Used Furniture Chic: Tips and Tricks

The following is a guest post from Kerry of The Simple Year One who although she doesn’t follow a STRICT buy nothing new policy any more, still tries to walk the walk.  This is the third in a series that focuses on furnishing and decorating with found and used items. 

I don’t think I am unique in that I do want my home to well decorated and relatively clutter free. Case in point, there is a myriad of media dedicated to the concept; television networks, magazines, websites, YouTube channels and Instagram-er people (really, I know I’m no millennial, but the whole, fame from Instagram, is something that is still weird to me).  But, the vast majority of what we see and read each day on the topic is really at its core dedicated to selling us something new.

I believe it is totally possible to create a modern looking and lovely home with used items.   Recently, I wrote about a couple of rooms in my home here and here that I decorated with almost completely used or gifted items. If you didn’t see them, the one about my living room is here and my bedroom is here.

Based on my own trial and error, I do have a couple of tips and tricks I use when specifically shopping for resale furniture.

Wiggle It

I usually give a firm shake to the piece of furniture in question.  If it wiggles significantly, I give it a pass.    Generally furniture that gets wobbly wasn’t quality to begin with.    Although, I don’t always follow my own advice.  Below is a picture of my family room (all resale except painting).    The round coffee table was a rookie mistake.  Rather than being patient and finding something that would be perfect, I bought this cheaply made and very wobbly item.  I thought I could “tighten up” the screws.  Well, I can but it only lasts for a few days until it is back to it’s doddery self.

Smell It

If you are purchasing something made with fabric or upholstery, get your nose right next to it and sniff it thoroughly.  And beware of pieces that smell of deodorant sprays like Febreze.  The seller could possibly be trying to mask pet odors.  And believe me, if a cat has peed on it, you can not fix it without completely reupholstering it.

Open It

Don’t forget to open all drawers and doors on dressers, buffet’s etc.  Make sure they slide easily and are in one piece.  Bonus: check to see if drawers are dovetail construction (if you don’t know what this is, it is worth an internet search to see a couple of photos).  That is almost always a mark of higher quality furniture.  Another sign of quality is a maker’s mark which is where the furniture maker has the manufacturers stamp, brand or plaque.  Usually those are underneath, on the back or on a drawer.

Take Measurements

Measure the room and place you have for the piece of furniture and WRITE IT DOWN.  I am telling you for your own good.  I always think, I’m going to remember and then I don’t.  This is how I came to resell two dining room tables in one month.  Also, bring a tape measure with you when going to look at it.

Don’t Wait

Good quality furniture at reasonable prices get sold fast.  When you see something you think you want, particularly if it is on Craig’s list or some other online source, go see it right away.  Don’t expect the seller to wait for you to get over there in a day or two, someone else will get jump in front of you.  Having said that, if you show up and it won’t work (see the part about wobbly and stinky above) then do not feel the slightest bit bad about telling them that you don’t think the piece will work.  I used to feel kind of guilty that I told them I wanted it but when I showed up it, it wasn’t as I pictured, but now I just thank them politely and move along.

Beware the Project

I have taken on a couple of projects in my day.  The blue dresser below is one I refinished and painted.  It took me the better part of two weeks and twice as much money in paint as supplies as the dresser cost me.  I have stopped buying things that “need work” unless it is something simple like replacing a missing knob or a quick coat of paint. (although, I do like the way it turned out)


Visual Aids

I find it useful to find a couple of pictures of rooms I really like to use as inspiration for the room I am working on.  I save them on my phone. Then if I run across a piece I like but am not sure will work,  I take a look at my inspiration photos and decide if it will fit in the room in the picture.  It’s an inexact science, but has saved me from buying things I liked as stand alones, but didn’t work with the overall look.  It has also encouraged me to purchase items like the carved wooden table and matching mirror below that I thought might be too ornate for my entry, but actually blends in well.