How to Buy Furniture at Thrift Stores

Looking for a fun, inexpensive way to furnish your home? Domestic CEO gives you 6 tips to find great pieces of furniture from thrift and second-hand stores.

Amanda Thomas
6-minute read
Episode #150

Tip #4: Look for Good Bones

Keep your eye out for furniture with what I call “good bones.” A piece of furniture with “good bones” has a solid structure, but might need a little cosmetic work to make it perfect. If a piece of furniture is sturdy and has a solid structure, you know it will last. Then, you can always modify the color and even the functionality of the piece to make it work for you.

If you’d like to see a fun example of how a $25 dresser can be turned in to a fabulous bar area, check out this video. It’s inspiring and will open your eyes to the endless possibilities of redoing (or upcycling) old furniture.

A few years ago, I helped a friend move some furniture out of her home. One of the items she got rid of was an old baby changing table. The table was from the 1970s or 80s and didn’t seem like it was very safe to use for kids anymore—but it had potential.

Originally, I thought I would turn it in to a drink cart, since that was a fun trend on Pinterest. Instead, I actually ended up making it into a great storage shelf for our office. A couple of tweaks to the shape and a few coats of paint, and it’s completely renewed!

Some things to stay away from:

  • Gouges and large scratches in the wood
  • Wobbly legs
  • Taller pieces like entertainment centers and dressers that are unstable

These 3 rules are especially true if you've just starting buying used furniture and don’t yet have the skills to properly rehab the pieces. Once you gain some experience though, you might find that these things aren't deal breakers for you. They may just take a little more construction work, rather than cosmetic work, to get them ready for use.

Tip #5: Be Cautious with Fabrics

In general, I’m not super thrilled with the idea of getting anything fabric from a thrift store—but I never say never. Remember the barrel chairs I mentioned? They had great fabric and looked like no one had sat on them for the last 50 years. They did have a little cat hair on them, but that was obviously something I could just lint roll and vacuum away.

When you are looking at fabric pieces, look for red flags that tell you the piece has had a hard life. Stains on the sides of the fabric are likely from animals urinating on the piece. Not good.

Stains on the top of the fabric can indicate food stains or other careless spills by previous owners. If you lift the cushions and see lots of food crumbs or bug carcasses, steer clear.

If a piece looks relatively stain-free, just a little worn, a good professional cleaning may be just enough to freshen it up. If the furniture has a good shape, but is just out of style, a slip cover can do wonders.

Tip #6: Cut Your Losses

If you're going to buy furniture from thrift stores, know that you will eventually come across a bust. It seems like a great idea at the time, but it ends up costing a pretty penny to make it look the way you like.

Last year, I made the mistake of buying the frame of a wicker loveseat, thinking I could buy some cushions or have some new cushions made.

It ended up being impossible to find cushions to fit this couch. They were either too long, too narrow, or too thin. I thought, "Maybe I could have some cushions made." Wishful thinking! I found out that custom cushions would cost more than buying a brand new outdoor couch. 

After a few months of brainstorming solutions, I finally had to admit that my husband was right. It wasn’t worth the $7 I had paid for it. I ended up selling it at a garage sale.

Sometimes we win big with buying used furniture and sometimes we lose a few bucks. If a piece simply isn’t working out, don’t be afraid to call in reinforcements (like a more experienced friend) or just cut your losses and sell or donate the piece. Sometimes you need to spend a few dollars to gain valuable learning experience.

Overall, I’ve had a great time finding and redoing used furniture. Each piece is unique and serves as a great conversation starter when friends visit. Plus, there’s just something satisfying about knowing that I was able to rescue a piece of old, outdated furniture, and turn it in to something fun and stylish.

What’s been your best thrift store find or furniture rehab project? Tweet me pictures of your projects @thedomesticceo.

Until next time, I’m the Domestic CEO, helping you love your home.


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