.

When buying a thrifty dresser, find one with a classic shape in decent condition. If it has any imperfections that I can easily fix (like scratches that need wood filler or a loose leg that needs a new screw) I will overlook them if the price is right. When thrifting, I try to remember that I'm not buying my next family heirloom. I'm just looking for affordable furniture that I can make look awesome in the meantime.
To see the thrifty dressers I've redone, see here, here, or here.

#2. Tables
Whether it's desks, end tables, or dining tables you're looking for, you can find them at a thrift store. Here are just a few great options I found over the past couple months.
These distressed green end tables are super cute for $20 each. I love that they are a slightly different shape and color.

This next table has seen better days, but if you can look past what's there, you'll see that it has great legs and would look great with a little paint and glaze.
Also, I may have thought the candleholder was a giant salt shaker at first. I blame that picnic basket.

This next one was in much better condition, with barely a scratch on it. I don't love the wood color, but I feel like this one has some potential, too. It has a sleek, modern shape that would look great painted with some shiny lacquer.

This next table was a great find. I don't love the chairs, but I think you could update them a bit by re-upholstering them with some bold fabric (Navy and white stripes, perhaps?) I mostly just like the pedestals on the table. The table could be great if paired with different chairs. I also think just using one of the pedestals as a base for a round table top would be great, too. The entire set with 6 chairs was under $150, which still makes it a great deal.

#3. Sideboards & Armoires
Sideboards and armoires are a little harder to come by, but when I find one, they're usually pretty great. 
I recently came across this one, which may have been the coolest one yet. 

Finds like these are pretty rare, but they do happen. This was such an amazing find, and I would paint it bright green or blue, or even yellow. 
Although, the red is great, too.
As awesome as it was, I just didn't need it and had to walk away.  It's super easy to become a hoarder if you thrift a lot. Over time, I've pretty much figured out how to avoid those hoarder purchases. If I have to stop and think about an item, I need to walk away. You should only buy the stuff that makes you jump up and down when you find it. Every time I have to pace around and think about something, I end up regretting the purchase later. 
Learn to trust your thrift gut. 

This sideboard was also pretty cool. It would require some work, but you could easily re-coat it or paint it. 

#4. Chairs
I come across chairs all the time at thrift stores, which may have been evident by the fact that I've redone over 10 of them. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen when I happened across some totally awesome red tufted chairs at a thrift store for $15 each. I'm sure these were scooped up within the hour, as they looked to be brand new.
It's as if the universe is telling me to decorate with red. I'm ignoring him for the time being.

#5. Headboards
Thrift stores are a great place to find old wooden headboards. I painted an old wooden headboard for our guest bedroom and it was a cheap way to create a nice place for our guests to stay. 
The larger headboard in the picture below would be pretty cool if painted. The small one is straight from a 1980's beach condo, but its curved shape would make a great base for an upholstered twin headboard. I try to look past what's there and think of different ways things could be used. 
(See how I upholstered our master bedroom headboard here.)

#6. Lamps
Thrift stores have old lamps everywhere. 
I think they reproduce after they get there.
All you need is a few coats of spray paint and a modern drum shade, and you have a great looking lamp for way less than you would pay for elsewhere.

Most of the time, I just find a single lamp by itself. That quickly becomes a hoarder situation, and at one time I had 5 lonely thrift store lamps just waiting for the soulmate that never showed up. These days, I've learned to hold out for a pair. The below lamps were a great find. You could keep them as they are, or spray paint them to complement your decor.

The below lamp has a great shape, especially for $5. It could be easily updated by spray painting the brass a brighter gold, and spray painting the red part a different color (like aqua, emerald, or white). You could also just paint the entire thing. Add an updated drum shade and voila!
See my thrifty little lamp makeovers here and here.

#7. Frames/Mirrors/Art
Thrift stores are a great place to get cheap decor for your walls. However, you have to be willing to do a little work. 
The below mirror looks pretty outdated at first glance. But, imagine it with the frame spray painted a bright gold, or even a glossy turquoise or red (Just because I don't decorate with red doesn't mean I can't appreciate red done right!). For $10, that could be a total statement piece. 

I posted about this next piece on my Instagram a few weeks back. I'm sure everyone thought I was a crazy at first, but I had a plan. I got this giant 5 foot tall print for $5. I doubt I will ever use the bold print that's in the frame (although I will save it in case I ever want to do something with it), but the real reason I bought it was for the giant frame. I'm working on a giant painting for my office, and this giant frame is the perfect size. It would be nearly impossible to find a frame this massive and this nice for $5 elsewhere. 
Although, it's been sitting in my office as-is for a good month now, and it's kinda growing on me. I need to finish my painting asap before this thing weasels its way onto my wall.
I think it's glamouring me.

These days, I get almost all of my frames from thrift stores. Most of the time I find frames with mats and spray paint the mats (like I did here), but there are times when I buy thrift store art just for the frame. I'm working on a project right now and these little $1 thrift store frames will be put to good use. They were originally wood-tone, but I've since spray painted them.

I've also gotten most of the mirrors in my house from thrift stores (like the one in my closet). Sometimes, I come across mirrors that are way more unique than anything I could find in a retail store. Just remember to focus on the shape of the frame. You can easily change the color of the frame with spray paint or rub and buff.

#8. Vases
Thrift stores are a glass vase paradise. I can usually find them for $1-$2, and often times they are exact replicas of basic glass vases you would spent $10-$20 on elsewhere.
My favorite thrift store loves to sprinkle pinecones in the vases. I feel like it's the same strategy as Crest attaching a mini mouthwash to the toothpaste box. Like maybe I'll try out that pinecone and come back for more.
Classic thrift store upsell.

I love to look for blue and white porcelain at thrift stores. Ginger jars are one of my favorite finds. Some are better than others, but every so often I come across a really great looking one. 

This peacock vase was actually something I brought home. I'm pretty sure the peacock straight up seduced me. 

#9. Dishes
As you can see in this post, my kitchen cabinets are filled with colorful dishes that I usually find at thrift stores. I find really unique dishes all the time. For example, I love these crystal emerald glasses with gold rims, at just $9.99 for all 6. Those would look fabulous on a bar cart.

#10. Small Accessories
Thrift stores are great places to find fun little accessories to style up your home. These brass bookends would look great on a desk or bookshelf. Some say that any decor in the fowl family is totally passé but I squawk at the mere suggestion. These little fellas could join my nest anyday.
Officially tally: That's two bird-puns. 

As a general thrift store rule, I find tons of gold and silver trinkets. I think the 2 giraffes in the below picture would be super cute in a nursery. I would frame each one in a shadow box and add them to a gallery wall. I also like the silver bowl and the tiny silver thing with the latch on it.
I have no idea what that is, but it appeals to my love of miniature things.

Candlesticks are another common item found at thrift stores. They tend to all be brass or glass and circa 1985-1992, but sometimes you can find a little diamond in the rough, like that art deco one below. You could leave it as-is or spray paint the entire thing one color.

So, those are my 10 things you can find at thrift stores.
Now, let's practice.
We're going to use my office as an example. When we moved in to our house 3 years ago, the office looked like this:

and after a lot of paint and some thrift store shopping it now looks like this.

I don't expect to see this room in a magazine anytime soon, but I do think it's a great example of how you can incorporate thrift store finds into your decor. I did this entire room for less than $400, and all of the below items with arrows were secondhand (either thrift store, craigslist, eBay, or garage sale). 

I've found (through all my many failed decorating attempts) that it helps to mix the old and the new. So, I brought in a new chair and rug, and added a few updated accessories like some of the frames on the wall, and the curtains. Some of the accessories I love the most came from the thrift store though, like the little gold mug that I now use to hold my pens (previously seen here), the little white vase, and the old wooden tray that I spray painted a high gloss black.

And that my friends, is all for today. Abrupt post endings seem to be my specialty, so I'll leave you with this:
Go forth, thrift, and report back!  

(Oh, and see the the first 10 thrift store tips, click here.)
That's all for today! 'Til next time!
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  1. I LOVE IT!!! I wish we had awesome thrift stores like this where I live! Mine tend to be 99.5% junk.

    Thank you, Virginia for all the great ideas and thriftspiration!!!

    1. Thank YOU, Elise!! And trust me....mine are TOTAL junk the majority of the time! :)

  2. I'm the same way, I go through so much junk and bring it home to looks of, "what are you going to do with that?" But osme of my fav. things are thrifted and after some work so cute! You do such great work, love these posts!

    1. Thanks Lauren! Glad to know it's not just me who does that! :)

  3. Great tips! My best find around here was a little wood server/buffet thing that has intricate woodwork on the front and the top is a green laminate. At first i thought the green was awful until I realized two things: 1) It perfectly matches some ugly green tile insets in my current flooring and 2) If i ever change the flooring I can always paint it pretty :)

    1. Total score! I love it when things work out like that!! :)

  4. Love all your tips. I can't believe how good the prices are at your thrift stores. Seems to be the good stuff in my thrift stores are pricey.

    1. We have quite a few thrift stores in this area that are way overpriced, too! I just avoid those ones! :)

  5. Great tips girl! Remember if you ever see anything big you can always call me to come haul it for you!

  6. Fabulous post Virginia! I am on a quest right now to create a game room for us completely from thrifting...except for the TV of thanks for sharing all of these great tips...and such a great sense of humor too. ;)


    1. That's awesome, Heather! If only the thrift store could have awesome flatscreen TVs! Ha! A girl can dream!! Thanks so much for stopping by! xo

  7. Love it! What thrift shops do you shop at? Goodwill? BTW I thinks it's so funny that you talk about so much color now. I have been reading your blog for awhile and I remember when everything was creamy white. :P

    1. Isn't it so crazy?! Ha! I still love neutrals and white tons, but have just learned that I love a little color mixed in, too! I'm pretty sure my taste will never stop changing though, so who knows what I'll love even a month from now! That's a scary thought!! ha! :) Oh, and in our area I love Goodwill and Karm and a few smaller mom & pop thrift stores.

  8. You need to be featured in a magazine for work like this! You're amazing!

    1. Aw, thank you! That's so sweet! Maybe one day...who knows! :)

  9. I just love it all..but sadly, I wish I has Thrift Stores like that where I live :-( Thanks for posting.

  10. Thanks for this awesome post! Thrift shopping can really intimidating. And I totally agree with you the key is mixing old & new. :)

    1. It used to intimidate me a bit at first, too! Now, we're like old friends! :)

  11. This is such a great and helpful post. I need to furnish and decorate my home cheaply and I didn't know how to use Thrift Stores well. Thanks so much!

    Plus can I ask for advise? I'm redecorating my living room but I'm not sure where to start. The furniture basics will stay as is, brown couch, and 2 patterned fabric chairs, a couple of side tables. But I'd like to recover the pillows, get new lamps, and get one piece of art for one wall, but I'm not sure what part I should do first. The pillows or the art?

    1. Thanks so much Jennifer! I think either way would work. Just choose which one you're inspired by first and then it will help you choose the other one. I usually start with pillows and add art as a last step, so maybe that will help! xo

  12. Virgina--Oh the bloggy thrift store LOVE!! Lately I have been finding the BEST things. I did a post about them earlier and I found so much more cool stuff I need to do another one. Mainly because we just had a new thrift store open up right near me and they have the BEST stuff because they are picky about what they take and their prices are EXCELLENT. You could do some serious damage in there. I need to be on thrift store restriction right now--I've brought home too many project items in the last month and I've done more buying than doing. I am at the point where I need some new lamps and they had so many fabulous pairs in there that I couldn't even decide! I'm scouring décor books right now to figure out what shapes I love so that I can narrow down what I'm looking for--I hope it helps. :)

  13. Wonderful post. Wish we had stores like that here but I just keep checking Craigslist. Love you office...just gorgeous!

  14. Love it - thank you. Again you've inspired me to be a bit brave. This was my haul this morning - three shops with nothing and then three things all from the same shop!

  15. The red armoire is seriously amazing and drool worthy.

  16. I wish the thrift shops, (what what..what what) in my city were half as good as the ones in your pics! Great finds are so rare, but I admit not going as often as I could to score good deals! I love your blog, you keep things real for the rest of us and give me confidence to actually try my hand some DIY-ing that I would have other-wise thought out of my comfort zone! It helps that I get all of your 80's and 90's comedic references!!!

  17. I'm in love with that red armoir, too, and those red chairs. Our local thrift stores don't seem to have much to offer. But we do have one place here named the Second Hand Store that has great buys on used wooden furniture. The little old man that owns it is very particular about what he sells, so you can be sure it won't be cheap particle board stuff you're buying from him. I visit his shop often and have even sold some furniture pieces to him that I have found and refurbished.

  18. This is a great post with wonderful pictures. I wish I had a bigger home, so I can go out and buy more :)

  19. Love your thrift shop ideas! I used to get so overwhelmed-- now I think, "What would Virginia do?" She wouldn't hoard (oh I'm sorry gorgeous black and white toile patterned china set you can't come home with me!), she would look at the bones and essence of a piece, and she would wait for a killer price (wait for it, waaaait for it). Just brilliant! I've started my very first spray paint projects with frames and an awesome entry way mirror that I got for a mere $5 (ORB not included). My next project I'm planning are jewelry boxes for the girls in the fam-- keep finding great ones for seriously wow that's cheap! Thanks again for your great ideas!

  20. I came across your blog today via Pinterest, and girl you have me SO inspired! I developed a love for thrift shops this year and you have me itching like crazy to browse around now! You have so many great ideas!

  21. Thanks so much for all the awesome tips. Here in Germany we don't have many thrift stores, we have more peddlers markets or garage sales, but you also can find some great stuff there.
    So for me your tips are always very helpful because my man & me (we're both 26) bought an old house & we're also on a budget. So I absolutely can relate to you. :)
    Greetings from Germany!

  22. Great post! Thrifting can result in some great treasures, especially with a little paint. Love the office, it looks fabulous!

  23. Not only are you a good shopper, but have a creative eye that recognizes potential in an item and you also have a gift for writing..I love your blog; there is so much useful information in your blog. I have bookmarked it and am writing down some ideas that I received from your writings. Thanks for all you share with others. Wished you lived close to me so we could go "Thrifting" together. A bet a few weeks "Thrift shopping" under your watchful eye would teach anybody a lot.

  24. Virginia, your posts are always helpful, inspiring, witty and full of useful photos. your website does NOT clog my browser with advertising, and I just want to HUG you for that!!So, I'm checking out a bunch of your awesome posts this morning, and WAIT!! I ACTUALLY HAVE THOSE DUCK BOOKENDS! So, V, WHAT would you -- and your AMAZING decor intuition -- DO with those?

  25. Virginia, great illustrations (I so covet the red and brass lamp) of what to look for in thrift stores. I'm glad you shared prices, cause I gotta tell you, here in the land of "Near DC" nothing can be found for reasonable price levels. Not at sales, garages sales or the few thrift stores that exist. Even at Habitat's ReStore, a table+chairs(not even as nice as your pics) START at over $300-$350. Maybe it is the high cost of living. Maybe the lack of thrift stores. Maybe the few that are there are just shopped to death. It's good to know that bargains can be had out there. Unfortunately, just not here. (my best bargains (free) have been from Freecycle or roadside rejects).

  26. I love second-hand shops! (I consider antiques malls to be in the same category sometimes.) But a lot of things I've found over the years and love have come from these places. It definitely beats buying new if you find something beautiful as-is, or if it's something you can update with a fresh coat of paint/new hardware. My only advice, which I'm sure you've mentioned before, but from learning the hard way -- if you see something you absolutely love, if it's in your budget, just get it, otherwise, you'll miss out. It really does depend on where you live and what kind of thrift stores are around you. But as you mentioned, frequent trips just to scout, are the key!

  27. Love this post! I'm a huge fan of thrifting :D

  28. well done! thrift stores around my house don't have such good options! <3 it

  29. I am a thrifter and yard sale-er! I am lucky to be in sunny California and have come across great things. I absolutely love repurposing items in unique ways. I am a creative that is always trying to come up with a new idea. I don't generally do furniture, I mainly focus on smaller items such as glasses, silver, ceramic items. Your post inspires me to not just walk on by, but stop to see what I can make of them. Thanks for a great post and the inspiration!


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