Tag Archives: thrift store

Tips for Scoring Treasures at Thrift Stores and on Craigslist

Well first of all, I’m really sorry about that unintentional peek at the first draft of this blog post which landed in the inboxes of Red House West subscribers yesterday. I’m still cringing with embarrassment, though when I called Mera to see if she thought we should fire me from Red House West, she put it in good perspective. Relative to Jennifer Lawrence, she said, my shouldn’t-be-published-on-the-internet woes were small. She’s right, as usual, and I am grateful. I heard it helps to share your gratitude, so here’s mine:

I am grateful that there were no nudie pictures of myself in the rough draft of a post about thrift stores that I accidentally published.

Forgive me? And moving on…

Predictably (though somehow I’m always surprised), I am not ready to share the dazzling living room ‘after’ shots as I’d originally planned this week. I’m not even ready to share progress shots – I mean, as scintillating as pictures of partially painted trim and primer-white walls are, I think we can all hold out for more notable progression.  Not to worry though!  The beauty of repetitive work like painting is that the mind is free to wander, and I’ve been mulling over a request that RHW reader Nina made some months ago that we share some tips for thrifting household items.

As regular Red House West readers know, I am an avid thrifter.  Our home is – with only a couple of exceptions – furnished and decorated entirely with items that we got secondhand. Though I’ve certainly made some missteps, I’ve also made some great scores. Here are things I’ve learned along the way.

10 tips for successful thrifting

1. The odds of finding really great things go way up the more time you spend looking. Check Craigslist as often as you can (especially if you’re looking for something specific) and drop into your favorite thrift stores regularly.

One of my favorite pieces of furniture in our house is the credenza that sits in our front room.  I spent months searching for it – I wanted something that would house our stereo and some records, and that would fit along a specific wall in the room.  I also wanted it to be mid-century modern with lovely legs, and it couldn’t cost much more than $100.  This was a tall order that had me compulsively checking Craigslist and haunting the local thrift stores.  As you probably know, a great find on Craigslist is more ephemeral than a desert salt pond (I once saw a Barcelona chair listed for $25 – and described on Craigslist as a ‘metal chair.’ I was the second caller so I didn’t get it, but it had only been up for a few minutes before the vultures (myself included) were circling).

Red House West//tips for successful thrifting

We found our credenza one night when we stopped at a St. Vincent de Paul on a whim.  Luckily I had the measurements of our wall with me, and so we knew this one would fit with just an inch on either side to spare.  Which brings me to my next tip:

2.   When you’re on the hunt for a specific item, keep the measurements you’re looking for with you at all times. 

I keep them on my phone along with a picture of the spot I’m planning to put the item.  Having the dimensions written on a piece of paper kept in your wallet would work just as well.

3. On Craigslist, synonyms are key!  One person’s footstool is another person’s ottoman.  Cast a wide net and vary your search terms – also be creative with spelling.

I didn’t end up finding the credenza on Craigslist, but I did figure out a few tricks that helped me find some contenders.  Synonyms are key, so I would search for dresser, buffet, hutch, credenza, sideboard and even shelving.  Consider that your dream item might be listed but misspelled, so be creative with your spelling (Mera found a really beautiful ‘dressor’ one time) when searching too.  I also searched the terms ‘mid-century’ and ‘mid-century modern.’

4.  Find items posted by regular sellers on Craigslist by searching their name, phone number or neighborhood.

Another thing the Great Credenza Hunt taught me about Craigslist is that – in Eugene at least – there are people who regularly sell the contents of storage units, or who are pickers who search for items to sell on Craigslist (I found my dining room chairs by specifically searching for listings by a guy who sold a lot of mid-century modern items).

5. Be realistic about your repair abilities/the cost of having a piece professionally done.  If you can’t afford to have it redone right away, make sure to ask yourself: Can you live with it as it is until you can?

My early forays into thrifting were characterized by a robust optimism that bordered on delusion.  There was nothing I could not fix! And so many of the things I dragged home had revolting, smelly upholstery or featured badly chipped veneer or unsalvageable finishes.  This couch is a case in point:

Blue flowered couch

I still love the lines of this couch, but it smelled like the territory of 100 feral cats.  It was free in the last hours of a yard sale so I dragged it home, thinking blithe thoughts of reupholstery. Never mind that this sofa would cost at least $1000 to have redone, or that by the time I learned to do it myself, it would have been living in the carport for years – a target for the territorial markings of at least another 100 cats. Since then, I’ve often referred to Emily Henderson’s guide for ballpark costs of upholstering vintage furniture before bringing home something that will need to be dealt with professionally.

6. [Chanted in my best cheerleader voice] B-E-A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E BE AGGRESSIVE BE BE AGGRESSIVEIf you see something you like, hold on to it until you’ve made up your mind!  Think you might love a chair?  Sit in it with your hand on the tag until you’ve made up your mind!  Thrifting is a ruthless business, and nice folks finish empty handed.

I’ve been burned badly twice by my fellow treasure hunters.  Just last month, a local thrift store had a huge rack of recently donated upholstery fabric in the middle of the store.  I found a roll of unusually vibrant fabric that I thought might work for a project, but as I was standing there trying to visualize it on a chair, I noticed an elderly woman was standing behind me with her shopping cart almost pressed against my back.  The aisles were narrow and I moved out of the way so she could get by me.  Which she did, grabbing the roll I’d had my hands on moments ago and putting it in her cart.  True story.

A similar thing happened while I dithered over a chair that looked much like the one in this image:

Why in the world was I dithering!  It was adorably yellow and only $15!  I’m still kicking myself!  Of course if I’d followed my next tip, I could have saved myself the heartache:

7. If there’s an item you love but you’re not sure you need it, put it on hold so you have time to think it through.

Most thrift stores will hold items for at least a couple hours and many will hold them until the end of the day.  If you’re vacillating on something, put it on hold so you can take a breath and think it through.  That’s how I got this lamp, and I love this lamp like Mera’s chubby cat Wolsey loves kitty treats. So much.

Red House West//tips for thrifting

8. Check the item you’re considering for smells, structural defects and other problems.  Even if the seller is watching you.

This one seems like a no-brainer, but it can be hard to take a big ol’ whiff of a piece of furniture while the person who’s selling it is watching.  You are NOT casting aspersions on their character by making sure all the drawers of the dresser they’re selling open.  Trust me, you don’t want to get home with a rug you were too embarrassed to smell that you then have to try and offload on Craigslist but – because you know it’s smelly – you feel compelled to tell all prospective buyers about it.  Which means it takes a pretty long time to sell.

9. For each item you bring home, let another item go (even if it causes you physical and emotional pain)

When we moved into our house two years ago, we really needed furniture.  That’s no longer the case, and I’ve recently implemented a rule of ‘one thing in one thing out.’  Do you guys remember my little confession and this photo?

Red House West//tips for thrifting

Well, there’s a moratorium on chair adoption unless I let one of these little honeys go. I know, it hurts me too.

10. If you have an eye on something in a consignment shop but think the price is too high, make an offer at the end of the month. Sellers are more likely to accept offers when they’ll be seeing a check in the next day or two, rather than weeks later.

The owner of a consignment store shared this tip with me recently when I went in to visit a piece of art that I really like but can’t afford.

What do you think, are any of these tips new to you?  What would you add to this list?

A Home for Wayward Chairs: Confessions of a Chair Addict

When I was a little girl, my favorite books and movies were ones of transformation. In particular I loved stories of neglected horses who, because someone was able to see potential beneath their woebegone exteriors, were transformed into show horses or race horses with the aid of a curry comb, a bag of oats and some love. I’d like to introduce you to my stable of beauties, safely rescued and ready to be coaxed back from the brink of death with proper care – and a highly descriptive montage of training, setbacks and, ultimately, triumph. Set to stirring music. It might be presumptuous, but the way I see it I am to thrift store chairs as Mickey Rooney’s jaded jockey-turned-trainer was to Velvet and her horse, Pie, in National Velvet. All the chairs How many people live in my house? Two. By my calculations, and also taking into account the three chairs not pictured, there are 10.5 chairs per each human in this household. 5.25 chairs per every mammal that resides here. We also have couches and kitchen stools, so if we were counting actual seats and not just chairs then that number skyrockets and – I’m afraid – it might be a bit excessive. But those chairs are beautiful! And such bargains! And so loaded with potential and they need me.   You’ve met much of my stable already here on the blog; seen the transformations of some, and read about the plans for others.  Today I want to introduce you to a few you haven’t met, and first up is this Ward Bennett chair. I found it in the book section of a local thrift store, bedraggled and abused and in need of some serious attention. Under the soiled upholstery dwelt the bones of a thoroughbred, and as I gingerly perched on it to assess its soundness I knew I couldn’t leave it there. The price tag read $2.99 and I carried it (dragged it) home, exultant. Ward Bennett front Slide1A tag on the bottom of the chair reads Ward Bennett Designs for Brickel Associates.  Indulge me for a moment and let me transform from Mickey Rooney horse trainer to a modern day Sam Spade (perhaps a Veronica Mars?) sleuthing for the past of this chair.  I learned that Ward Bennett was a prolific and well-known designer who has designs in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.  On the Herman Miller site (they are still making and selling a couple of his chairs) they say that Bennett “learned a great deal about lumbar support, the importance of chair arms, and designing the right “pitch” from working with the doctor who treated John F. Kennedy’s bad back.”  Folks, this chair is practically presidential. I found this poster of Bennett’s designs for Brickel, but though the chairs in the middle of the fourth row are very similar they are not exactly the same.

Though the bone-colored finish is a little marred, I’d be reluctant to try painting it myself. This kind of hard, enameled finish is hard to recreate at home and I fear I’d end up with a drippy mess. I may look into having it professionally lacquered, but my first choice would be to try to make the white work for me. Up close, the original velvet upholstery has a subtle faux bois pattern, which would be fun to replicate. I’m considering a black velvet for the seat and front and then something unexpected – like an embroidered piece – for the back. I probably wouldn’t do the whole thing with this much pattern – though this chair makes it tempting – but I’d love something similar for the back. I’m on the hunt at thrift stores for something with rich colors and a not-too-traditional motif.

The next in my stable of diamonds-in-the-rough is also mid-century modern, and also a lucky thrift store find. I found it one morning at a local Goodwill and it was definitely a case of being in the right place at the right time.  I’ve never bought anything of note at this particular store, so when I spotted this little honey I broke into a full sprint until I reached it then cradled it possessively in my arms all the way to the cash register. Kosuga Front Kosuga Side In contrast to most of the chairs I bring home, this one’s upholstery is in pretty good shape.  No weird stains, no gaping holes, no offensive patterns or smells.  The wood is pretty dinged up, and I’m not sure yet how to fix it – I fear the depth of the gouges is beyond the help of even my beloved Restor-a-Finish. Kosuga tag I’ve had trouble finding more about Kosuga – there’s a current website with the same name, but the text is in Japanese and Google translate doesn’t seem up to the task. I have seen chairs with the same Kosuga tag on eBay and 1st Dibs, but they don’t offer any additional information.  Searching the web, I found myself over at the Design Addict forum where this response to a query about a Kosuga chair pretty much summed up the fruitlessness of my search:   those were made……….. by Klingon craftsmen in the period of 1972-1976 in the alpha centauri region of what is now know as the french-canadian crescent valley. they were built using old-growth peanut wood and are very rare.   Ha!  The internet can really bring out the best in people. The Ward Bennett and the Kosuga chairs are ones I remain enamored of even after the thrill of discovery is gone, but I’ve also made a few missteps. Just after we moved into our house, when acquiring chairs was essential not excessive, I found a Craigslist listing for four mid-century chairs in a town about 30 miles north of Eugene. Cameron and I drove there and I gleefully paid $10 for all four plus a little ottoman. They are cute, but in varying states of disrepair. Fan Chair  The wood is brittle and splitting in some spots, the finish is red and worn and I just can’t see myself devoting the many hours it would take to sand them down and redo them. Not when so many more alluring projects await. I’ve considered painting them – perhaps a saucy bright color – but the truth is that while the chairs aren’t exactly uncomfortable, when presented with a room containing these and all the other chairs in our house, these are always last pick. I’m pretty sure the only reason I’ve held onto them for so long is because of this picture:

The ones in the picture aren’t in great shape either, but something about the way they look with that lace tablecloth is so romantic *sigh*.  HOWEVER, I think it’s time to let go and move on (I’m saying it here publicly so I’m accountable). Whew, this is a long post.  It’s the fever of the chairs!  I’m powerless to contain myself.  So just one more quick story to wrap up this chair saga.  This one involves an unexpected journey taken by a chair you may have already read about: the tulip chair. Slide2 When I rescued the tulip chair it had two tags, one stating that it was made for Knoll and one that it was property of Welton Becket and Associates.  I didn’t pay it much attention at first, but when curiosity got the better of me I turned to Google and found that Welton Becket was a famous mid century modern architect and designer in Los Angeles.  He is credited for both the Pan Pacific Auditorium in LA (which has since burned down) and the Capitol Records building, as well as other buildings all over the world.

Oh that this chair could talk.  I’d give a lot to know more about how it made its way from the office of a well-known mid century designer and architect to be bedraggled and goat-bearded in a jumbled garage in Eugene, OR.  Sounds like a story I would love. Thanks for joining me on this ramble through my stable of chairs!  Mera will be back with an assuredly more succinct post on Wednesday.  See you then!

June Good Score!

Good Score! is a monthly feature here at Red House West highlighting our readers’ secondhand finds.  If you scored a great bargain at a thrift store, found a treasure on the side of the road, or discovered a one-of-a-kind gem at a yard sale, we’d love to hear about it! Please send a picture and a brief description of what, where and how much to redhousewest@gmail.com -OR- use the hashtag #rhwgoodscore on Instagram and the last Friday of each month we’ll share a few highlights. To see previous Good Scores, click here.
Thanks so much to the folks who sent in Good Scores this month!  We love seeing what you’re finding and we love sharing them.  Please send us more.  MOAR!  And now for the fun part!

A bounty from Elisa:

First, I got some plant pots which makes me very happy because we have no yard and have to pot all our plant dreams.  I always have pot sticker shock so I was happy to find some for $2 each!  My favorite may be the small blue and white pot that looks like I plucked it off a Dutch or Turkish person’s ancient windowsill, but I also scored a yellow and brown, and multi-color.

Thrifted Pots
Second, I got a really fun carved wooden coat rack thingy.  It is imported from Indonesia from David Smith and Co. and has my current favorite color- turquoise.  It also has peacocks, so … you know, that is something new. Plus, magically it exactly fits in the tiny entryway space we have even though I totally forgot to measure it before buying.  Hooray!  $20, but well worth it for a little fun.
Peacock coat rack
Finally, for $5 I got a small carved and and shell-inlaid wooden table (plant stand?  Not sure what its function is meant to be or will end up).  I am a major carved wood and inlay enthusiast- but I actually don’t have almost any of it because it is always too expensive and impractical.  But cheap and impractical and I am in!
Screen shot 2014-06-26 at 8.28.06 PM
……
From Brandi:
From the thrift store.  I love the shape of this small dish and I now search for this designer, Ben Seibel, whenever I encounter dishes.
Ben SeibelBottom of dish
…..

Thanks again to those who sent in their good scores and thanks to everyone for reading along.  Have a great weekend, and check back in on Monday for an update on Katie’s dining room!