A thrifting furniture guide with must-know tips for choosing the right kind of second-hand furniture for decorating your home or for flipping furniture for a profit.
Maybe you came here because you love hunting for the best thrift store furniture.
Maybe you came here because you have an interest in furniture flipping.
Maybe you are here because using free or cheap furniture is the only way you can decorate your home.
It doesn’t matter why you came here, I am just glad you did.
I love hunting down thrift store furniture, for the thrill of it, because of the potential and because thrifted furniture is inexpensive.
A few years ago I found myself single, in a new house in a new city, and with a hemorrhaging bank account. I was lucky to have found a new house to live in, but after a split up I had only a few pieces of furniture to decorate that home.
Shopping for secondhand furniture, both at thrift stores and online, became my favorite pastime fast. I decorated my new home with old pieces that I simply give a makeover to make them fit my style.
I ended up truly loving the result. Recently we bought a 220-year-old farmhouse with lots of empty rooms to fill. Can you guess how I am going to furbish that house? Yes, by thrift shopping furniture.
How to Select Pieces at the Thrift Store
With costs for new pieces rising globally, thrifting furniture is by far the best way to add your personality and style to a space. Decorating your home with pre-loved pieces is fun, frugal, and fulfilling. Not to mention it is also eco-friendly and saves vintage furniture from going in the trash or to the landfill.
Finding the right pieces of furniture at a thrift store can also be overwhelming and challenging. There are mountains of used furniture in thrift stores. But how do you choose which ones are right for you?
Today, we’ll discuss our top 5 tips for thrifting furniture for your home!
1. Dimensions and Purpose
Before you leave home to go hunting, have a plan in mind. Most likely, you’re looking for a specific kind of piece for a specific kind of purpose in your home.
Take measurements of the space it will go into before you leave home in addition to any other needs, such as height, doorway width, etc. It would stink to fall in love with a gorgeous dresser-to-vanity only to find out you can’t get it through the door!
Also, take a few pictures of the spot in your home where the piece is going. This can be very helpful when you’re surrounded by stacked miscellaneous furniture and you’re struggling to visualize the result.
But don’t get stuck with the original purpose of a piece, use your creativity and see the possibilities. If you are looking for an end table, you might find that an old wooden chair or a stepladder might work wonderfully too. Kitchen tables may be easily turned into garden tables. And a dresser can be combined with a bookcase to form a perfect farmhouse hutch.
Remember that you can change the look of the furniture pieces and make different styles work together by marrying them with the same kind of paint or upholstery.
2. Own your Skillset and Time Commitment
You already know that thrifting furniture probably means you’ll have to do a little work- that’s why it’s a deal! However, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Some updates are pretty easy to learn as you go (thanks, Youtube and Pinterest!), but other repairs or alterations may require specialized equipment and/or time-consuming, tedious processes. Just be realistic- and start simple if you’re new to thrifting!
So many good pieces don’t require a lot of work. A good clean and some new paint can be all that it takes to bring them back to life. Adding contact paper to the top of a nightstand to fix a dented table top, or adding wallpaper to the inside of a wardrobe are easy fixes that give great results.
Related reading: How to Remove Decorative Trim From Furniture
Related Reading: How to Choose The Best Finish for Wood Furniture
3 Assess The Quality and Damage of the “Bones”
It would be a very rare and special thing to find a piece at a thrift store that was brand new and completely unblemished. For the most part, when thrifting, you want to try and find a piece that is solid wood- without particle board, cardboard, or other cheaply manufactured components. Always look for quality furniture pieces. In another article, we have outlined the tell-tale signs of whether a piece of furniture is of real quality or not.
Generally, wear and tear is nothing to worry about and relatively easy to fix, such as scratches or dents, chips, damaged or missing hardware, loose screws, etc.
However, some damage is much harder to fix and may make it not worth the effort to try and rescue the piece of furniture. When shopping the goodwill stores for furniture these are the damages to avoid:
- Splits or cracks in the wood, especially in the legs
- Warping of the wood due to water damage or exposure
- Damaged or missing veneer
- Signs of pests like woodworm and bed bugs
- Missing (essential) parts like drawers or spindles
These issues can affect the structural integrity of the piece, and while repairing may be possible, it might not be successful, and most probably won’t be fun.
Related Reading: How to Avoid, Treat and Prevent Pests in Secondhand Furniture
4. Assess Upholstery or Moving Parts
If you’re considering a vintage piece with an elaborate fold-out, a dining room table with a sliding mechanism, or any piece with moving parts, inspect it closely for usability. It may be at the thrift store in the first place because of damage to or within the moving parts.
Make sure all needed parts are present and make sure you understand how the mechanism works. If it’s too challenging to figure out, or if it seems stuck, rusted, bent, or has missing pieces, it might not be the diamond of the day.
As far as upholstery goes, we all know it can be updated and replaced with new fabric to an extent. However, certain smells are VERY hard to get rid of an upholstered piece, such as cigarette or house fire smoke and pet odors. Check out our article – about how to get rid of smells in old furniture – where we do a deeper dive into how to get rid of undesirable odors on thrifted furniture. So make sure you get your face really close and deeply sniff a piece before committing, you’ll thank us later!
Related reading: Dining Chair Makeover with a Postal Sack
5. Keep an eye on your wallet
Thrift store shopping can be both frustrating and rewarding. Sometimes the stores seem to be filled with junk, other times they seem to contain only treasures.
When you hit the jackpot it can be tempting to get into a buying mood. All those pieces seem to scream ‘take me home’, and you have just the right idea to give them a makeover and make them beautiful again.
But think about tip number one: shop with a purpose. If you are decorating your own home with thrift store furniture remember that you might want it, but don’t need it. The whole idea of being frugal by shopping second-hand goes out the window if you buy too many pieces that you don’t actually need, even if they are a bargain.
Now if you are thrifting furniture to flip it and sell it for a profit, there are different considerations to make to figure out what the best pieces for profitable furniture flipping are.
Bonus Tip: Thrifting furniture online
Keep in mind that there are lots of avenues for finding quality thrifted furniture. Join your local Facebook “yard sale” group (or whatever it’s called in your community) for notifications of local moving sales, garage sales, estate sales, and just individual pieces. There are also local ‘free to have’ groups that you can join, for the summon in thrifty shopping.
Facebook marketplace is another way to find great pieces both locally and further away. Just be aware that sometimes dealers disguise themselves as private persons, and what looks like a good deal, might actually be overpriced.
Check craigslist regularly, and remember about the “free” section.
I hope these tips for what you should look for when shopping for furniture at the thrift store were helpful. And now that you have found your perfect ‘new’ old piece of furniture check out my guide on how to prepare old furniture for painting
Overall, just trust your gut when thrifting for furniture, start simple and have fun!
Marianne Songbird is the founder of Songbird, where she hopes to inspire everyone to create a home they love, one DIY project at a time. She shares anything from craft ideas to home decor inspiration and from DIY projects to decorating hacks. Originally from the Netherlands Marianne and her husband Lex are currently renovating a 250-year-old farmhouse in Germany.