$econdhand First Class

A thrift store fanatic shares her shopping secrets

Furniture: Good Bones

I bought my first piece of thrift store furniture, a maple nightstand, when I was 24. Now, several of my favorite pieces of furniture have thrift store pedigrees. There are great deals in secondhand furniture; however, with changes in our culture in the last few years, buying used furniture presents some challenges.

Apply the stink and stain test

Before you shell out cash for that adorable chair, check out “Caveat Emptor.” Every item should pass the “stink and stain” test.

My thrift store cabinet

From ugh to unbelievable

Look for good bones

Good secondhand furniture may not have a shiny finish or matching knobs, and it definitely does not come in a box. It will likely be worn, scratched, and a little shabby. But under that forlorn facade, you may strike gold, furniture gold, that is.

For months, I had a small cabinet on my thrift store wish list. Finally, I saw a cabinet that had been marked way down. It had a dark dull finish, cheap knobs, and loose doors but it was the right size and style. I stopped to check out the cabinet’s bones:

  • Materials: The cabinet had a veneer top and sides with solid wood doors.
  • Finish: There were a few superficial scratches but nothing I couldn’t sand out. The veneer was still firmly attached to the base wood.
  • Construction: The piece was square and solid. It didn’t sag or creak or lean. The door hinge screws were loose. Tightening them would solve the door problem. And knobs are just jewelry, easy to replace.

To my husband’s horror, the cabinet came home with us. I stripped off the old varnish and stain, applied a light oil finish, re-hung the doors, and attached new knobs. Now we have the perfect place to store games.

By looking beyond the scratches and the worn appearance at the bones of a piece, you can score furniture that, with a little tender loving care, you can proudly display in your home.

Happy thrifting!

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