- Insider asked interior designers for some of their top thrift store tips for buying furniture.
- Don’t forget to bring a tape measure and physical color swatches to make saving even easier.
- Don’t underestimate the effort it can take to fix a broken item or remove a fabric smell.
Thrift stores can be great places to find the perfect piece of furniture or decor, but it’s easy to waste money on low-quality items if you don’t know how to shop smart.
Insider asked professional interior designers to share the mistakes people make when shopping at thrift stores, along with their tips for saving like a pro.
Don’t skip great frames just because of ugly art
Cara Newhart, interior designer and host of “To make roompodcast, told Insider that you should never skip buying a high-quality frame just because art isn’t your style.
“Even if you don’t like the art, you can save the frame and swap it out for a print that’s perfect for your space,” Newhart said.
Thrift stores are great places to buy inexpensive picture frames, which can make it easier to put together a gallery wall on a budget.
Never forget to measure the furniture before buying
The interior designer Veronique Sanders told Insider that measuring your space before heading to the thrift store is crucial.
“Not measuring the dimensions of your space is such a common mistake,” Sanders said. “Write them down so you can compare the size of the furniture with the space you have.”
Don’t forget to bring a tape measure so you can gauge the dimensions of any potential purchases.
Do not underestimate the cost of repairs
Underestimating the money or time needed to complete seemingly simple repairs can be a costly mistake.
“I would avoid buying rooms that need to be completely reupholstered, totally refinished, or otherwise redone unless you have the money or the DIY skills,” Newhart said.
On the other hand, minor repairs such as tightening a loose screw, freshening up chipped paint, or replacing hardware are usually easy.
Don’t visit just one thrift store
Each thrift store has a different stock, so don’t limit your purchases to just one.
“Never make the mistake of thinking a thrift store has everything you need,” Sanders said. “You might miss the perfect piece at another store.”
If you’re planning on looking for the best buys, try going to several consignment stores in different parts of town or visiting a local flea market.
Skip anything that has an odor
The interior designer Kimberly Seldon of Kimberley Seldon Design Group told Insider that she recommends skipping parts with a noticeable smell.
“Leave rooms with vintage fabrics that reek of mothballs or any other perfume,” Seldon said. “You will never get rid of the smell.”
While it’s possible to completely reupholster some parts with new fabric, the cost may outweigh the savings of buying used.
Don’t try to match the art too perfectly
Trying to match second-hand art with your existing decor can diminish the visual effect of the second-hand piece.
“Although it’s tempting, never match a second-hand piece of art to the color of your furniture or your walls,” Seldon said. “This will make your purchase seem to disappear.”
Instead, Seldon recommended saving a new frame that perfectly matches the style of your art.
Never try to haggle using negativity
If negotiation is welcome, show your enthusiasm for a store owner’s products before venturing out to close a deal.
“Negative comments like ‘You can’t be serious’ or ‘It’s not worth much’ are unlikely to result in a good deal,” Seldon said.
Used and consignment dealers can spend a lot of time and energy acquiring parts, so avoid insulting their wares.
Don’t try to recall colors from memory
Designers know it’s nearly impossible to remember colors accurately, so make sure you have a physical sample of any shades you’re trying to match.
“Always shop with fabric or paint samples to help with your decisions,” Seldon said. “And, of course, bring a tape measure.”
If you forget your tape measure, you can get creative with what you have on hand – a dollar bill is about 6 inches long.
Adopt large and bold furniture
If you’re stuck between two pieces of furniture, choosing the bigger one can create a bolder look.
“When in doubt, go big,” Seldon said. “If you’re hesitating between two sizes and both fit your space, choose the larger one.”
In particular, Seldon recommended choosing larger area rugs – which can create the illusion of a larger room – as well as accent pillows, artwork and lamps.
Do not pass on quality wooden parts
Thrift stores are often filled with chipboard or faux wood furniture, but they’re also a great place to find deals on high-quality pieces.
“Good solid wood furniture can be hard to come by, so when you come across a piece of jewelry, it might be worth splurging on,” Sanders said.
According to Sanders, old wooden dressers, coffee tables and stools can be given new life with a fresh coat of paint or stain and a DIY throw pillow.
Avoid shopping alone if you don’t live alone
Shopping secondhand for furniture or decor can lead to household tensions if you share your space with roommates or a partner.
“You might like that bright red sofa, but it can be a total eyesore for your partner,” Sanders said. “It’s good to get a second opinion and feedback from those you live with.”
Bringing your housemates is even more important when buying expensive items or bulky pieces that may be difficult to dispose of or resell.